Mind the Gap

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When we think about fast-fashion, there’s no shortage of names: H&M, Zara, Topshop… But until the 1990’s, when the term didn’t even exist, Gap was ‘the’ place to find good quality pieces with very reasonable prices. The American company established in San Francisco, in 1969, by Donald and Doris Fischer, as a multibrand store that sold jeans, LPs and accessories, was cool as the town kids. By 1974, there were 25 shops across the country and Gap became a monobrand loved by its smart basics.

The biggest hits came in the 90’s, thanks to CEO Millard (Mickey) Drexler, who knew exactly how to work Gap’s essence and transform it into a symbol of Generation X. The focus was selling basics like jeans, T-shirts and the iconic khaki trousers aligned with fun and cheerful campaigns showing groups of models or celebrities in approachable situations. His secret was capturing the Everyperson archetype and bring this universal desire to ‘fit in’ into the brand identity. All communication, marketing strategies, and retail experience were directed to reveal this accessible, familiar feeling, which turned Gap into a global success.

Everything was fine until the turn of the millennium and the arrival of new competitors, with new market dynamics, leading to Drexler’s dismissal in 2002 (he is at J.Crew now) and a series of misleading actions. By leaving the Everyperson archetype behind, the brand lost its focus and, consequently, the consumer’s identification. Campaigns with mixed messages, the lack of creative direction (Patrick Robison and Rebekka Bay, ex-H&M, were the last high profile names that failed to bring back the good times) and a perennial discount policy are some of the issues that only contribute to lacklustre performances. New CEO Art Peck is trying to solve problems in logistics and distribution by reducing the number of stores, but so far didn’t do anything to touch the branding side.

The attempt to change the logo in 2010 was a disaster and the old one was brought back in a matter of days, after an intense public backlash. In past years, partnerships with renowned designers (Stella McCartney for childrenswear, Diane von Furstenberg, Pierre Hardy) and a great investment in the 1969 jeans line were able to generate some buzz, but far from the heydays and nothing compared to H&M collaborations, for example. Unfortunately, the dissolution of the brand’s essence may have reached a point where there is no turn back. If only the company acknowledges this and focus on rekindle the connection with consumers instead of just copying what others do, there would be a brighter horizon. However, it looks like this Gap can’t be amended.

All videos above are from 90’s TV ads, where we can clearly see the Everyperson archetype in action.

The Perfect World of Stella McCartney

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Everybody knows Stella McCartney’s trajectory: raised on a farm, in England’s countryside, Paul and Linda’s daughter learned to value nature and animals since she was a child. After an internship at Christian Lacroix, while still a teenager, she went to Central Saint Martins to get her degree and her graduation show had friends Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell on the runway. Shortly after, she got the top designer post at Chloé and in 2001, backed by Kering (then Gucci Group), launched her own label. Since then, the brand has evolved and besides womenswear, offers lingerie, accessories, childrenswear, fragrances and even skincare (discontinued after few seasons).

There is also a partnership with Adidas, established in 2004, that produces activewear to and the official uniforms to UK Olympic teams. In the middle of all this, she found time to collaborate with H&M (2005) and Gap (2009), in a collection for babies and kids.

Even with a renowned brand, Stella has always been faithful to her convictions and was adamant about not working with leather and fur in her accessories. The fabrics are sourced from natural and organic companies whilst offices and shops use sustainable energy as much as possible. Innovation to her means moving barriers and prove that her beliefs are not a trend. It’s a lifestyle.

Her designs are simple and clean, focused on women that juggles personal and professional lives, just like her. Although they have a hectic schedule, there is always room to daydream about an idyllic, simpler life, which can be seen in campaigns filled with nature, animals and childish elements.

For all of that, Stella McCartney is the Innocent archetype. Her brand symbolizes kindness and a desire for honesty and simplicity. Stella’s ethical values is a proof that she truly believes in a better world, even in a superficial and fickle industry. It’s comforting to know that her dream came true, isn’t?

Who Doesn’t Love Christian Louboutin?

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Two elements are eternally associated with seduction: heels and the colour red. When both are united, what’s the result? Christian Louboutin, of course! His red soles are part of fashion history for over 20 years and have expanded into handbags, men’s accessories and even lipstick and nail polish. It’s not bad for a boy who run away from home at 12 and dropped out of school. While he was figuring out what to do with his life, Louboutin went to work at Parisian cabaret Folies-Bergére and had the greatest inspiration by contemplating the dancers – he was amazed by the way they managed to dance so graciously in heels.

 After a period living in Egypt and India, in the early 1980’s, he came back to Paris and started designing shoes. The first commissioned work was from Charles Jourdan, then Roger Vivier (the creator of the stiletto heel), Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent (who, ironically, he sued for the use of a red sole some 30 years later). The first shop was open in 1992 and soon a very important client was acquired: Princess Caroline of Monaco. It wouldn’t take long to become an international name, especially with a little help from “Sex and the City” and a legion of celebrities toting his shoes in every single red carpet event.

Christian Louboutin says that he creates shoes to “make women sexy, beautiful and have the longest legs”. Even with line expansions, the high heeled red soles are still the most desired object from the designer. With so many elements of seduction, it’s easy to identify Louboutin as the Lover archetype in the primary level: the willing to seduce or experience a great love story. The “Cinderella” inside many women just can’t resist using the shoes to help attract a prince (even if it’s just for one night). So, after all that, how could you not fall in love with Louboutin?

