A friendly high school rivalry has not prevented Jelani Day ’04 from collaborating with Westtown graduate Julee Wilson ’00 in the fashion industry. Jelani is the brand manager for fashion icon Dapper Dan, and Julee is the fashion and beauty director at ESSENCE Magazine. The two teamed up this fall to feature Dapper Dan as the cover story for ESSENCE’s September fashion issue.
Jelani and Julee met through an organization called Harlem’s Fashion Row, a platform for multicultural designers, where Dapper Dan presented as a keynote speaker a few years ago. “The whole point of Harlem’s Fashion Row is to enhance not only diversity, but cultural issues as well, and provide a platform during New York Fashion week for people of multicultural backgrounds to come together,” said Jelani.
“Julee was in the audience that day, and at the time she was the fashion editor for The Huffington Post. We met briefly after the show and stayed in touch. I invited her to attend a screening of a documentary that Dapper Dan was featured in with my family a few months later. We met up at a deli across from the venue and got to know each other,” said Jelani. It was in that exchange where Jelani and Julee both discovered their George School and Westtown connection.
“We became fast friends and then realized that we also lived on the same block and went to brother/sister schools. It’s serendipitous when you think about it,” said Julee.
Jelani is in charge of managing Dapper Dan’s brand, whose fashion designs bridge luxury brands together with a hip-hop aesthetic. Dapper Dan has been making waves in the fashion industry for years. His partnership with Gucci has propelled him further to the forefront with the creation of a fashion line and an appointment-only boutique in a brownstone in Central Harlem.
The brand’s mission is built on a foundation of positivity and determination. “Dap always talks about what his mission is, which is to get young men and women, who are very capable, to get off the corner and integrate with the rest of the world in a way that they can add value and do positive things in society,” said Jelani. Dapper Dan’s story is intertwined with the Harlem community, and is also on the global stage of luxury fashion. Jelani is excited about the global reach of Dapper Dan’s brand and message, and hopes that it’s something young people can look at and feel inspired to make their ambitions a reality.
“Dapper Dan’s story is beyond worthy of an ESSENCE cover story and to make it even more epic, we tapped Naomi Campbell to channel Dap’s singular style on the cover. And then we had legendary Harlem photographer Jamel Shabazz to capture both Naomi and Dap for the feature,” said Julee. “Last, but certainly not least, we commissioned famed fashion journalist André Leon Talley to interview Dap and write the story. It was a dream come true. To bring all those legends together is nothing short of magical.”
Working with a Westtown alum has been a rewarding experience for Jelani, who commented that the schools are very similar in ideals and their approaches to collaboration. “What you realize after you graduate and move on in life is that there are certain values that a Westtown alum and a George School alum hold dear,” said Jelani. “There are two real cornerstones that I think I’ve seen in everyone who’s gone through a Friends’ school. One is the presence of mindfulness in their life. Two is their ability to be understanding, observant, and caring for people that they work with. I’ll never forget being in Main and the dining hall, and on any given day, at any given meal, I could sit down and just meet so many different people from different walks of life.”
Julee was also thrilled at the opportunity to collaborate with a George School alum. “It was a blessing. Beyond the fact that the entire project was comprised of fashion icons, I kept pinching myself that it was also Jelani and I—two George School and Westtown alums—helping to make it happen,” said Julee. “I think I can speak for both of us when I say how grateful we are for our education, and we know how special it is to find others in the world that share that Quaker boarding school bond.”
The professional relationship between Jelani and Julee is an inspiring example of what it means to cultivate collaboration across an industry. In addition to working together for ESSENCE’s September issue, Jelani and Julee also worked closely together over the summer at the annual ESSENCE festival in New Orleans, which featured a keynote talk from Julee and Dapper Dan. The pair also worked together on ESSENCE’s StreetStyle festival this past September in Brooklyn, NYC, which provided plenty of opportunities for guests to interact with their favorite fashion brands and influencers.
“Collaboration is essential. You can’t do this type of work in a vacuum—it takes the talent and passion of others to create something that will stand the test of time. I’m proud to say we did that,” said Julee.
The collaborative experiences Jelani had at George School have been ones he has carried into his professional life. He recalled sitting in Terry Culleton’s English class at George School and having the desks organized in a circle. “We had a round table sort of dialogue and discussion. Even something as small as being able to look across the room in that circular alignment—it does a lot to how you communicate, and the way you see problem solving.”
There is currently a circular table in the office where Dapper Dan’s team has meetings, and each team member is asked for their input. “It’s about making people feel included and valued because they truly are. Being able to bring this element into a day-to-day work environment has made all the difference,” said Jelani.
Reflecting fondly on his time at George School, Jelani stated, “I think my favorite part was seeing how George School expanded my world. I was born and raised in Harlem, and when I came to George School it was a complete expansion of everything I had ever known.”
As a proud George School alum, Jelani is inspired to keep creating and collaborating in a positive way. “What I try to do is recreate what I learned at George School in my present and my future life. I try to constantly create opportunities for people,” said Jelani. “I’m always trying to create diverse communities because I understood at an early age the power of connecting with people who come from different backgrounds. It lets them be able to get out of their own world, and share a new world with a new group of people.”