Gap's Met Gala denim moment stunning, smart
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Gap's Met Gala denim moment stunning, smart

Among the many luxury brands showing off their lavish creations at the Met Gala this week were a handful of more mainstream names. One standout was The Gap Inc, which dressed actress Da'Vine Joy Randolph.

Accompanied by fashion designer Zac Posen, the company's new creative director, the Oscar winner wore a custom Gap gown in denim.

The press coverage and social media mentions have justified Posen's surprise appointment in February. But to make the most of the choice, the retailer must capitalise on its greater visibility in exactly this way -- as well as with more relevant products and viral marketing campaigns.

Gap, saddled with struggling mall stores and battling a shift to online rivals such as Shein Group Ltd, has long been trying to turn around its fortunes.

It named Posen as Gap Inc creative director, as well as top designer at its value line Old Navy, in an attempt to elevate the company's style credentials. This is much needed, as Gap and Old Navy face hot competition from other affordable tastemakers, such as Target Corp's high-fashion collaborations. Meanwhile, Associated British Foods Plc's Primark, known for its cheap chic, and Inditex SA's Zara, are quietly expanding across the US.

Posen is a household name thanks to his work as a judge on Project Runway between 2012 and 2018, and his more than 2 million Instagram followers. Indeed, another reason for his appointment is to help Gap become a cultural touchstone once more, a status it last enjoyed in the 1990s under former Chief Executive Officer Mickey Drexler.

Dressing Randolph is already paying off. Gap's online mentions rose 146% between May 6 -- the day of the Gala -- and the morning of May 8, compared with the preceding three days, according to social media intelligence company Brandwatch.

The gown's sculpted bodice was inspired by historic evening wear of the 1700s, but the look itself was bang up to date. Not only is Gap synonymous for denim, but the fabric is enjoying a fashion moment. A return to wider legged jeans and the vogue for western styles popularised by Pharrell Williams' show for Louis Vuitton and Beyoncé's Cowboy Carter album have made denim one of the hottest trends around.

Posen is known for dressing a more diverse range of celebrities, such as plus-size model Ashley Graham. By choosing Randolph -- a fuller-figured woman who was, incidentally, attending her first Met Gala -- he is sending a powerful message that Gap is for everyone.

But as well as pleasing celebrities -- Randolph was effusive in her praise for the outfit -- Posen must satisfy Gap's broader customer base.

Perhaps a good start would be to produce a related capsule collection the next time Posen dresses a high-profile individual. Randolph's denim gown would have been perfect for this. Michelle Gass, CEO of Levi Strauss & Co, said recently that she was developing tops, including corsets, to make the most of the surge in demand for denim.

Given that Posen joined only three months ago, it's likely a related range would have been a stretch. And there is little point in encouraging shoppers through the door if the broader assortment falls flat. While there are some welcome developments, such as a selection of linen separates in a variety of appealing colours and styles, Posen's makeover needs to make further headway. Underlining this, Gap's website was still advertising discounts. Too many markdowns is something that the retailer has long grappled with.

It's also notable that Gap's social media mentions trailed other brands visible at the Met Gala, such as Tommy Hilfiger, which dressed K-Pop band Stray Kids. But from a glass half full perspective, that means there's more room to grow for Posen's celebrity collaborations.

It's still early days both for Posen's creative journey and the tenure of new Gap CEO Richard Dickson, who joined in August last year after reviving Barbie at Mattel Inc. But so far, the signs are promising.

The company beat expectations for fourth-quarter sales. Meanwhile, shares have more than doubled to about $22 (807 baht) since Mr Dickson's arrival. Elsewhere, a 90s-inspired partnership with British streetwear brand Palace and a marketing campaign for the linen range featuring South African singer Tyla are positive.

But there is more to do. Additional leveraging Gap's 90s and noughties heyday would be wise. And as well as breathing fresh life into the namesake brand and Old Navy, the company must get its Banana Republic chain back on track.

The latter should make the most of the return to more formal dressing, and consumers' appetites for fewer, but more expensive garments. Posen wore a Banana Republic suit to the Met Gala, with similar available in stores and online.

Meanwhile, Athleta, Gap's athleisure arm, must compete more effectively with rivals, such as Inditex's Oysho.

Still, Posen's red-carpet debut for Gap is a clear win.

After the now defunct tie-up with Kanye West failed to reignite the retailer, perhaps a touch of accessible glamour will. Bloomberg

Andrea Felsted is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering consumer goods and the retail industry. Previously, she was a reporter for the 'Financial Times'.

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