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July 31 2014

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12 posts tagged "The Gap"

Gap’s Creative Director, Rebekka Bay, on the All-American Uniform, Normcore, and the Power of a Blue Shirt

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thegapHow to make consumers fall back into the Gap? That’s the challenge that Rebekka Bay has undertaken since assuming the reins as creative director of the monolithic brand in October 2012.

Before coming to the Gap, the 44-year-old Danish designer founded COS (a subsidiary of H&M) in 2007, which quickly developed a cult following for its directional yet accessible take on modern minimalism. Upon arrival, Bay immediately set about refocusing the design team’s efforts on those core, iconic pieces—building blocks for the quintessential American wardrobe—that the Gap has always been known for.

Bay’s premiere Spring ’14 collection (now in stores) reflects her
back-to-basics approach, which feels in touch with the rise of normcore fashion and the industry’s movement toward a simplified aesthetic. She’s a big believer in uniform dressing and thinks that “everyone looks better in a blue shirt.” Keeping this in mind, the Gap recently dedicated an entire retail space in New York City to blue shirts—ranging from crisp cotton button-ups to soft chambray styles for the whole family.

Style.com spoke to Bay about the new concept space, her outlook for the Gap, American sportswear, her personal uniform, and more.

What have been some of your initial goals for the Gap?

I think what I’d really like Gap to be is that sort of foundation in everyone’s wardrobe. That doesn’t mean that my focus is only on
super-basic pieces. I think it’s initially been about trimming things down to create a new starting point for everything, and going from there and beginning to apply the ideas. I think once you have created that pure expression of an iconic piece, then you can start laying in the fashion or originality.

So what are some of those core iconic pieces you’re reintroducing?

I’ve thought about really focusing on the building blocks of any wardrobe. I think the real American uniform was always about jeans and T-shirts, or khakis and oxford shirts. Beyond that, we’ve really concentrated on creating the perfect little crewneck and then doing iconic pieces of outerwear. For fall, that meant the peacoat and the parka. And spring was very much about bombers and denim jackets, and also variations on the moto or biker jacket.

You mentioned the American uniform. What is your personal uniform?

I’m super boring. I wear jeans, I think, nine out of ten days, with a basic T-shirt or jumper, depending on the weather. Sometimes I get tired of wearing the same jeans over and over, so I’ll shift to a pair that is slightly lower at the hip or has a different crop, but it’s always variations on the same outfit.

I’ve noticed that a lot of fashion designers and creative types also have this formulaic approach to getting dressed—you see them in the same white T-shirt and black jeans every day. Why do you think that is?

I can only speak for myself, by my mind is always occupied by what I’m doing with the new collection, and I’m less preoccupied with how I’m going to wear that. I think you make yourself a blank canvas and you never really get to decorate that canvas because you’re always working toward the next season.

In general, do you think fashion is trending toward a more streamlined, pared-down look? Obviously you’ve probably heard about normcore, but do you think the consumer is really craving simplicity now?

I think the more complicated the world that we live in becomes, the more we feel the urge to simplify and strip down. I think there’s more peace of mind in not being too occupied with the latest trends or fads. Your personality shines through when you’re not really hiding behind what you wear. I think there are different uniforms for different times, and I think we’re currently in a season of high fashion with a more realistic or simplistic attitude to getting dressed. People are more in favor of those iconic essentials now.

Is there a renewed emphasis on improving quality?

I think what’s number one on my list of priorities is improving the cost of the whole, and part of that is improving quality of design, of fit, of fabrications, and also of the store experience—how customers are engaging with the brand overall. I think the simpler the product you’re putting out, the more you demand from it and have higher expectations.

Tell me about the concept behind the new Gap retail space on Fifth Avenue that is dedicated to blue shirts.

I’m constantly looking to engage our customer in new ways. We have been using this retail space like a laboratory for new ideas. We previously showcased our Paddington Bear for babyGap collaboration there, and turned it into more of a lifestyle experience in January. What I really wanted to do with the blue shirt space was to try to focus on just one piece that works for so many people. Gap has always been an American family brand, and I like that we can have a uniform that’s equally relevant across age and gender.

When I think of Gap, what immediately comes to mind is that famous khaki swing campaign from the nineties. How important do you think marketing is to brand positioning?

For Gap, marketing is really important in conveying the optimism of the brand. In addition to revisiting these iconic pieces in terms of design, it’s important to also show customers what the attitude is, how to wear these pieces, and how to make them yours. I think Gap ads have always managed to make you feel good, and we want to continue capturing that emotion.

