The recent announcement of Gap’s partnership with Kanye West’s YEEZY label may have left some baffled. West has really only worked with adidas since the inception of his label. Other fashion fans, however, are extremely excited. In terms of cultural cache, both names carry weight. Kanye West is a music icon and profitable fashion mogul whose $1.3 billion USD fortune comes from his clothing and footwear empire.
Gap on the other hand, influenced a whole generation of mall shoppers in the ‘90s with its trendy casual apparel, accessible price points and preppy cool identity. At its peak in 1999, Gap Inc., which includes Banana Republic, Old Navy and other brands, raked in $11.6 billion USD in revenue. While the company has struggled with sales and customer appeal for the past decade, there was a time when Gap was a money machine and the quintessential clothing brand of the youth.
Gap is an icon in the world of fashion and pop culture. Its celebrity cosigns, influence on streetwear and global store presence make the company an attractive business, despite the current lull in sales. Kanye West working with Gap feels like a seamless partnership given West’s celebrity relationships and affiliation to streetwear. Some of the designers Gap previously worked with like No Vacany Inn, John Elliott and Heron Preston are West’s close confidants. The mogul is also determined to democratize all his products. This is evident in the rapper’s decision to increase the production of adidas YEEZY sneakers, desire to create low-income housing and his idea of designing the perfect hoodie to be available at Walmart and Costco for $60 USD. Fast-fashion brand Gap partnering with Kanye West will make the designer’s clothing available to the mass market.
In the 1990s, Gap was the epitome of simple cool with its coveted basics and celebrity-infused ads. Consumers couldn’t get enough of the brand’s turtlenecks, khakis and jeans, which defined the casual style explosion of that era. Advertisements featuring the likes of rapper LL Cool J, actor Luke Perry and supermodel Naomi Campbell cemented the label’s massive pop culture appeal.
Advertising was key to Gap’s early success and cultural reach. Its black and white “Individuals of Style” campaign in the ‘80s featured artists and musicians like Anthony Kedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, actor John Malkovich and musician Lenny Kravitz, among others. Annie Leibovitz and Patrick Demarchelier were just a few of the photographers who brought the project to life. The campaign turned Gap into a culturally savvy brand, able to harness the influence of celebs to not only sell clothes but tap into a new “cool” consumers.
As the company grew, the brand relied more on ads featuring influential people. Will Ferrell, Sarah Jessica Parker and Michael K. Williams are just a few names in a long list of actors and actresses that have starred in Gap campaigns. As for musicians, Madonna, Mary J. Blige, Daft Punk and Aerosmith have all performed in a series of commercials for the brand. Rap star Future also appeared alongside Cher for a duet in 2017 and most recently, R&B songstress Sza and producer Metro Boomin showed their dance moves in an ad for Gap’s Logo Remix Collection.
If there was one product synonymous with Gap, it would be khakis. Khakis informed the brand’s popular louche style and influenced the growth of the casual basics trend of the ‘90s. The changing attire in the workplace also contributed to Gap’s rise. “Where the Gap really kind of took off was in the casualization of the office,” Marni Shapiro, Managing Partner at the Retailer Tracker said. “The last leg of casualization came when people started to wear khakis to work on Fridays — casual Fridays, is the easiest way to think about that.”
Gap has never been short on cultural clout. While its appeal amongst consumers has waned, other brands and designers continued to form partnerships with the label. In the past decade, Gap sewed itself into the cultural fabric that connected art, fashion and streetwear, adding to the company’s cool credibility.