August 4, 2011 in Business

Gap opens L.A. office; takes on high-end rivals

Andrea Chang Los Angeles Times

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.

Now Gap is putting its L.A. vibe at the core of a global marketing campaign that launched Monday, complete with food trucks and a dog.

“This is the center of creativity,” said Seth Farbman, Gap’s global chief marketing officer, during a recent interview at the design studio.

The move to L.A. was intended to boost the authenticity of the 1969 line, launched in 2009, and to better position it against high-end rivals such as True Religion and 7 for All Mankind.

Until now the 5,400-square-foot design office on West Pico Boulevard has kept a low profile. The 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 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 spreads in magazines 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, and office “mascot” Louie, a pit bull mix, also makes several appearances.

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.

By taking shoppers behind the scenes, Gap executives want to give the company a more approachable feel that matches its goal of “democratizing fashion,” Farbman said.

In its first quarter, Gap Inc., which is also parent to the Banana Republic and Old Navy chains, reported profit fell 23 percent to $233 million and sales at stores open at least a year, known as comparable-store sales, declined 3 percent. The company’s stock is down 15 percent year-to-date and its comparable-store sales rose a slight 1 percent in June; at Gap brand, comparable-store sales in North America fell 1 percent.

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.

But whether cool jeans will get people to buy other Gap clothes is uncertain.

“Advertising gets people into the store, but product is what converts them into buyers,” Chen said.

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