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The Verdict | Gap's 1969 Premium Jeans

By
  • Imran Amed

Introducing the Gap's new 1969 Denim

VANCOUVER, Canada — Those of you in North America over the past week can't have missed the media bombardment from the Gap, the ailing San Francisco-based mass fashion retailer, as it announced the launch of its new 1969 premium denim range, with six new fits for women and seven new fits for men.

Huge full-page ads featuring Anja Rubik appeared in the Thursday Styles section of the New York Times, radio spots with voiceovers from Patrick Robinson, the Gap's head designer, touted the launch of the "best premium jeans in America," and a Facebook page was launched with even more links to a Twitter page, a Youtube page (see the video from the Gap explaining the new fits above) and even an iPhone application.
The Gap's new denim was simply everywhere you looked.

For years, the Gap struggled as fast fashion retailers like Zara and H&M gobbled up market share by delivering the latest fashion trends at a fraction of the price, while American Apparel and Uniqlo slowly took away the Gap's lock on the basics market, by delivering well cut t-shirts, denim and leggings in a panopoly of colours that drew shoppers in again and again. At the same time, the emergence of a premium denim players like Seven for all Mankind, Citizens of Humanity, Nudie and Lucky Brand found an audience traditional Gap customers willing to trade-up for jeans known for their fit and wash, even if it meant spending more than $200 on a pair.

The Gap's new strategy ostensibly takes the company back to its heritage as a global leader in the denim category. In theory, there does appear to a hole in the market for good, stylish denim in a variety of fits and washes at a good price. While American Apparel may do denim for cheap, it only does one very skinny fit, suited to its hipster audience but not to the diversity of shapes and sizes of people out there. Premium denim players have lost some appeal of late as consumers who traded up look to scale back their spending in recessionary times. And, while H&M and Zara are solid on trends, they have never really delivered good denim.

But is the Gap's new denim strategy working in practice?

A long line of customers waiting for the fitting rooms snaked through the middle of the Gap's Pacific Centre store in Vancouver — something I haven't seen at the Gap in ages. Almost everyone in line had some of the new denim in their hands. The heavy marketing push and huge window advertisements trumpeting the new jeans and the $20 discount had clearly done their job by bringing customers into the store to try the jeans on.

But, how about those fits? They also seemed to be working, in a variety of styles that suit different body types. My sister instantly found a pair of 'Always Skinnys' in a gunmetal grey that were a steal at $59.50, after the $20 discount. When we went to pay for her new find, the cashier told me: "Almost every single transaction I have rung up today has included a pair of jeans. People seem to really like the new fits — they are way better than what we had before."

The response from online critics also point to positive results. Nicole Phelps of Style.com has given the new denim a big thumbs up, declaring: "Patrick Robinson Nails It" while our friend Britt Aboutaleb over at Fashionista.com says that she'll be going back for more of Gap's denim as soon as Autumn arrives.

Even financial analysts are showing new interest in the Gap, long seen as a dog stock. Last week, Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst Betty Chen upgraded the Gap to "Outperform" from "Neutral" and raised her price target to $23 from $18.

Overall, the Gap's new denim is great. The fits are good. The washes are on-trend. And the multi-faceted marketing strategy and introductory low pricing seems to be working wonders for store traffic and sales productivity. The question now is how the Gap keeps them coming back for more.
My advice would be to regularly introduce the new denim fits in more washes and colours in line with seasonal trends (especially now that people have found a style that works for them) and to rework that other trusty Gap basic that's lost its way: the khaki.
Imran Amed is Editor of The Business of Fashion

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