"I don't want the clothes to be the life. I want the clothes to help the life," said Kanye West after the presentation of his highly-anticipated adidas collection in New York on February 12. It’s a new sentiment given the high-priced, luxury women’s collections West had previously brought to the runway—a new philosophical approach that sees clothing as a means to "absolve consumers of dressing's daily stress by creating a line of high-quality essentials that can be freely combined in infinite ways—'like Legos,'" he added.
Doesn't this sound like the mission statement of a company like Gap?
While Gap crushed their competition in the late '90s and early '00s by cornering the market on fashionably basic items, the rise of fast-fashion retailers like Zara, H&M, and Uniqlo, alongside mid-priced fashion brands like J.Crew and Club Monaco, pulled away Gap's customer. This turned Gap from a go-to for affordable options into a bland basics brand unable to offer customers the range of upscale-casual, "cool" clothing that other brands could.
To set itself apart in 2015 and beyond, Gap needs not only well designed clothing, it needs products that, on a deeper level, make customers feel like they exist to improve their lives. And it seems like West’s open to revamping Gap if they’ll give him a real chance to, telling Style.com, "One of my dreams was to be the head creative director of the Gap. I’d like to be the Steve Jobs of the Gap… I’m not talking about a capsule. I’m talking about full Hedi Slimane creative control of the Gap."
Comparing himself to Steve Jobs, West famously said, "I am undoubtedly, you know, Steve of Internet, downtown, fashion, culture. Period." His aspiration to do what Steve Jobs did for fashion—making luxury and technological innovation accessible to the masses—is the basis of West’s newfound direction into clothing meant to be worn "from the gym to the office to a meeting to the airport and everywhere in between."
The elements of ease and accessibility in West’s adidas collection, which he called the world's first "solutions-based" clothing line, are applicable to Gap’s products. Both Kanye West and Gap are humbly trying to produce basics that shoppers can not only afford, but be proud to wear. Gap is essentially the perfect platform for West to fix the world's pant leg.
Gap Creative Director Rebekka Bay's recent departure should be an indication that focusing strictly on design won't turn Gap around. Her pedigree at COS (one of Gap's market share rivals) made her a formidable, impressive talent, but Gap's long-term success isn't just about minimalist, modern clothing design; it needs to be perceived by its customers as "cool" and useful to their lives again.
BOTH KANYE west AND GAP ARE HUMBLY TRYING TO PRODUCE BASICS THAT SHOPPERS CAN NOT ONLY AFFORD, BUT BE PROUD TO WEAR. GAP IS ESSENTIALLY THE PERFECT PLATFORM FOR west TO FIX THE WORLD'S PANT LEG.
The problem with designing for Gap is changing the brand's design aesthetic without alienating its core customers (read: middle America). Rebekka Bay focused on improving smaller details to make sales. Before her, Patrick Robinson was trying to push his particular vision through his design. Robinson wanted to reinvent the brand in a modern context. While fashion critics were excited by this, corporate higher-ups didn't buy into it, and neither did customers.
Gap needs to change both the product and how people perceive the brand. Love him or hate him, when Kanye West aligns himself with a brand, like he recently did with A.P.C., the public pays attention and customers flock. The Yeezy Boost sneaker he debuted with adidas, retailing for $350, has been fetching re-sale prices on eBay between $1,000 - $5,000—a clear indicator of the influence his products have in the marketplace. While West would likely attempt a design overhaul at Gap like Robinson, he has the clout, charisma, and direct connection to popular culture that would make these changes appealing to the public. More than anything else, West preaches an inclusive fashion philosophy that defends the place of basics in our closet and their function to help us get by in our day-to-day lives.
As West told Style.com, he wants full creative control of Gap, which is the kind of bold offering a company like Gap would need to offer to yield real, forward-thinking change. There’s a reason he referenced Hedi Slimane, creative director of Saint Laurent, when talking about the kind of power he wants at Gap. In the three years since Hedi joined the company (and famously changed its name), he has doubled the company’s revenue. Giving full control and resources to a visionary like Slimane guarantees the best possible results. West’s proven that his influence and beliefs would position him to do the same for Gap.
Gap needs to be cool to its current and potential customers again. In Kanye West’s collaborations with adidas and A.P.C., he's proven he can take wardrobe staples like basic tees, military outwear, and denim to a higher level—in design, perception, and ultimately desire. If Gap were to give West the ability to be their creative director, he could overhaul their product offering into lusted-after pieces, based on the strength of his influence and for-the-people fashion philosophy.
Besides achieving his passion-driven design goals, Kanye himself would benefit from working with Gap in a way that he hasn’t been able to in his fashion career thus far. He talked to Power 105.1 last week about the difficulty of providing for the masses without the built-in infrastructure to do so. He said, "I know what my generation wants, but it's very difficult when you don't have the production experience." Not only does Gap have the factories and production system in place, they have over 1,700 stores worldwide, which would provide an ideal incubator and testing ground for his ideas.
People want to dress in a way that fuels their confidence and reflects either their spending power or their sense of style despite financial limitations. Kanye also told the press that he wants his clothing to provide consumers with "a worldliness and an ease." If Kanye can apply his philosophy of ease and access to Gap, he will reinvigorate their designs and positively change the way people see them in the marketplace. Gap should give Kanye a real shot at proving his ability to influence their brand for the best.
Greg Babcock is a staff writer for Complex. Follow him at @GOBabcock.