What’s going on at Gap?

Yeezy Gap

Kanye’s first Yeezy Gap jacket drooped last week, but is it any cop?

The single nylon puffer was the first piece from the much hyped ten-year project to appear as a pre-order on the U.S Gap website (to be shipped in the autumn). In bright blue, the voluminous $200 jacket wasn’t your average Gap fare. (Some memes compared it to a Smurf-coloured bin bag.)

Early reactions on fashion forums were mixed – 65/35 against I’d say. The 35% were quite emphatic in their enthusiasm, applauding Gap for giving so much trust and control to Team Yeezy. Gap even temporarily erased its entire Instagram feed save for one picture of the polarising item. At this stage, one could concede, what exactly does Gap have to lose?

To understand how things might play out, we could look at Gucci and Celine. When Alessandro and Hedi took over creative direction at these two heritage brands there was outrage and confusion (remember #oldceline?). But in time, the new customer convinced the old customer and wider public. Gucci is now extremely profitable, while Celine has been making progress despite the obvious challenges of the pandemic.

Gap has been struggling for years. As hoodies, normcore and Casual Friday-wear have been variously co-opted by cooler street wear upstarts, or simply fallen out of favour with the way people dress, Gap has failed to evolve sufficiently for the modern consumer. In today’s hyper-accelerated market you need to go harder on your brand heritage, try harder to stay ahead, or go home.

It may be a little late, but with this recent move, Gap could recover. I actually believe the Kanye appointment may turn out to be a smart strategy, anointing the retailer with a much needed ‘halo effect’. After all, he has a solid track record with his Adidas-backed Yeezy trainers, which grew 31% in annual revenue during the pandemic. Plus timing-wise, what better moment than post-pandemic for a radical reinvention? He also has Mowalola Ogunlesi heading up his design team, a secret weapon who understands Gen-Z taste preferences. To be clear: this is not your father’s Gap.

Importantly, the company is fully behind Kanye. Gap’s CEO Sonia Sygnal said on a recent earnings call, “what I can tell you is that the creativity is through the roof and it’s spilling over to the brand and it’s inspiring our teams more broadly.” Thinking back to Alessandro Michele’s Gucci debut there was much handwringing until we all relaxed and accepted Gucci’s visionary new normal.

Will I be wearing the Yeezy Gap blue puffer? (It’s U.S. only now but global rollout is expected.) No. But I’m certainly keeping an eye on the rest of the line of so-called ‘elevated basics’. Despite nostalgic brand affection, I’ve not meaningfully engaged with Gap for quite a while. But I’m not ready to dismiss it just yet.

WORDS: Disneyrollergirl / Navaz Batliwalla
IMAGE: Twitter
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