I have until now resisted the urge to say something negative about the current Gap advertising campaign. I thought I should focus on positive things, rather than stuff I don't like. After all it seems a bit mean spirited to attack a grey mousy person for wanting to be grey and mousy. And I don't feel the need to force my love of fashion on the world - with this blog I expect to preach to the converted - I am not a fashion missionary in search of a grey mouse make-over.
But then I read the press release that came with Gap's Dress Normal campaign.
Gap's Fall Campaign Celebrates Individuality By Challenging The Convention Of Dressing Normal
'Dress Normal' boldly instructs individuals to shape their own authentic, personal style—and intentionally challenges every one of us to dress for ourselves."
If Gap's unapologetic message had been: Dress Normal and Be As Forgettable As You Want To Be, I'd be celebrating with them. After all, fashion has become an annoyingly pervasive element of western culture. High end designers work with car and furniture manufacturers, they sell clothing next to the candy isle in Target, and magazines and newspapers love publishing street style fashion images, all of which may have led innocent people to believe that everyone (no longer just the rich or famous) is now expected to be extremely well dressed at all times and that a disinterest in clothes renders them irrelevant or abnormal.
But then the company explained what could have been a simple and fresh message in fashion advertising with a whole lot of pseudo intellectual mumbo jumbo about intentionally challenging us to dress for ourselves, and their message not only became condescending but it also felt a bit like they were backpedalling, and using nonsensical language to diffuse criticism.
The fact is, the Gap is a perfect store for people who don't want to partake in fashion. It sells regular clothes of average quality at a fairly reasonable price, clothes that will keep you warm and comfortable, and may just pass the casual Friday test at work. If you want to dress normal, this is a pretty decent place to go.
But Gap believes they are more than just a purveyor of clothes to protect our bodies from the elements. They want to guide us in shaping our own authentic personal style. And they have even hired Elisabeth Moss and Anjelica Huston among others to show us how. Unfortunately, the minute Elisabeth Moss puts on her "normal" Gap clothes, she turns into the grey mouse her character Peggy was before she became Peggy the confident copy writer. And poor Zosia Mamet is pictured wearing the "normal" uniform half-heartedly rebellious girls everywhere have been wearing for the last 30 years, a flowery dress, a denim jacket and boots - predictable yes, but not exactly challenging or authentic (unlike her daytime job on Girls, one of the most innovative shows on television).
Poor Gap seems to be suffering from a terrible identity crisis. LLBean and Land's End are about great quality, practical, down-to-earth clothing for every situation and for all climates. H&M and Forever 21 are all about the newest trends at a very competitive price. Zara and Ann Taylor are about fashion for women who know their designer labels, and J.Crew is about classic clothes with an irresistibly quirky twist.
Gap used to be about plain jeans, khakis and T-shirts, ironically all manufactured in poetically beautiful and colorful places like India and Vietnam, even though the company loves to emphasize its Americanness. There are still jeans, but they lack the lightweight easiness and trendy fit of the luxury brands (or those by cheap and cheerful mega company Inditex for that matter), and there are still T-shirts, but again there is a lack of fit and also a lack of the nonchalance that competitors like Splendid and James Perse have achieved in their knitwear (but of course something Inditex has copied splendidly).
I paid a visit to Gap's store on Queen's Road Central this afternoon, because I wanted to see the Dress Normal clothes for myself. This store has two women's floors, and it was clear that the high end campaign clothes were on the ground floor. The leather jacket Anjelica Huston wears in one of her portraits (the leather version of the jacket above) is nicely sewn with big clean stitching and decent leather. But it costs HKD$2800 (or US $360) - no wonder it's nice, it may well be Gap's most expensive item ever. Ask yourself though, if you had HKD$2800 in your pocket for random spending, would you go to Gap?
nice stitching - I liked this shirt
dresses from hell in one hundred varieties
a good jacket, but at US $360, it's unlikely to be revenue generator
another nice shirt
an ill-fitting lumpy jacket with dropped shoulder detail (is this the jacket Elisabeth Moss is wearing in the ad?)
who would spend money on this coat? it looks like it's spent a few years in one of those funny vacuum sealed storage bags you can buy on late night infomercials
another one - this is just about staff training I suppose, but since the store has been open for 4 years I think there is an issue here
and of course there are ample opportunities for a bargain
The other items on the ground floor are denim shirts. There is a good selection of thick denim, thin denim, and chambray, although most shirts are cut in the exact same western style. There are also nice shirts in cotton voile and the stitching on all shirts is impressive. But all along the walls are dresses which make me want to cry, from baby doll dresses to dresses with fitted bodices and severe, stiff A-line skirts, these dresses are so incredibly wrong. I own a small clothing company and I know my customers' bodies. There is no way you can a fit princess seam dress with a tightly fitted waist on the majority of your customers. Some have small boobs, some have big boobs, some have small waists, some have big waists, some women have size 8 on top and a size 4 on bottom or vice versa, some have long torsos and some have short torsos. It's like making a one-size-fits-all bra. It's just not going to work.
After I make it down to the other women's floor, regular old Gap is back. There are no special jackets here, or no fine cotton voile shirts. There are endless sale signs and lumpy wrinkly jackets, granted it's a busy Saturday afternoon, but it is a horrible mess everywhere.
What in heaven's name does Gap stand for nowadays? Just pretending it is a brand Anjelica Huston wants to wear is not going to be effective. There need to be good clothes in the store, and not just a few special things on the main floor. The most recent would-be savior of Gap is the Danish brain behind COS, Rebekka Bay. It's undoubtedly Rebekka's Scandinavian stamp on the dark denim trench coats, and the waxed black cotton trenches with raw edged details and belt. Frankly, if Rebekka is also the brain behind this advertising campaign, I won't get my hopes up for a fast recovery.
It's Gap's relentless insistence on competing with trendy fashion companies that has boggled my mind for years. In all my years in America, London and Hong Kong, I can't remember ever making an impulse purchase at Gap, but I am pretty sure I have made a hundred at J.Crew. Dress Normal is a bit depressing, it's as if you are throwing in the towel.
Feels to me like Gap has just appointed itself the fun police.