The Art of Alexander McQueen

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Few years have passed since Lee Alexander McQueen left us and it’s not an overstatement saying that fashion found itself ‘orphan’ from one of its greatest creators, maybe the best from recent decades. The son of a London taxi-driver, who was born in a working class family, learned early how to sew, refined his skills working with Savile Row tailors, completed his degree at the prestigious Central Saint Martins and soon became the darling of stylist Isabella Blow and other big names within the industry.  He was a symbol of a dying species: the artist who makes fashion.

How can you not be moved by his collections? How can you not admire his courage to rebel against the commonplace and commercial predictability that became standard on the runways? His troubled period at Givenchy and conflicts with LVMH executives were proof that he would just fit into the lucrative dynamics of a conglomerate if he could maintain full creative independence. Kering took the hint and bought the idea. Today there is no doubt that it was one of the best investments the group have made.

Alexander McQueen is clearly the Creator archetype. His greatest desire was to express art through his clothes, and by doing it made us reflect on culture and contemporary society. Each show was the result of an intense creative process and complex storytelling that could bring together the most diverse elements: witches, magical creatures, Egyptian queens, Atlantis, primitive beings, chess sets, skulls, wolves… The more he innovated, more the audience was impressed and thrilled. McQueen was able to go through all levels of the Creator: daydreams and fantasies motivated him to create amazing pieces, give forms to particular views and influence our desires. It’s sad that he also embraced the ‘dark side’ of the archetype and fell into the perfectionism trap.

“People do not want to see clothes, they want something that feeds the imagination,” he said after the presentation of the Autumn/Winter 2009. The quote summarizes everything about the brand and keeps being Sarah’s Burton mantra.  Since succeeding the master, even with more romantic and less controversial creations, she had kept the brand identity unshakeable, combining creativity, technique and emotion. Three adjectives that have become rare in the current state of fashion.

Ralph Lauren: American Royalty

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Ralph Lifshitz grew up in the Bronx, a New York neighbourhood where reality is far from the glamour of the Upper East Side. But it was never an obstacle for him to dream about the lifestyle of traditional WASPs: the beach houses on the outskirts of Boston, Ivy League universities and elite sports such as polo, golf and tennis.

His first contact with fashion was as a sales assistant, selling ties at Brooks Brothers. Shortly after, he decided to launch its own brand and, in 1967, Polo Ralph Lauren was established. Almost 50 years later, the brand is recognized worldwide, has several lines and labels (male, female, child, home, perfumes…) and simply redefined American style with their embroidered polo shirts. The shops and campaigns are an invitation to immerse in that Ivy League world dreamed by Ralph, where everyone is rich and successful. Oh, but it’s not what ads are all about?

Yes, but in the case of Ralph Lauren inspiration and aspiration go together because the designer himself is the greatest example of someone who lives the American dream. One of his biggest concerns is that all brand communications tell an engaging story. In all retail channels, the brand’s values are in every detail: from the Preppy decor to the menu of Ralph’s restaurants, passing by the virtual RL Mag. Add to that the support to sports, philanthropic initiatives, and the Ralph Lauren Center for research and treatment of cancer.

With all this, it is impossible not to think of Ralph as a leader, selling this idea of prestige and achievement through the brand, as if the customer automatically become successful when purchasing it. The combination of control, status and even patriotism are related to the Ruler archetype,  the most suitable symbol to Ralph Lauren. Take a look at these pictures: it’s impossible to avoid a vision of a civilized and prestigious universe, isn’t it?  It’s good to count on Ralph Lauren to keep up with the dream!

The Essence of Chanel

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Anyone who knows a little bit of fashion history is aware of Coco Chanel’s trajectory: an orphan girl who was abandoned in a nunnery by her father, she aspired to be a singer, but her skills as seamstress ended up opening the doors to a new and prestigious life, and to change forever the way women dress.

There is no shortage of books and movies about last century’s most important fashion designer as much as rumours and mysteries surrounding her private life, including aristocratic and rich lovers, and even a connection with Nazism. Nevertheless, what really matters is that Gabrielle Chanel built a mythical brand around herself, so powerful that products created decades ago still are desire objects. Who doesn’t want a 2.55 bag or a tweed suit? Even with all the competition, Chanel No 5 keeps its position in the top 10 best-seller fragrances year after year. Of course, Karl Lagerfeld deserves a lot of credit for maintaining Coco’s aura and updating her ‘codes’ for over 30 years. His comprehension is actually the secret of the brand.

At the end of the day, Chanel is so fascinating because of its ability to establish an emotional bond with clients and is flawless in communicating its essence. That’s why it’s an archetypical brand. The Chanel woman is confident, independent and successful. Her sexy-appeal is never obvious and lies in the fact that she can thrive in a man’s world, without letting her femininity go.

All campaigns reinforce these values, as the videos bellow attest showing a romantic and seductive vibe that always put the woman in charge. They are the ones who seduce, just like Gabrielle did! The same pattern can be observed in ad campaigns, as much as in the selection of personalities who embody specific lines and collections (amongst the ambassadors are Alice Dellal, Linda Evangelista, Blake Lively, Claudia Schiffer, Vanessa Paradis and Cara Delevigne).

Every single communication evidences that Lover archetype in its desire to seduce and be attractive. Anyway, many fashion brands do the same, don’t they? The difference here lies in adding the boldness and Coco’s magnetism to those elements – and being loyal to them. The brand’s essence keeps being powerful and distinctive. Just like Chanel No 5!