Farewell, Gap: a high street staple falls

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

Gap store
(Image credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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”.

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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.

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