Gap Sweaters Get the RISD Treatment

Gap Sweaters Get the RISD Treatment

In its first-ever partnership with a college, Gap invited RISD students to create eye-catching works of wearable art by reimagining and redefining its new line of spring cardigans. In February 2009 two dozen students from a range of disciplines sliced, diced, burned, embellished, de- and reconstructed the sweaters, responding to the invitation “with freshness, ingenuity and subtle surprises,” notes Apparel Design Department Head Donna Gustavsen, who helped coordinate the effort.

All 30 of the students’ one-of-a-kind cardigans sold out the first day they were displayed at Gap’s White Space, a special exhibitions/concept venue adjacent to its flagship store at Fifth Avenue and 54th Street in Manhattan. “That’s truly a testament to the creativity and talent of the students,” noted Gap spokeswoman Kimberly Terry. “It was exciting to see such a positive response from customers.” Ivy Ross, executive vice president of Gap Marketing, added: “We were impressed with the designs the students created. Fashion is meant to spark the imagination, and these truly original cardigans expressed the creativity and individual styles of a very talented group of up-and-coming young designers and artists.”

When Gap first approached RISD with the idea, creative director Patrick Robinson chose to present students with a very open-ended design brief: “Keep them wearable,” he urged. That was it.

Several Foundation Studies students and others majoring in disciplines as diverse as Printmaking, Sculpture, Industrial Design, Textiles and Apparel Design responded to the invitation in a variety of ways. A few connected with each other to work on new designs together. Others focused on literally connecting portions of cut-up sweaters in unexpected ways. Some embellished their cardigans with add-ons such as tulle, recycled paper beads and vintage lace, while others used experimental and traditional techniques ranging from controlled shredding, burning and staining to appliqué, embroidery and transfer printing.

The refreshing partnership between RISD and Gap also generated interest in the media, especially in the blogosphere, where short pieces ran everywhere from WWD to, Time Out New York and UnBeige, among many others. In today’s troubled economy, “this is what we should all be doing,” Robinson told a reporter from Women’s Wear Daily—“promoting out-of-the-box thinking and talking about emerging designers.”

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