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Fashion designer Dapper Dan's rags to riches story

Dapper Dan's rags to riches story
Fashion designer Dapper Dan's rags to riches story 05:29

On fashion's biggest night, Dapper Dan can't believe he has center stage. Michelle Miller reports on the Harlem designer's saga

He's known as Dapper Dan, And on fashion's biggest night, the Met Gala, he still can't believe he's center stage.

"I can't figure out how that happened," Dan told Michelle Miller for "CBS Sunday Morning," "But I will tell you the truth, I don't want to know how it happened, you know? The Met Gala is like, it's the world series if fashion. You know, it-- it-- it just doesn't get bigger than that."

Met Gala host Anna Wintour even gave him his own table, which he filled with some major star power decked out in Dapper Dan, including models Karlie Kloss and Ashley Graham and actress Regina Hall.

Dapper Dan with Ashley Graham

"I mean, you got people who don't get invited, and I got my own table," Dan said. "That's huge."

"There's so much history in what I'm wearing," Graham said. "And also pride in-- in the man behind it. I know a little bit about the Met. Its kind of been like a little bit of a club and Dap hasn't always been in the club. He's had to make his rules and now, I guess you could say that he's in the club."

Born Daniel Day, in Harlem, he says his parents struggled.

"I was born at the bottom and so anything that I get is a blessing," Dan said. "I had to learn how to steal clothes, you know, even go to supermarket to steal food."

He details his rags to riches story in a new memoir, which also chronicles his days as a drug dealer and hustler. He saw clothing as a way out.

"Nothing transforms a person quicker than a garment, nothing quicker," Dan said. "You put on nice clothes, no matter how poor you are, or where you come from, and you go downtown, you're just like them."

He first sold clothes out of the trunk of his car, and eventually opened a store in 1982. He took the logos from luxury designers, and printed them on leather.

"You transfer from one concept to a new concept, and you build around that," Dan said. "And that's what the logo was."

He then sold these one of a kind offerings 

"Louis Vuitton wasn't doing it. Gucci wasn't doing it. Fendi wasn't doing it," Dan said. "And nobody was selling men clothes and women clothes with prints all over it."

Did he know that, due to trademarks, that was kind of forbidden? 

"I had to be able to sell what they were selling, but making it better than they made it," Dan said. "So the answer to your question, yes, I knew it was (LAUGH) the wrong thing to do. But it was my creativity."

He built an unlikely empire, celebrities like LL Cool J and Salt-N-Pepa wore him. But the designers he knocked off eventually came knocking, with an assist from federal marshals 

"They had court papers saying, 'We have-- we have the right to take anything,'" Dan said. "And they broke me."

Dapper Dan went back to selling clothes on the street.

"I had to swallow my pride, and start back with a table like this again," Dan said. "I went from a table to a three story buildng, back to a table." 

Dapper Dan

But in 2017, all that changed.

Gucci unveiled a jacket nearly identical to one of Dapper Dan's designs, but they didn't give him credit.

"And that created an uproar on Twitter," Dan said.

Gucci made amends and, believe it or not, has now teamed up with Dapper Dan to create high fashion. It's a relationship he doesn't take lightly.

Earlier this year, when Gucci released a controversial sweater that was recognized by Dapper Dan as blackface, Dan, who wasn't involved in the design, demanded answers.

"I recognized that this could be construed as an affront to my culture," Dan said.

The sweater was pulled. And while some called for a company boycott, Dapper Dan says he had a better idea.

"My intention was to get the most important people of color in that room with them so we can have a dialogue and you explain what you did and what you and how you're gonna fix it," Dan said.

Whether he's enlightening a multi-billion dollar company or young fashion hopefuls in his Harlem atelier, Dapper Dan is grateful for his second chance.

"It's a miracle that keeps happening," Dan said. "The same year I get a clothes partnership with Gucci, a book deal with random house, I said, 'This can't be happening.' I said, 'If I'm dreaming and somebody wake me up, and they-- they pinch me and wake me up, I'm killing them."

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