Robinson Aims to Fill the Gap

Nine months after being named head of design for Gap Adult and GapBody unveiled the company’s fall collection

NEW YORK — The Patrick Robinson era has arrived at the Gap.

Nine months after being named head of design for Gap Adult and GapBody, the well-respected creative force, whose career has included stints at Perry Ellis, Armani’s Le Collezioni and Paco Rabanne, unveiled the company’s fall collection to the press last weekend during New York Fashion Week.

In a sneak preview with DNR last Thursday, Robinson said that since joining the company his primary focus has been to bring the line back to its roots.

“The big thing for me was to get back to the authenticity that Gap was known for,” he said. “That meant taking wonderful classics and making them relevant for today. Everybody grew up with Gap, and what we all loved about it were the great polos, the great cords, the range of denim that could be worn from social occasions and hanging out, to work. What we’ve done is to bring those back [and make them contemporary].”

Other missions were to “elevate” the offering in terms of color while updating the fit.

For example, the vast range of men’s fall items include subtly toned plaid, button-front shirts, henleys with reversed seams, waffle-knit cardigans, washed-leather biker jackets, slimmer-fit jeans in a variety of washes, two- or three-button corduroy jackets, and T-shirts in a contemporary color range. There are khakis in a range of colorways, including oatmeal and heather, yarn-dyed washed trousers and cashmere sweaters. “Cashmere is a utility fabric now,” Robinson said. “There’s no ‘wow’ about it anymore. So we updated it with outside seams and elevated the color palette.” There’s a puffer vest with a dash of plaid at the shoulders, chunky cardigans, a khaki peacoat, a mushroom-colored anorak with a hood and a herringbone overcoat with a padded nylon lining. “We’re playing with the proportions,” he said, pointing to a slimmer, more-modern peacoat model.

Trousers in a fine herringbone pattern, skinny ties and even cotton, button-front dress shirts will be offered.

Khakis, the company’s stock-in-trade, have been “rebuilt” to make them slimmer and flat-front. Interior labels have been replaced by printing directly on the garment. They’re being offered in eight colors. Cargos have been similarly updated and moved away from being “big and baggy.” They also sport “military styling,” a theme found throughout the collection.

Logos are kept to a minimum, but a hoodie with leather trim sports the letters G-A-P in leather as well.

The pieces are designed to be worn in layers but can also stand alone.

Accessories have also been made more contemporary. In addition to fun scarves and military hats that work back to the main collection, a range of bags in canvas or leather offers lots of bells and whistles for the contemporary man. “They have all the pockets for gadgets,” Robinson said, noting that most men today carry a laptop, PDA, cell phone and digital camera. The bags are fashionable as well as functional.

“This is what we’ve been missing,” the designer said of the total assortment. “It works together as a collection, but if you pull it apart you get cool outfits, and if you pull it apart again, you get classic items. We’re taking casualwear and elevating it to where it needs to be. That’s Gap.”

Overall, the collection is designed to appeal to a 24- to 34-year-old man, Robinson said. And the company will offer the “same message” throughout the chain of distribution. “When I started,” Robinson said, “I heard over and over that people loved our ads but they had a hard time finding the merchandise in the stores. Now, the design, the show presentation, the ads, the windows and the store experience will offer one continuous message. And we’ll show people how to buy it and put it together.”

Robinson said his goal with the men’s wear was for customers to “walk in and say, ‘This is my Gap.’”

What they’re not going to say, however, is: “This is Patrick Robinson’s Gap.” The 40-year-old designer, whose title is executive vice-president of design, stressed that the collection was a team effort and there are no plans for him to take a more-prominent role with the public. “The company is Gap, not me,” he said. “It’s a team of people. I’m only one piece of the puzzle. The people who work in the stores are the face of Gap, not me. I’m just the spokesman for the product. No one person could pull this off.”

That said, the company has high hopes that the line overseen by Robinson will help reverse its recent fortunes. This fall, Gap Inc. reported same-store sales fell 8 percent in October, were flat in November and down 6 percent in December. In the third quarter, however, the corporation reported earnings rose 26 percent to $238 million, or 30 cents a share, from $189 million, or 23 cents, in the previous year on sales of $3.9 billion. Comparable-store sales in the period declined 5 percent.

Glenn Murphy, Gap’s new CEO, joined the company in July and has been working to inject vitality back into the company. The $16 billion, 3,100-unit Gap Inc. hasn’t experienced sales growth for almost five years, and its Gap and Old Navy divisions have lost cachet. The Banana Republic chain has been the least troubled. Competitors such as American Eagle Outfitters, Target, Abercrombie & Fitch and J. Crew have taken a large amount of business from the Gap brands. Much of Gap’s woes are due to inconsistent product offerings and marketing, and, in seasons where products were right, a lack of confidence in buying enough to satisfy demand.

If it connects with customers, the product line overseen by Robinson could be a step in the right direction. In addition to Paco Rabanne, where he was artistic director, he designed a limited-edition collection for Target’s Go International initiative.