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The Pico Creative Loft

How Gap is reinventing 1969 through their design-driven heritage

by CH Editors in Design on 02 August 2011

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For the past year, Gap has been designing their 1969 denim line in a former cigar factory on a quiet industrial block in Los Angeles. Known as the Pico Creative Loft, the move from their San Francisco headquarters signals a renewed focus on design, one that draws on Gap's heritage of accessible quality, while also redefining their take on modern fashion in the process. When we were tapped to help tell the story of new design studio for their fall campaign, we were excited to pick up where our last successful collaboration with the brand (our joint holiday pop-up shop) left off.

During the week we spent in L.A., interviewing 1969 designers, documenting their work and the space on video and with photography, we had the rare first-hand experience of witnessing a mega-brand reinvent their strategy from the inside out. Reconfiguring their infrastructure as more design-centric shows Gap rethinking the very blueprint of how they do business. Pico operates more like a start-up, reflected in the open workspace, a pervasive entrepreneurial spirit and emphasis on collaboration. And most importantly, as you'll see if you check out the videos and other content we produced, the designers and their team at Pico all share a passion for denim that infuses the space.

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Also integral to the project and one of the best-kept secrets of the industry, Los Angeles is home to some of the few remaining U.S. facilities for treating fabric. We were lucky enough to spend an afternoon at a prototyping facility to see the highly-specialized processes—from 3D effects to stonewashing—that help realize the design concepts that come out of Pico. Again, it's this kind of commitment to technique that enables Gap to make denim that can compete with brands considered more "high fashion."

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While it may seem like Gap's just jumping on the design consciousness bandwagon, the project works because it stays true to the brand's authentic design heritage. What that means at Pico is interpreting the idea of denim as a modern American symbol for pragmatism, hard work, and creativity. By embracing concepts traditionally reserved for the more hardcore denim-heads, they make premium fabrics, better cuts, innovative washes and other high design features accessible to the masses.

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Rather than defining themselves with gimmicky embellishments in a denim market that's no longer dominated by any one brand, the emphasis on design itself becomes the aesthetic. Each product embodies minimalism, incorporating just enough technical details to see wearers through a typical day, seamlessly transitioning from the office to playing soccer with your kids.

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This lifestyle element is also integral to Pico's location, drawing on the area's tremendous influence on popular culture. Love it or hate it, the inherently laid-back lifestyle that goes with the skating, surfing and health-consciousness on the West Coast has influenced our relationship with denim (and modern dressing as a whole) for decades. The resulting products draw on the Southern California lifestyle, Los Angeles' denim heritage and the design talent of the Pico team to give them the kind of integrity that it takes to make it in today's market.

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Key to accomplishing the overarching design concept with the fall collection was to break away from blue denim. The men's Straight Fit in grey, a perfect example of merging materials and ideas, was born from the extremes commonly seen in standard gray and black jeans. A gunmetal warp and light gray weft provides a clean but edgy look, formal yet rebellious. In Men's Design Director Jason Ferro's words, keeping it "a little bit cleaner, but it still has that energy and that really nice dynamic to it."

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Another great use of the contrast between warp and weft is the olive Skinny Fit men's jean. The pant, constructed of premium Italian denim, combines a black weft with an olive-yarn warp, creating a fantastic contrast where the lighter olive tone shines through the darker denim—letting you maintain the ruggedness of a black jean but with enough variation to set you apart from the crowd.

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The new pieces in the women's line follow these same principles, clearly illustrating where the 1969 staff was challenging themselves to move beyond the typical denim design expected from a large brand. The Mid-Weight High-Rise Legging takes a super casual fabric and shapes it into a classic denim form. With an almost-sweatpants feel, the pant allows you to stay super comfortable while retaining the look of a five-pocket jean. This non-traditional denim mix is a fantastic example of how Gap is taking an unconventional approach from the ground up, directly addressing style, comfort and lifestyle.

The legging's sister pant, cut from a densely-knit jean fabric, the Ponte five-pocket are like every woman's "little black dress" but also available in a deep neutral olive. Fit for any occasion, the Ponte moves with you thanks to its structured yet stretchy material—a versatile fabric that feels great against your skin and goes with just about any top, casual or formal. Unlike standard flimsy leggings that leave you feeling exposed, the Ponte hugs and supports the body in all the right places, strategically revealing and concealing—which means you don't have to sacrifice comfort for appearance.

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