Classic status cast off and another fashion victim was made

By Susannah Frankel,Fashion Editor
Friday 11 January 2002 01:00

If ever there were a symbol of Gap's success, it was Sharon Stone's appearance at the 1996 Oscars ceremony dressed in one of the store's black turtleneck sweaters and an overblown Vera Wang skirt.

More than any other actress that year, Stone offered an intelligent and modern way to cope with glamorous dress. Wang's skirt could only be described as a number and, in this, it was entirely predictable. The Gap sweater, however, couldn't have been simpler – less starry, if you will.

Stone stood apart from her skin-flashing, paparazzi-courting contemporaries: mixing high fashion with great basics is, after all, the way most people would, if they could, choose to dress.Head-to-toe designer clothes horses is not what the world needs.

And for many years, the best place to go for great basics was Gap. The store had the finest white T-shirts, especially for men. It had the most comprehensive and well-organised selection of jeans and chinos. It had simple knitted sweaters with various necklines and in great colours to suit all tastes and sizes. It had great blouson jackets, easy drawstring waist trousers, and perfectly cut and reasonably priced macs.

The fabrics were good enough to convince consumers to spend more than they would for any cut-price brand. Above all, Gap never stooped to anything so pedestrian or frivolous as fashion. Of course, the collections evolved, tweaked so as not to frighten a fashion-conscious clientele with anything as scandalous as a dodgy hem-length or an ill-placed waistline, but this was barely visible. It simply wasn't the point.

But that was then. For some time, high fashion has been too visible at Gap for its own good. After all, the super-stylish celebrities that graced its once stellar ad campaigns were just as unlikely to travel to the store for anything even remotely directional as we were. If we wanted designer denim, we'd save up for Marc Jacobs or Chloe. If we wanted a great, functional pair of jeans, we'd go to Gap. But we'd be hard pushed to find them amid the low-rise, skinny-legged, boot-cut, cropped-at-the-ankle designer imitations.

Just like Marks & Spencer, Gap appears to have forgotten its classic status. And just like Marks & Spencer, Gap is the last place anyone on the planet who cares about such things would buy overtly fashionable clothing. The younger consumer would find better designer copies and at more reasonable prices at Topshop; the older shopper would be scared to death by the ocean of fashion denim, needle cord, and leather that confronted them as they walked in through the door.

Gap's omnipresence also meant that anyone silly enough to buy fashion-conscious pieces at the store couldn't be certain their friendswouldn't have done the same.

This is not what fashion, an unashamedly elitist affair, is about. Gap's strength was in its anonymity, in the fact that the wearer – from the likes of you and me to Ms Stone – could stamp his or her personality on a garment, thereby making it their own. This, sadly, no longer appears to be the case.

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