Whitney at the Gap?

If this kind of thing keeps up, I’m going to need a new category, which I’m thinking of calling “WTF fashion”. The thing to which I refer, of course, is this bewildering trend of high/low fashion mixing. It was one thing when Isaac Mizrahi started his own line for Target (which I love). And I got it when WalMart tried to jump on the bandwagon with Eisen, and failed. But today, as I was reading Bunnyshop (which deserves a shout-out of it’s own: fresh, funny, novel approach to fashion and culture coverage), I ran across a post about a new line of t-shirts from the Gap: designed by artists from the Whitney Biennial. You see why I need a new category?

It’s actually quite an interesting idea; I dearly love to see what artists can do with a set genre, and t-shirt and our associations with it are as much a genre (with conventions, restrictions, etc.) as is Renaissance painting, I suppose. And the artists included are, of course, too fun: Chuck Close (who was just recently the commencement speaker here at CSR); Barbara Kruger; and Cai Guo-Qiang, whose mesmerizing exhibition is up now at the Guggenheim. [There are a host of others–take a look for yourself.]

The question, of course, is not who the Gap has chosen, but rather, what’s the marketing play here? For most American shoppers, the Gap is still the place to buy khakis and t-shirts (i.e., “basics”). They’re reasonable, they’re reliable, they’re beloved by the college student demographic. I know that they’ve experimented over the past few years with mini-lines by haute couture designers (e.g., Philip Lim), and now it appears that Patrick Robinson is working for them as well. I don’t have any hard numbers about how those lines are selling; if you know, give a holler! Intuitively, those endeavors seem to be a bit of a stretch, but were at least hemmed in (hah. “hemmed”—get it?) by a broad framework of fashion. The jump to the Whitney artists, however, seems to be a serious reach. Is the hope here that they’ll bring the Biennial crowds to the Gap with the lure of affordable, wearable art? Will the shirts serve as a cultural education for kids born and bred on the mass-market, who’ve never heard of the Whitney? Perhaps both? If I had to make a prediction, I imagine that there will be a good number of those shirts on the clearance racks all over the country by next month. Just a guess. My sense is that neither of these populations wants to be sullied by the aura of the other.

What’s in it for the artists, I wonder? On a theoretical level, I applaud their willingness to embrace something so identifiably mass culture and mark it as art. [Which is a bit of an assumption on my part, and it has to be: while the website gives brief biographies of each artist, it doesn’t feature a mission statement for either the company or the artists themselves.]

All that being said, there are some charming pieces there. I’m particularly partial to this one, by Sarah Sze:

[And, with the immediacy that comes with the internet, I may be forced to eat my words. I searching for a picture of Sze’s shirt, I found it already listed on Ebay for four times its original price…]

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