In US sitcom Seinfeld, Jerry dates a girl who only ever wears one dress. It drives him crazy.
His best friend George tells him: “Einstein wore the same outfit every day.” But Jerry is inconsolable: “Well, if she splits the atom, I’ll let it slide.” Albert Einstein probably didn’t wear the same outfit every day, but the focused genius is an appealing image: Giorgio Armani in his dark blue slacks and navy T-shirt, photographer Nick Knight in indigo Levi’s 505s and white shirt, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs in jeans and mock turtleneck.
OK, maybe not that last one. These guys know who they are and their choice of outfit feeds into their brand identity. When Peter Sidell buys for top-end menswear boutique The Library in South Kensington, south-west London, he imagines every item in the bays of his shop. The result is that the collections have a resonance. These are more than good clothes, they fit the environment, which is the essence of branding.
A brand or retailer has to both embrace new trends and rise above them. The downside of single-mindedness is where it leads to a predictable format.
By August, Gap will have centralised its design output. All product in its stores around the world will be designed by its creative team in New York. The challenge for Gap is maintaining the designers’ passion in 3,100 stores worldwide. Good luck with that. It’s a strategy that runs counter to received wisdom - Tommy Hilfiger, for example, has separate lines for the US and the rest of the world. But by taking everything to New York, Gap is saying “this is who we are”. This massive chain is refocusing, which doesn’t have to mean narrowing its offer to one look, Einstein-style. Think brand, not bland.
- Oliver Horton is a fashion writer and trends commentator