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Arts and Entertainment

Gap Launches Expensive Designer White Shirts

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For the past several seasons The Gap has been in a serious creative rut with completely lackluster clothes and equally dull ad campaigns, but the company aims to change all that with today's introduction of a limited edition collection for women designed by three hot, up-and-coming fashion designers.

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Following in the footsteps of mass-market clothing retailers H&M, Topshop and Target, all of whom have commissioned high-end designers to create limited edition clothing lines, The Gap selected designers Doo.Ri, Rodarte and Thakoon to each create three interpretations of the classic white shirt. The collections, known as Gap Design Editions, will be available only in flagship and top Gap adult stores in the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Japan as well as online in the U.S.

So what's the result of The Gap's attempt to meld each designer's unique vision with Gap's classic aesthetic? So far, my overall thought is… blah. I haven't seen every item in the debut Gap Design Edition, and I haven't had a chance to feel the fabrics or try on the clothes, so I'm judging solely on the photos I've seen.

Unfortunately, I don't think the pictures I've seen are a harbinger of success. Of the three tops, the only one I truly like is the Rodarte sleeveless drape that Liya Kebede wears. It looks fresh and appealing. Perfect for summer. The Doo.Ri tailored camp shirt is just... ugh. I don't like the T-shirt sleeves, the panels on the chest and the boxy-looking cut. Besides, American Apparel already makes a great a 4-button fine jersey polo shirt that costs $32, less than half of what this shirt will cost. The Thakoon shirt is fussy and ridiculous. I think it's supposed to be romantic and Victorian, but it just looks pirate-y. All of the items cost between $68 and $88, and at those prices I'm curious to see if consumers will bite.

It's a very smart move for The Gap to partner with innovative, young designers. And Doo.Ri, Thakoon and Rodarte (especially Rodarte) are all great designers. But why stifle them? Why not let them do something a little more interesting than a white shirt? I'm also skeptical of the retailer's ability to execute quality clothing. So often The Gap gets it wrong. Really, really wrong. Even when they collaborate with talented designers. It's like there's some executive who insists that no matter how good a design looks, every item of clothing must be cut to appease the figures and sensibilities of middle-American housewives.

Even the designs have been dull and uninspiring as of late. The Gap's recent attempts to rebrand the skinny black pant and get everyone back into khakis have been dreary, while the Gap RED campaign achieved the holy trinity of being dull, ugly and overpriced. (Unfortunately the RED campaign also failed as a philanthropic effort; the campaign's marketing cost was reportedly $100 million, and so far it has raised approximately $25 million. Why not forgo these spend-to-save campaigns and simply donate the money directly to HIV/AIDS relief in Africa? Because that would be truly humanitarian but in a non-self-aggrandizing way.)

There have been a few notable examples. In 2002 The Gap hired Emma Hill, who had been Marc Jacobs' handbag designer, as Vice President for Accessories at the Gap, which has spawned a raft of cute purses, sandals, belts and make-up bags. Also, that campaign from a few years ago fronted by Sarah Jessica Parker had a great overall aesthetic and a couple of exceptionally cute items I wouldn't have expected to see at The Gap. But most of the time when The Gap brings in star designers, the company mediocres up their designs with crappy cutting, which is the bane of The Gap's existence.

More than a few times I've been browsing in The Gap, spotted a cute shirt on a mannequin but when I tried it on, it looked like a totally different item. Upon closer inspection I discovered why there was such a vast difference between the item on the mannequin and the item on the rack. On dummies clothing items are routinely pinned in ways that are vastly different from how they're actually cut (again we run into The Gap's endemic problem of icky cutting). On mannequin shirts will generally be pinned at the waist to make them look tapered and flattering, but in real life they look like boxy tents.

I'm intrigued by the possibilities of the Gap Design Editions, but unless The Gap truly gives designers free reign and vastly improves the quality of its cutting, the result will be more of the same boring average-ness with a higher price tag.