How do you balance your own creativity with the necessity for commercial appeal?

To be honest, I’ve always seen being commercial as a creative challenge. Decisions are always instinctive above all. For me, being commercial means reaching a big audience and being relevant for a lot of people, and that’s a challenge I really enjoy.

Gap’s blue shirt concept space is located at 680 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10019. It will be open through the beginning of May.

Can COS Creator Rebekka Bay Make the Gap Cool Again?

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Rebekka Bay

If you’re looking to add something basic to your wardrobe—a T-shirt, say, or a new pair of jeans, perhaps a light sweater for spring—chances are the Gap isn’t at the top of your list of places to look. Though it still generates billions in sales, the retailer has, over the last twenty-five years, slowly been slipping out of consumer America’s consciousness.

Bloomberg Businessweek profiles Gap’s new creative director, Rebekka Bay, in its latest issue, and while it seems the COS creator is a smart choice for reviving the brand, it isn’t clear what exactly the Gap should be. The headline “Can Rebekka Bay Fix the Gap?” makes it seem like bringing the brand back to its exuberant nineties glory is the answer. But if Bay’s task is to “Make Gap Gap again,” there better be a whole lot of people out there who want the Gap to be the Gap again, an as-yet-unproven proposition. That or this normcore thing better take off.

Bay talks about the strength of the American uniform—comfortable, functional, timeless clothes, like jeans and T-shirts—and her rules for creating a collection: “You need a very strong foundation,” she says. “You have boundaries, and you can only—and I’m kind of rigid about this—you can only work within them. First, you design the most iconic piece. Then you can maybe create a seasonal version of that. If anyone is going to go beyond that, I have to agree to it.”

What Gap does having working in its favor is scale—almost 1,700 stores in nearly fifty countries and sales of more than $6 billion, according to Businessweek. Unfortunately, for now anyway, savvy shoppers will be more excited to see a new COS store opening than a new collection landing at the Gap. Let’s see if Bay can change that.

Roman Grandinetti’s Got the Blues

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Roman painting

“I was looking to speak to the street,” said Brooklyn-based artist Roman Grandinetti of the point of direction for his new murals. Currently on display on Kenmare Street and Ludlow Street, the works were commissioned by Vice and the Gap for Gap’s Art of Blue project—the visual street component of Gap’s just-launched denim-heavy Back to Blue campaign. “The concept of the wall is about different tones of blue being thrown together—it’s not so directed, kind of like how downtown is,” explained Grandinetti, who grew up in New York, moonlights as a deejay, and is a largely self-trained. “On top of that design, I injected how downtown is becoming a tad more organized and a little more fine-tuned with numbers. Saint Laurent is now downtown. Balenciaga is now downtown. The newcomers are kind of making it streamlined,” he added.

The two murals—which Grandinetti will complete today using a paint-filled fire extinguisher—are an ode to today’s downtown New York. The walls are splashed with chaotically strewn shades of ultramarine and cerulean, which are overlaid with bold, printed numbers—including a very prominent 1969—stamped in Gap-denim blue. “It was a way to tie all my favorite places that are influenced by art or that attach themselves to art in one way, shape, or form,” explained the artist of the numbers (which refer to phone numbers in downtown Manhattan). “And [to convey] that blue has a feeling.”

Grandinetti, who got his start in the music industry and just recently put up a mural on Ludlow commemorating A$AP Ferg’s debut album release, is one of five artists to leave their vision in blue for the Gap. “There’s one in London. One in Paris. I’m super psyched [to be a part of this],” says Grandinetti. “It’s an amazing feeling to have something in the street and have people live with it.”

