Home Highsnobiety Gap through the Decades: Charting the Journey of an American Icon

Gap through the Decades: Charting the Journey of an American Icon

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Before the advent of computers and modern technology, shopping for clothes was likely a burdensome task — people who couldn’t find the perfect pair of jeans might have simply moved on to the next mall hoping to land the right size.

For American philanthropist Don Fisher and his wife, Doris, who founded Gap Inc. five decades ago in their hometown of San Francisco, they saw an opportunity to solve this problem and do something different that would ultimately grow to become the quintessential American clothing company it is today.

In order to attract a younger demographic and stand apart from other retailers, Fisher’s genius idea was to only sell two things at the first Gap store: jeans and records. He was so into the idea that he nearly named the store ‘Pants and Discs’ before his wife suggested something far simpler and catchier: The Gap. It was uncomplicated and also served as a coy reference to the generation gap that started growing between young people and baby boomers during that time. The first Gap store famously stocked over three tons of denim in nearly every size and color imaginable, and, a few years and a couple dozen stores later, they stopped selling music entirely to focus only on clothing.

During much of the ‘70s Gap went all-in to court young shoppers, and introduced its now-iconic “Fall into the Gap” jingle that ushered in a new era of cheeky advertising that came to define the American clothing brand. To better understand Gap’s contributions to fashion, we’re looking at Gap through the decades from its early archival collections to some of the up-and-coming designers today whose work is partially informed by the casual American aesthetic cultivated by Gap.

A Rare Look Inside Gap’s Archives

Established in 1969, Gap has been defining what American clothing and accessories have looked like for 50 years, and, by extension, shaping culture. From its iconic television commercials in the late ’90s that popularized wardrobe staples, like khakis and corduroys, to its dope history of working with artists, including Missy Elliot, Madonna, and LL Cool J, Gap has played a big part in defining cool through the decades.

Located in New York City is Gap’s Heritage and Design Archives, where a team is dedicated to collecting Gap products dating back to the brand’s inception. Not only do the collections provide information about Gap’s design history, they help serve as inspiration for its designers today. And that’s not hard for us to believe.

Rarely open to anyone outside of the Gap team, Highsnobiety was invited to dig into its archives. We also got a closer look at the vintage pieces that inspired Gap’s latest denim drop – all-new, limited-edition pieces that pay tribute to denim from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s.

Take a look at the images below to see Gap through the decades.

Closing the Gap: Bristol Studio

To celebrate 50 years in the game, Gap recognizes the tenacity and hard work it takes to build a brand as iconic as theirs. Together, we’ve highlighted two up-and-coming labels who share the same ethos of thinking outside the box when it came to building their brand, just as Gap’s founders did when its first store opened in 1969. Bristol Studio is a lifestyle label based in Los Angeles whose entire aesthetic blurs the line between sport and streetwear. For co-founder and creative director Luke Tadashi, who grew up playing basketball competitively, it was the only logical direction to take Bristol Studio. “Consistency is being able to deliver a product that speaks honestly to who you are as a brand and designer,” Tadashi explains. “Basketball was always a way into culture.”

By tapping into sports culture and weaving it into Bristol Studio’s core DNA, they’ve managed to carve a lane for itself not dissimilar to what Fisher did with Gap’s first store when he decided they’d only sell two things: music and jeans. Now that Tadashi’s got his own brand to run, he can only dream of being as prolific as the mighty Gap and hopes to be remembered just as fondly 50 years from now. “I remember being an eight or nine-year-old kid and seeing the Gap hoodies on everyone,” Tadashi recalls “I didn’t own one, but I wanted one because all of my friends had it.”

“Consistency is being able to deliver a product that speaks honestly to who you are as a brand and designer.”

– Luke Tadashi

Closing the Gap: No Vacancy Inn

The next label we’re highlighting is founded by multi-hyphenates Tremaine Emory, Brock Korsan, and Acyde Odunlami. Together they form the music, radio, fashion, and nightlife hybrid known as No Vacancy Inn with a shared mission to make cultural knowledge accessible to the masses. With their vast network and connections to tastemakers in every realm, it’s no surprise that NVI had previously worked with Gap, in collaboration with GQ, on their own rendition of its iconic pull-over hoodie.

“The greatest reaction was seeing people react to it,” Korsan recalls. “People going to the Gap and sending you a photo of your sweatshirt, that was different.” Gap’s willingness to cede creative control to a scrappy creative collective and rework one of their most iconic garments is a testament to why they’ve been around for as long as they have. “The ultimate key to success, long-term, is to be able to pivot while maintaining your core,” Korsan explains.

“The greatest testament to any brand is being around for 50 years.”

– Brock Korsan

The 1969 Premium Collection

Now that we’ve got an intimate snapshot of Gap’s history along with a profile of some of today’s influential designers that are following in its footsteps, it’s time to see what’s in store for the next 50 years of the iconic American brand’s history. If their 1969 Premium Collection is any indication, Gap’s going back to its roots with iconic pieces that are inspired directly from its archives — all with an emphasis on modern detailing and premium craftsmanship.

As masters of modern basics, the 1969 Premium Collection is a continuation of its Denim through the Decades range, featuring designs pulled from different decades throughout Gap’s history. “At Gap, denim is in our DNA. As we mark our 50th year, we see it as both our heritage and our future,” said John Caruso in a press release, Gap’s head of adult design. “For fall, we revisited iconic styles with the Denim through the Decades and highlighted the brand’s evolution with the 1969 Premium Collection. During this half century, we’ve been dedicated to designing iconic pieces that are a staple for every wardrobe, and will continue to create clothing that empowers people to express their individual style.”

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