Saturday, September 20, 2014

Here's what I think of Gap's condescending Dress Normal campaign (I guess the word condescending gives it away)

I have until now resisted the urge to say something negative about the current Gap advertising campaign. I thought I should focus on positive things, rather than stuff I don't like. After all it seems a bit mean spirited to attack a grey mousy person for wanting to be grey and mousy. And I don't feel the need to force my love of fashion on the world - with this blog I expect to preach to the converted - I am not a fashion missionary in search of a grey mouse make-over.

But then I read the press release that came with Gap's Dress Normal campaign.

Gap's Fall Campaign Celebrates Individuality By Challenging The Convention Of Dressing Normal

'Dress Normal' boldly instructs individuals to shape their own authentic, personal style—and intentionally challenges every one of us to dress for ourselves."

If Gap's unapologetic message had been: Dress Normal and Be As Forgettable As You Want To Be, I'd be celebrating with them. After all, fashion has become an annoyingly pervasive element of western culture. High end designers work with car and furniture manufacturers, they sell clothing next to the candy isle in Target, and magazines and newspapers love publishing street style fashion images, all of which may have led innocent people to believe that everyone (no longer just the rich or famous) is now expected to be extremely well dressed at all times and that a disinterest in clothes renders them irrelevant or abnormal.

But then the company explained what could have been a simple and fresh message in fashion advertising with a whole lot of pseudo intellectual mumbo jumbo about intentionally challenging us to dress for ourselves, and their message not only became condescending but it also felt a bit like they were backpedalling, and using nonsensical language to diffuse criticism.

The fact is, the Gap is a perfect store for people who don't want to partake in fashion. It sells regular clothes of average quality at a fairly reasonable price, clothes that will keep you warm and comfortable, and may just pass the casual Friday test at work. If you want to dress normal, this is a pretty decent place to go.

But Gap believes they are more than just a purveyor of clothes to protect our bodies from the elements. They want to guide us in shaping our own authentic personal style. And they have even hired Elisabeth Moss and Anjelica Huston among others to show us how. Unfortunately, the minute Elisabeth Moss puts on her "normal" Gap clothes, she turns into the grey mouse her character Peggy was before she became Peggy the confident copy writer. And poor Zosia Mamet is pictured wearing the "normal" uniform half-heartedly rebellious girls everywhere have been wearing for the last 30 years, a flowery dress, a denim jacket and boots - predictable yes, but not exactly challenging or authentic (unlike her daytime job on Girls, one of the most innovative shows on television).

Poor Gap seems to be suffering from a terrible identity crisis. LLBean and Land's End are about great quality, practical, down-to-earth clothing for every situation and for all climates. H&M and Forever 21 are all about the newest trends at a very competitive price. Zara and Ann Taylor are about fashion for women who know their designer labels, and J.Crew is about classic clothes with an irresistibly quirky twist.

Gap used to be about plain jeans, khakis and T-shirts, ironically all manufactured in poetically beautiful and colorful places like India and Vietnam, even though the company loves to emphasize its Americanness. There are still jeans, but they lack the lightweight easiness and trendy fit of the luxury brands (or those by cheap and cheerful mega company Inditex for that matter), and there are still T-shirts, but again there is a lack of fit and also a lack of the nonchalance that competitors like Splendid and James Perse have achieved in their knitwear (but of course something Inditex has copied splendidly).

I paid a visit to Gap's store on Queen's Road Central this afternoon, because I wanted to see the Dress Normal clothes for myself. This store has two women's floors, and it was clear that the high end campaign clothes were on the ground floor. The leather jacket Anjelica Huston wears in one of her portraits (the leather version of the jacket above) is nicely sewn with big clean stitching and decent leather. But it costs HKD$2800 (or US $360) - no wonder it's nice, it may well be Gap's most expensive item ever. Ask yourself though, if you had HKD$2800 in your pocket for random spending, would you go to Gap? 

nice stitching - I liked this shirt

dresses from hell in one hundred varieties

a good jacket, but at US $360, it's unlikely to be revenue generator

another nice shirt

an ill-fitting lumpy jacket with dropped shoulder detail (is this the jacket Elisabeth Moss is wearing in the ad?)

who would spend money on this coat?  it looks like it's spent a few years in one of those funny vacuum sealed storage bags you can buy on late night infomercials

another one - this is just about staff training I suppose, but since the store has been open for 4 years I think there is an issue here

and of course there are ample opportunities for a bargain

The other items on the ground floor are denim shirts. There is a good selection of thick denim, thin denim, and chambray, although most shirts are cut in the exact same western style. There are also nice shirts in cotton voile and the stitching on all shirts is impressive. But all along the walls are dresses which make me want to cry, from baby doll dresses to dresses with fitted bodices and severe, stiff A-line skirts, these dresses are so incredibly wrong. I own a small clothing company and I know my customers' bodies. There is no way you can a fit princess seam dress with a tightly fitted waist on the majority of your customers. Some have small boobs, some have big boobs, some have small waists, some have big waists, some women have size 8 on top and a size 4 on bottom or vice versa, some have long torsos and some have short torsos. It's like making a one-size-fits-all bra. It's just not going to work.