Photo: Sasha Frumin

Patrick Robinson’s Hat Trick

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Patrick Robinson’s had a big couple of weeks. Last Thursday, the former Gap designer announced his new urban sportswear line, PASHKO, via a Kickstarter campaign (he’s 2K and change away from having enough funding to get the project rolling). Yesterday, Robinson was named the new creative director of Armani Exchange, and today, we can reveal that (drumroll please…) Robinson is designing the uniforms for Chelsea’s swank new High Line Hotel, which, located at 180 tenth avenue, is scheduled to soft-open in April. Naturally, Robinson didn’t create just any old outfits; rather, he’s imagined wares that are functional, cool, comfortable, and approachable (“People are more approachable when they’re comfortable,” he said). “I start every project by thinking about how people are going to connect with it,” Robinson told Style.com, adding that he was intrigued and inspired by the building itself—a former seminary built in 1895. He got a “collegiate” vibe from the space, and translated this into black, burgundy, and white uniforms that offer a contemporary take on a prep school aesthetic. For starters, everyone gets a cardigan. The housekeeping crew will receive an “elongated” look via black trousers and a long, fluid, jersey shirt with three-quarter sleeves. For the bellmen, the designer is making twist neck t-shirts and sophisticated slacks with six pockets (but they are not cargo pants, he insists), and hostesses will wear soft knit tunics and peg-leg pants. “I feel like women in hotels always get stuck wearing dresses, and I don’t feel like that’s modern,” he explained. His uniforms, however, seem very modern, and even covetable, as you might be able to tell from the five exclusive sketches Robinson sent us (above).

When asked about the new A/X gig, Robinson remained tight lipped, but he did tell us that his simultaneous trio of new projects is not part of a calculated comeback. “Are you kidding me? I’m not that smart,” he laughed. “I couldn’t have planned it this well.” Planned or no, Robinson’s return looks pretty promising.

Photo: Courtesy of Patrick Robinson and the High Line Hotel

Designer Firings: A Silver Lining?

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There’s another seat open at the designer fashion table. News broke today that Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Rimondi (above), creative directors of Gianfranco Ferré, are out at the Italian house (no word on their namesake collection, which presumably will continue for the present). Reports blame dwindling sales for the duo’s departure. But they’re only the latest in a string of designers who have left or been ousted from their positions at major European labels: Milan Vukmirovic at Trussardi 1911; Clare Waight Keller at Pringle of Scotland; Vanessa Seward at Azzaro. (Christophe Decarnin is out at Balmain, though under murkier circumstances; and of course, John Galliano has been let go from both Christian Dior and his namesake label. Although Chloé’s Hannah MacGibbon has been signed for another season, some industry observers are speculating that her time at the label is nearing a close—a speculation not necessarily refuted by the terse statements label CEO Geoffroy de la Bourdonnaye has been giving the press.)

No one would argue that getting fired is fun. But it’s worth remembering that, in fashion at least, many of those who have been removed from their posts—either gently (with contracts not renewed) or not so gently—have gone on to bigger and better. The classic example is Yves Saint Laurent. The young designer took the top spot at Christian Dior when Dior himself died suddenly in 1957. Saint Laurent created a few headline-making shows, but soon after ran afoul of the management and was summarily dismissed. The result? His own label, founded in 1961. The rest, as they say, is history.

In more recent years, there’s the famous story of Marc Jacobs, fired from Perry Ellis after his seminal Spring ’93 grunge collection—too hot for the American label’s taste, but seen in retrospect as enduringly influential. (Patrick Robinson also got the axe at Perry Ellis before landing at another American sportswear legend: The Gap.) Both Peter Dundas and Giambattista Valli exited the house of Ungaro under dark clouds; today, their collections (for Emilio Pucci and for Valli’s namesake line) are among the most admired in fashion. Olivier Theyskens has gone from Rochas to Nina Ricci to current acclaim at Theory, and Alessandra Facchinetti, formerly of Gucci and Valentino, has found new life working on Tom Ford’s womenswear. As for Ford, he has seen both sides: famously losing his Gucci crown before starting his own empire, while also electing not to retain Alber Elbaz at YSL in the late nineties. “From every place or everything you do, you learn what to do and also you learn what not to do,” Elbaz told Style.com of the experience in an interview last year. “I would not change anything if you would ask me. I would still go through the experience I went through. I learned a lot from it. I went through a certain experience that wasn’t easy, but guess what? Nothing is easy anyway, so I’m fine with that.” As the creative director of Lanvin, Elbaz has brought the label back to relevance and racked up success after success; it may not be easy, but he sure makes it look that way.

What will the future hold for Aquilano and Rimondi, Decarnin, or even Galliano (whose own rather more complicated situation is discussed at length in WWD today)? Too soon to tell. Some will argue that in today’s economic climate opportunities will be fewer and corporate titans more inclined to pick low key, perhaps unknown designers. But to judge from the past, fashion is a merry go-round (or should that be rollercoaster?), and for some of these designers at least, it’s entirely possible that the best is yet to come.

Photo: Marcus Tondo / GoRunway.com