Why we’re talking about . . .

Farewell, Gap: a high street staple falls

Gap offered nostalgia and dated denim, but failed to keep up with the times

Yet another familiar fashion retailer is disappearing from our high streets, said Anthony Kent on The Conversation. Last week, the “once-mighty” Gap revealed that it is closing its 81 remaining UK and Ireland stores, and moving to online only sales. 

Founded by two property developers in San Francisco in 1969, Gap arrived in Britain in 1987, and in the 1990s it seemed unassailable, said Anna Murphy in The Times. In that era, before Zara brought us fast fashion and turned “the British everywoman into a trends junkie”, we flocked to Gap for clothes that were affordable, well-made and “styled to last”. 

In truth, the “basics” that were the brand’s signature were not dissimilar to lines at Marks & Spencer – but Gap was just that bit cooler and more on point, with shops styled “like Manhattan lofts” and beguiling marketing. The cool people in its ads may have been wearing dull chinos, but they looked as though they might be about “to write a hip-hop song or ride across Mongolia”. 

Recent visitors to Gap’s stores, with their racks full of discounted clothing covered in naff logos, would be astonished to learn that the brand was once embraced by high fashion, said Lisa Armstrong in The Daily Telegraph. In 1992, Anna Wintour put ten models in white Gap shirts on the cover of Vogue. Four years later, Sharon Stone turned up to the Oscars in a black Gap turtleneck. Well into the noughties, Gap was working with top stylists and designers. 

So where did it go wrong? In retrospect, the rot set in 20 years ago, when sales slumped and bean counters were brought in. Instead of investing in creativity, their strategy was based on identifying successful lines and recycling them. 

But Gap’s wounds were not all self-inflicted. Any brand that defines one generation risks being rejected by the next - and when the BabyGap kids grew up, they found little in Gap that spoke to them. Gap just failed to keep up with the times, said Alys Key in The i Paper.

The high street isn’t doomed, but unless you can compete with the online giants on price (as at dirt-cheap Primark), you have to give people a compelling reason to come through your doors. Gap offered nostalgia and dated denim, and it wasn’t enough.

Recommended

David Hare: my six best books
From left to right: Faith Healer by Brian Friel, The Beautiful Fall by Alicia Drake and Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt
Expert’s view

David Hare: my six best books

Theatre in review: Joseph, Oleanna and Hymn
Clockwise from left: Joseph, Oleanna and Hymn
In Review

Theatre in review: Joseph, Oleanna and Hymn

Exhibition of the week: Bernardo Bellotto
Bernardo Bellotto The Fortress of Königstein from the North-West (1756-8)
In Review

Exhibition of the week: Bernardo Bellotto

Crackdown in Tunisia: the death of a young democracy?
Tunisian President Kais Saied
In Brief

Crackdown in Tunisia: the death of a young democracy?

Popular articles

Does the Tokyo Olympics branding amount to cultural appropriation?
BBC Tokyo Olympics trailer
Expert’s view

Does the Tokyo Olympics branding amount to cultural appropriation?

High jumping for joy: an iconic act of sportsmanship in Tokyo
Mutaz Essa Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi
Why we’re talking about . . .

High jumping for joy: an iconic act of sportsmanship in Tokyo

World’s most extreme weather events in 2021
Wildfire in Greece
In pictures

World’s most extreme weather events in 2021

The Week Footer Banner