After I make it down to the other women's floor, regular old Gap is back. There are no special jackets here, or no fine cotton voile shirts. There are endless sale signs and lumpy wrinkly jackets, granted it's a busy Saturday afternoon, but it is a horrible mess everywhere.

What in heaven's name does Gap stand for nowadays? Just pretending it is a brand Anjelica Huston wants to wear is not going to be effective. There need to be good clothes in the store, and not just a few special things on the main floor. The most recent would-be savior of Gap is the Danish brain behind COS, Rebekka Bay. It's undoubtedly Rebekka's Scandinavian stamp on the dark denim trench coats, and the waxed black cotton trenches with raw edged details and belt. Frankly, if Rebekka is also the brain behind this advertising campaign, I won't get my hopes up for a fast recovery.

It's Gap's relentless insistence on competing with trendy fashion companies that has boggled my mind for years. In all my years in America, London and Hong Kong, I can't remember ever making an impulse purchase at Gap, but I am pretty sure I have made a hundred at J.Crew. Dress Normal is a bit depressing, it's as if you are throwing in the towel.

Feels to me like Gap has just appointed itself the fun police.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Gucci Spring 2015

My interest in fashion's love for 60s trends really perked when I saw the Gucci show for this fall. There had been mod moments before in recent shows, like the graphic yellow and white and black and white shift dresses at Louis Vuitton for Spring 2013, but too often interpretations of mod fashion appear clownish or jokey today. Frida Giannini at Gucci knows how to bring back an era, however, and the 60s looked brilliant and well worth a re-visit in her Fall 2014 show.

I suppose the good thing about the hectic fashion weeks' schedule is that you get to wait and see what is worth investing in, because the spring shows are happening right as you start thinking of buying a pair of new boots. And let me tell you, at Gucci all the block heels were entirely gone, replaced by much more seventies inspired boots and shoes. The clothes, however, still showed the 60s in skirt suits and fitted coats, and moved towards the 70s as well with over-the-knee halter dresses worn with tall brown suede boots. There was a totally lovely Adam Ant jacket worn with cropped wide leg jeans, and some very pretty Asian inspired silk print dresses in unexpected color combinations.

It's also interesting to see how much better shows look when the girls walk on a beautiful oak runway rather than a stark white one. At Burberry the runway was painted in greens and yellows which made for much happier watching. Pretty hair and make-up helps as well - it still stuns me twice a year how many designers prefer a too-cool-for-school approach to the models' hair and make-up. Everyone loves a pretty girl - and if the clothes are only so-so, a pretty girl can make you believe they were great. But Frida Giannini already knows all that of course - that's why she is truly ab fab.

a hit of Asia

leather and lace

gorgeous 70s moment

another variation on a shirt dress - they are everywhere for spring

how great is this Adam Ant jacket?

Frida's colors are always so beautiful

I love this print (photos via Vogue)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A dress that's just a jacket

From this morning's Daily Mail - Cara Delevingne at London Fashion Week in a velvet jacket that is also a dress. I love it although I can't stop staring at her knees.

Embracing flats

Fashion's temporary love for flats suits me just fine - I have spent most of my time last week in these three high street versions. From left to right: boots from COS, slip on sneakers from Zara, and plastic patent flats from Zara with non-slip rubber soles which are absolutely brilliant in typhoon rain. I always get compliments on them.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

An evening stroll round the morning trail

thank goodness for that lamp post - one of the last surviving spiders after a record breaking hot summer

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Chloe slides at the Princes Building, Central, Hong Kong

These are so wrong for me but I love them - I am not going near Princes Building for the next week or so. They'll probably be sold out by then. Sigh.

Monday, September 8, 2014

New York wants you to mix it up

3.1 Phillip Lim via Vogue

New York Fashion Week is almost over and as a consumer who wants to save some money I am glad to report that not much will be changing in our spring wardrobes. Designers are still interested in 90s minimalism, and there were plenty of oversized shapes and green prints (possibly inspired by last spring's retro palm prints which seemed a commercial hit on high streets everywhere). I love a bit of drama in a dress so I am focusing here on the mixed print dresses seen at Phillip Lim, Ohne Titel, Thakoon, and Prabal Gurung. I am not sure how those dresses do in the shops because they are possibly too memorable - the second time you wear the dress people will recognize it, the third time they will be wondering if you have anything else in your closet. That said, I am grateful for those designers in New York who do send exciting clothes down the runway. Commercialism can be a horrible bore.

Ohne Titel via Vogue

Thakoon via Vogue

Prabal Gurung via Vogue