“I was given that. I have three older brothers and two older cousins, and we all lived in the same building. They all liked me, so I learned so much at an early age. The only male in my family was my father, and he was the only one that worked a regular job while everybody else was hustling. I learned everything about hustling from my uncles and cousins, and by the time I was thirteen, I learned everything about the streets. There was an older guy named Dapper Dan, and when he came home he would hang out with me, and he was amazed at how good of a hustler I had become. One day he said, ‘I’m not Dapper Dan anymore; you’re Dapper Dan. From now on, my name is Tenor Man Dan.’
“He was amazing—jet Black, pearly white teeth, pimp style, a barber, a con man, and a major gambler. You know how you go to college and get degrees? In Harlem we get degrees in different ways of hustling, and he knew it all. When he saw a young guy like me coming from his neighborhood who could do it, he gave me the name Dapper Dan and called himself Tenor Man Dan because he played the saxophone. I didn’t realize there were so many older guys that I learned from who couldn’t read. I had no idea.”
When did you know that fashion and style was for you?
“As a means to make money, or as a means to transform my life? Because fashion transformed my life literally—clothes, which involves fashion, transformed my life. I grew up very poor. Goodwill was our Macy’s, and all I got was hand-me-downs until I was old enough to get clothes for myself through street things as young inner-city kids. The projects were not the bottom realm—the tenements were. The tenements are where nobody really wanted to live, and that’s where we had to live. It was very important to me and my self-esteem to feel like I was somebody, to feel good about myself, and that’s what fashion did for me. So much so that I refused to go to school if I wasn't fly. I used to ask my brother to borrow his clothes before I went to school, and if he didn’t let me borrow his clothes, I would sneak them out of the house. He used to catch me, so what he did was sit by the door when it was time for me to go to school. You know what I did? I told my friend to stand by the back window and I would drop his clothes out the window, and he’d see what I’m wearing when I go downstairs, but I’d change in the hallway. That’s how critical it was.
“It was my only gateway to feeling like somebody, you know? I can’t remember the last time I saw a person ashamed of what they had on. Maybe it’s not that big of a thing, but it was the only way to make you feel and look like you were transitioning. That’s a big reason why people who come out of the ghetto of Harlem get Cadillacs and Mercedes even before they get homes; they need that instant gratification that everybody can see. They can park, drive through, and walk in the hood, and that’s more visible than having a home in Long Island. The mentality was instant gratification and to transform yourself. What sparked my desire for clothes is how it transformed my life and the way people see me. I get dressed and go downtown, but nobody knows where I live.”