Gap x Dap Signals a New Way Forward for the Retailer
Gap is on the prowl. For decades, the mall brand was content to be there when you needed a new pair of khakis, a logo hoodie, or a pair of jeans with an aggressive wash. Now, the brand is making all kinds of new friends. It started in the summer of 2020, when Kanye West, now Ye, signed a 10-year deal with the brand, and started releasing round jackets and cropped hoodies. Then Ye introduced the brand to Balenciaga. Now, Gap is stacking up another collaboration, this time with legendary Harlem tailor Dapper Dan. Add it all up and you have a brand making a mad dash for a seat at the cool kids’ table.
There is still not much to say about Gap’s collaboration with Ye, at least publicly. In an earnings call with analysts late last week, executives didn’t share much in the way of details: how is it selling, who is buying it, when are we going to see the full (and very delayed) collection? Instead, Gap CEO Sonia Syngal only told analysts that the brand was “leaning into” the Yeezy Gap line “to further extend its reach and relevance around the globe.” There don’t necessarily need to be many highlights beyond that. The chief goal of these projects is something different: to extend Gap’s relevance around the world.
And so far, the plan seems to be working. Back in November, Syngal said that the Yeezy hoodie was the best-selling item Gap has ever sold online. Also, most importantly, more than 70% of those customers were newbies to Gap, she said, according to Bloomberg.The sales are great but the real benefit, Syngal noted, is “unlocking the power of a new [younger] audience.” Cultural relevance is the name of the game for Gap right now. “Together, [Gap and its collaborators] create culturally relevant moments and new instant classics,” Mary Alderete, global head of Gap marketing, said in an email.
The collaboration with Dapper Dan will continue to jimmy that lock. Dap, who made his name remixing luxury-label items from Fendi, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci at his Harlem atelier in the ‘80s and ‘90s, made pieces so elaborate and sought-after they were described not as “knockoffs” but “knockups.” His goal with Gap is to apply that same bar-raising magic to the brand’s well-known hoodie. Accordingly, the collab contains a salmon-colored hoodie that reads, charmingly, “DAP” in the familiar Gap font. “This is the first time Gap has ever modified our iconic heritage logo by personalizing it for this collaboration,” Alderete said. The surface-level change is newsy, but Dap wants to change more than the logo. “I am wearing the hoodie like I’m wearing a dress shirt—with an ascot,” Dapper Dan said on a video call Tuesday. “So I am elevating the look of a hoodie.”
Gap’s new strategy embraces its greatest super power: its sheer size. Collaborators like Ye, Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia, and Dap all come to Gap for the same reason: they want to get their clothes in the hands of as many people as possible. Even though Dap’s collaborated with Gucci, a Gap partnership offered him something very different. “Gap allows me to do something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” he said. “I have so many people who tell me stories, ‘Man, I used to walk by your store when you were in Harlem and I could never afford to buy anything from you. Then, fast-forward 25, 30 years later you’re with Gucci and I still can’t afford you.’ What Gap does for me is it gives me an opportunity to reach down to humanity and let them know that you know you can have a part of me.”
There was one detail in particular that persuaded Dapper Dan to join forces with Gap, he told me: the brand offered him a 30-foot billboard, on 42nd Street in Times Square. Gucci, he explained, had put one up for him in Harlem upon the release of their collaborative collection, and he described that moment as “the culture” arriving. This was something else entirely: ”a 30-foot billboard at the crossroads of the world, so everybody can see.” It’ll serve as Dap’s introduction to the Gap-buying world—and maybe as an introduction to a whole new Gap, too.
Maverick’s back, baby. By Jeremy Freed May 21, 2022 Photographs: Getty Images, Vacheron; Collage by Gabe Conte Welcome to…