CHAOS AND CREATION: INSIDE THE MAKING OF YEEZY GAP

Inside the store, which had been transformed into a kind of blackened cavern punctuated by digital screens, 24 industrial-size sacks were lined up in two long rows and stuffed with clothing from Yeezy Gap, the collaboration between the artist formerly known as Kanye West (now simply Ye) and the giant ur-American brand.

As opposed to viewing it as a corporation — Gap Inc. is the parent company of Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy and Athleta — that is currently wrestling with the departure of its chief executive after only two years, along with diminishing profits (including a net $162 million loss in the first quarter of this year) and dwindling cultural relevance.

It was that uncool factor that seemingly drove Gap to announce, in June 2020, a 10-year deal with the undeniably cool Ye and his fashion line Yeezy, with the option to renew at the five-year mark, at which point Gap hoped Yeezy Gap would be generating $1 billion in annual sales.

Though mass-market brands have engaged in one-off collaborations with high-end designers and celebrities for years, Yeezy Gap was, in scope and ambition, unlike any the retail world had seen.

It wasn’t until a third party, Balenciaga, the French luxury house, entered the collaboration that a full Yeezy Gap collection was finally released this year (though it was still relatively small, with 36 styles in total unveiled in May).

When Corporate Meets Creative Going into the Gap deal, Ye had a certain track record in the fashion-for-the-masses business; in 2020, the sneaker collaboration between Yeezy and Adidas brought in nearly $1.7 billion in revenue, according to Bloomberg.

One week after the Yeezy Gap deal was announced, for example, he announced his run for president; a string of heated campaign remarks and tweets about his family compelled his wife at the time, Kim Kardashian West, to make a statement about his bipolar disorder.

Images from that period shared with The New York Times showed brightly colored pants, shorts, shirts, hoodies and belts, all in line with the traditional casual clothing associated with Gap.

At the time, there were numerous “style-ups” — a fashion term that means trying out samples of clothing on bodies to see how they look — photographed by Nick Knight, the SHOWStudio founder and longtime Yeezy collaborator, and paid for by Gap.

This was Yeezy Gap’s first piece, made available for purchase in June 2021, nearly one year after the partnership was announced.

Yeezy Gap’s second piece dropped online a few months later: a plain, heavy cotton hoodie in six colors for $90.

The Balenciaga Factor Between the puffer and the hoodie, Gap intervened, hiring Leonardo Lawson, the former chief executive of the British brand the Vampire’s Wife, to help drive strategy for Yeezy Gap — with Ye’s blessing, Mr. Lawson said.

Mr. Lawson’s directive has essentially been to build a conduit between Yeezy and Gap, acting as a translator of sorts.

This “innovation studio” today houses about 20 employees, said Mr. Lawson, who was promoted to head of Yeezy Gap in March.

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