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Up Close and Personal with Laird & Partners' Fresh-Faced 'Individuals'

Photography Book Reminds Us That Gap, Celebs Created a Classic Look

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When you hear the words "fashion photography," what brands spring to mind? Conde Nast's Vogue probably gets a nod, maybe the theatrical Annie Leibovitz.

But what about Gap? For nearly two decades a laundry list of actors, models and humanitarians have posed for the retailer's seasonal print and in-store campaigns -- and to huge press appeal. There's equal talent behind the lens, with portfolios from the ubiquitous Ms. Leibovitz, Herb Ritts, Steven Meisel and Mikael Jansson. So why aren't we quick to associate iconic snapshots of Lee Radziwell and Miles Davis with America's most accessible clothing line?

Maybe it's the universal truth that Gap's objects fit looser than they appear. Or perhaps we're so inundated by campaigns -- more than there are seasons on the fashion calendar -- that this rotating crop of fresh faces has lost its staying power. Whatever the disenchantment, your impressions may change with "Individuals: Portraits from the Gap Collection." The clothbound tome was designed by Laird & Partners, the startup agency that won Gap's account in 2002 and proceeded to steer the brand's image back to its roots with a back-to-basics approach and sparkly spots featuring Sarah Jessica Parker, Missy Elliott, Audrey Hepburn and -- most recently -- Claire Danes.

Flipping through a hundred-plus glossy snaps of rich celebs in cheap duds (most don one Gap item -- or fewer) may not be your cup of tea, but you'll appreciate the overlying sense of timelessness. Since it's almost impossible to date the photos without sneaking a peek at the credits, the book serves as a bold reminder of how long the brand's name and "look" have been around. The best photographs freeze moments from the late '80s and early '90s, a time when Gap was riding high on a basic collection of denim jackets, T-shirts and clean lines. Close-ups of Barry White (1992) and Quintana Roo (pictured with author and mother, Joan Didion, 1989) make this a veritable pop-culture time capsule.

Of course, these days a Gap product necessitates a Red campaign tie-in. Bobby Shriver's mug (courtesy of Herb Ritts) halfway through "Individuals" is a slightly tacky reminder of the retailer's charity du jour. The Laird team has also blisterpacked a forgettable CD to the inside back cover featuring tunes that are supposedly quintessentially Gap. Louis Prima's "Jump, Jive, An' Wail" and Neil Diamond's "Forever in Blue Jeans" are among the breezy set.

As a whole, the package is gimmicky. But it's a 38-year history told in photographs that kept me poring over these 'individuals of style,' bringing me back to the day when Gap was a coveted treat, a staple in each of our wardrobes and lives.

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