Gap Dreams of Freedom in Its Dazzling Spring Campaign
And if there do be a dream
The dream has to include me
Otherwise ain't gonna sleep
Or close my eyes just to be
If it do be a dream
I hope this dream's dream
Is for me to be free
This is "Dream of Freedom. Dream of Me" by Kai-Isaiah Jamal, a nonbinary artist and activist for trans visibility. It was written for Gap, the words a framework for what must have been a riveting on-set day for the brand's spring campaign.
It's not totally clear what the brief was here. This has an unstructured home-video feel, camera shaking and darting all over the place, like it doesn't know where to look, but certainly there's a big idea.
It opens with a shot of the label on the studio door: "Gap All American, Studio 4." Then we open to people just … doing their thing.
But what people. In addition to Jamal, the group includes Shalom Harlow, Indira Scott, Georgie Badiel-Liberty, Yumi Nu, Clementine Desseaux, Chito, Raph, The Spearman Brothers, Bryant Giles, David "illy" Bennett, And Ryan Yoo.
It's like that imaginary tea party question—who would you invite to the table, alive or dead? Except everyone is very much alive, vocations ranging from breakdancing to somatic healing therapy to fashion design to activism, and lots of modeling. Harlem-based designer Dapper Dan closes the work, looking like a boss. He points a finger at our noses and says, "This is what we do."
How far we've come, Gap, from the Mellow Yellow days!
Interestingly, the clothes the brand proffers haven't changed much in 20 years. Its spring collection includes "versatile classics"—khakis of all lengths, varsity sweaters, pocket tees of varied shades, poplin shirts, oversized parkas, hoodies. The form is the same, down to the '90s-style loose-fit denim. So too the message: something about being American, the look and feel of American culture.
It's the function that's changed. "Everybody in Cords"—the title of the aforementioned Mellow Yellow ad, from 1999—was massively structured and posed, from genders to dress code. Minorities were present, but only, it seemed, as fun little "pops" of color.
Fast forward to 2022, and minorities of every stripe are in the majority. Nobody's sitting still or dressed remotely the same; they've all got their own take on how to wear a "versatile classic." Even the lines—so carefully apportioned, all those years ago, every fourth person or whatever with their own little lyric to spout—come staccato, interrupted, voices cracking, shouts and fades and mumbles and random blasts of trumpet.
"Diverse identities, cultures and ideas of individuals," the PR says. "Pioneering true paths for themselves. Modern American style at its best."
America is messy. Here, it shows. But there's a beauty, a weirdness, a wanton creativity in that messiness. There's constant renegotiation of identity—individually, and at scale—in that messiness. Meaningfully, this new focus on messiness doesn't feel zero-sum. It doesn't seem like somebody's fallen out of the frame, lost in translation or in time. It just feels like more people have been included.
"As a brand rooted in modern American optimism, we celebrate what it means to be your true self today," says Mary Alderete, Gap's global head of marketing. "This campaign is an honest reflection of individuals shaping culture by embracing their own paths—not what has been historically or traditionally defined for them, but what they define to be true for themselves. The campaign creative captures these creators pioneering a more inclusive, accepting world and putting their own distinctive stamp on American style."
The work comes from Gap's global creative director Len Peltier, and was shot by fashion photographer Zoey Grossman. It debuted this week and will appear on all the expected affordances: outdoor, digital, TV and streaming video. #HowYouWearGap is the hashtag.