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Gap weaves fabric of L.A. into 1969 jeans campaign

The apparel giant, which last year opened a creative design office in a gritty section of downtown Los Angeles near the fashion district, is making its L.A. vibe a central part of a global marketing effort.

August 01, 2011|By Andrea Chang, Los Angeles Times
  • Gap's move last year to Los Angeles was intended to boost the authenticity of the 1969 brand, Above, production manager Stephanie Abenanty, left, and designer Nicole King-Burroughs at Gap's design center in downtown L.A.
Gap's move last year to Los Angeles was intended to boost the authenticity… (Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles…)

Gap, the clean-cut San Francisco clothing brand, is embracing its edgier side in Los Angeles.

To bring its 1969 Premium Jeans line closer to the heart of the designer denim industry, the apparel giant last year opened a creative design office in a gritty section of downtown L.A. near the fashion district. Now Gap is putting its L.A. vibe at the core of a global marketing campaign that launches Monday, complete with food trucks and a dog.

"This is the center of creativity," said Seth Farbman, Gap's newly hired global chief marketing officer, during a recent interview at the design studio, where a staggering number of jeans were stacked on shelves, tucked into cubbyholes and hanging from clothing racks.

"What's interesting is that Gap has embraced it and is committed to getting at the heart of denim," Farbman said. "And I think that may be the antithesis of what people think of our brand."

Last year's move to L.A. was intended to boost the authenticity of the 1969 brand, launched in 2009, and to better position it against the region's high-end labels such as True Religion, J Brand and 7 for All Mankind.

Until now, the 5,400-square-foot design office on West Pico Boulevard has kept a low profile. The non-descript building, once home to a cigar factory, bears no mention of Gap and the intercom buzzer by the door doesn't work — a far cry from the company's heavily branded, buttoned-up headquarters that stretches a city block in San Francisco.

But Gap is letting its guard down in the new 1969: L.A. and Beyond campaign, which gives shoppers an inside look at the loft space. The marketing effort features vignettes filmed inside the studio and around L.A., fold-out print spreads in magazines including Vogue and Glamour, and advertisements in the windows of Gap stores nationwide.

The studio's team of denim designers and merchants figure prominently in the videos and ad spreads, with many sharing their backgrounds in apparel and what fashion means to them; office "mascot" Louie, a caramel-colored pit bull mix, also makes several appearances. The vignettes will be posted on Gap's Facebook page and on outlets such as Hulu and Pandora.

In true Angeleno style, the company has also procured several food trucks dubbed "Pico de Gap" that will hit the streets of Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Chicago starting next week for two months. The trucks will sell tacos with Gap coupons in the wrapper for $1.69; the tacos are free for shoppers who made a same-day purchase of 1969 denim at a Gap store and show a receipt.

By showing shoppers what happens behind the scenes, Gap executives want to give the company a more approachable feel that matches its goal of "democratizing fashion," Farbman said. On a larger scale, the hope is that the marketing effort breathes new life into Gap's advertising machine and sales, which have been lackluster recently even as competitors have posted solid results.

In its first quarter, Gap Inc., which is also parent to the Banana Republic and Old Navy chains, reported that profit fell 23% to $233 million and sales at stores open at least a year, known as comparable-store sales, declined 3%. The company's stock is down 13% year-to-date and its comparable-store sales rose a slight 1% in June; at Gap brand, comparable-store sales in North America fell 1%.

The 1969: L.A. and Beyond campaign will tout Gap's newest jeans styles, which hit stores this month and include new fabrics, colors and washes. Denim prices range from $59.50 to $89.95, a fraction of the price of high-end players, whose jeans can retail for $300 or more a pair.

Although Gap has lost its coolness factor in recent years and has had a number of product misses, its jeans line has been a strong performer, said Christine Chen, a retail analyst at Needham & Co.

"Denim is one of the product areas where they've had a lot of success, so it makes sense to lead with that and hope there's a halo effect on the rest of the product," she said. Still, "advertising gets people into the store, but product is what converts them into buyers."

andrea.chang@latimes.com

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