Mind the Gap

Patrick Robinson, the new head of design at Gap, talks to Lisa Tant about putting personality back into fashion

Mind the Gap
Patrick Robinson, the new head of design at Gap, talks to Lisa Tant about putting personality back into fashion

Patrick Robinson

Patrick Robinson

Designer Patrick Robinson

Slouchy knit cardigans layered over plaid dresses and ribbed tights; buffalo-plaid jackets with low-rise bell jeans; oversized patent totes—Gap has a cool new vibe thanks to the fashion-forward thinking of Patrick Robinson, executive vice-president of design for Gap Adult and GapBody. With senior design gigs at Giorgio Armani, Anne Klein and, most recently, Paco Rabanne under his belt, the 42-year-old creative force joined Gap last year. I sat down with him the day he previewed his new holiday collections to editors.

Lisa Tant: What attracted you to Gap?
Patrick Robinson: [I was] sort of hesitant [at the first interview], but I remember within five minutes, it changed to, “This is the opportunity of a lifetime and I have to have this job.” Gap is this great classic brand that is relevant and always really cool because it’s part of culture.

LT: I saw your last collection for Paco Rabanne in Paris. What’s the main difference in designing for Gap?
PR: [There’s] a very small group of people who can afford the $4,000 jacket. It doesn’t turn me on as much as when I look out this window [of his stunning New York corner office] and see someone wearing Gap. It’s really cool when you get on the subway and that person [has] a Gap bag.

LT: Do you ever want to say, “You’re wearing it wrong!”?
PR: No, usually it’s the exact opposite. Usually, I’m, like, “Damn, why didn’t I think of that?” I’m so nonjudgmental. I do get turned on by the idea that, everywhere I go, I see Gap. My son, [Wyeth, 4], says “Dad, Gap is everywhere. You know, you should let other people have stores, too.” [Gap has 1,528 stores around the world.]

LT: How do you know when something is culturally right?
PR: Being a designer, you just sort of think differently, you see the world differently. I’m big on having people out there experiencing their own lives, too.

LT: Dressing is about personalization now. That must be a challenge for Gap, which often has a message of everyone in, say, khaki.
PR: Everyone wants to be an individual. I’m big into making very believable, cool-looking suggestions [on] how you can put the clothes together, but those are just suggestions. You can go in and mix it together in your own way. And your friend can walk in with you and do it completely differently. The cool thing about Gap is how you mix it.

LT: You describe Gap as “cool classics.” Is fashion getting too precious or changing too fast all the time?
PR: It’s just change for change’s sake. I think great fashion answers some of the fun you should be having in your life.

LT: So great design isn’t about price?
PR: Great design can be putting something on and it fits like a dream. It’s just a simple T-shirt.