I still remember when, then 15 years old, I took my first trip abroad without my parents.
The context was study vacations: organized groups of harried teenagers who, headed by an English teacher, went (or go, I imagine they still do) to the UK to learn the language and socialize. A wonderful experience as far as I am concerned, also repeated several times over the years. Lo and behold, on that very first study vacation in England, specifically in London, I had the opportunity to enter a GAP store for the first time.
The feeling I had was one of absolute exclusivity, and I will explain why. In Italy at the time, we are talking about the mid-1990s, GAP did not exist (at least where I lived, we are talking about the mechanical province of southern Italy) and the thought of being able to buy something that in my country was not possible to buy, was cool.
Over the years, the appeal of the brand founded in 1969 by Mr. and Mrs. Donald and Doris Fisher has been slowly fading, lately finding new life through collaborations with YEEZY and Balenciaga.
One of the highest moments in GAP’s history is undoubtedly the April 1992 cover of Vogue, the edition celebrating the 100th anniversary of the world’s leading fashion magazine.
The most influential supermodels of the time all together and all dressed the same: GAP-branded total white shirt and jeans. Not Chanel, not Dior, not Versace, not Prada, but GAP.
But how was this possible? The motivation behind this seemingly surprising choice lies in the incredible ability to market intelligently and transform what was a simple store selling jeans into one of the top companies in the world.
The two people responsible for this exponential growth were former GAP CEO Mickey Drexler and marketing and advertising chairwoman Maggie Gross.
The story goes that Drexler asked Gross to focus everything on enhancing the brand’s best sellers, the result was that Gross chose to focus everything on the relationship between product and real people, i.e., those who actually bought from GAP, with the successful campaign “Individuals of Style”.
The campaign was launched in 1988 and featured stars from all walks of life, such as Italian collector and art dealer Leo Castelli, actor John Malkovich, and musicians Lenny Kravitz and Anthony Kiedis from Red Hot Chili Peppers, among the shots.
It was a huge success to the point that customers who went to GAP stores were asking to buy prints of the campaign and even being the next to be shot themselves.
Annie Leibovitz took the shots but she was not the only one, other great photographers also participated, such as Steven Meisel and Matthew Rolston.
The campaign took an unexpected turn thanks to a joke.
The then Art Director of GAP once said, “Kennedy wore khakis too”, not realizing that he had just had a brilliant idea. That joke was the seed that led the brand to create a masterpiece campaign.
They realized that they did not need to hire high-profile photographers or even pay celebrities for their campaigns, but could purchase – at a lower cost – a license to use historic photos and iconic images of people who had helped make the history of our planet’s culture and thought, identifying their products with timeless images and protagonists.
Pablo Picasso, Miles Davis, Muhammad Ali, James Dean, Jack Kerouac, Salvador Dalí, Gene Kelly, Ernest Hemingway and Steve McQueen are some of the personalities used by GAP for what is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and brilliant campaigns ever.