Had it not been for Donald Fisher, who together with his wife Doris founded the multibillion-dollar global clothing chain Gap, the concept of "dress down Fridays" may never have entered into the vernacular. Gap opened up a whole new market for the middle classes in America and beyond, offering fashionable-yet-affordable clothes that trod the fine line between smart and casual. For basics - white T-shirts, well-cut jeans, a pair of chinos - Gap could not be beaten. It filled both a gap in the market at the time, and reflected the generation gap between the Baby Boomers and their offspring, who sought to distinguish themselves sartorially from their conservatively dressed parents, if not too radically.
The business started in 1969 with denim after Fisher failed to find a pair of jeans that would fit his own tall, elegant frame. In short order, he abandoned his career in property development, raised US$63,000 and launched the first Gap store in San Francisco, which sold jeans in a variety of styles, as well as music. The audio side of the business never flew; but the jeans sold successfully from the start, with sales of $2 million in the first year.
By the time of Fisher's death, the company comprised five primary brands, including Banana Republic and Old Navy, and was only recently eclipsed as the world's largest clothes retailer. The fortunes of Gap fluctuated as imitators crowded the market and allegations of the use of child labour in the company's factories brought unwelcome attention, but Fisher was constantly innovating to keep customers coming through the doors, not least with slick advertising campaigns that featured a raft of actors and photogenic celebrities.
Born in Cutsdean, California, Donald George Fisher attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he was a member of the swimming and water polo teams, before earning a degree from the School of Business Administration in 1951. He channelled the considerable personal wealth that accrued from his retail empire into philanthropic projects, most notably as a financial supporter of Edison Schools, a profitable enterprise that ran local schools. From 2000, he worked for the non-profit Knowledge is Power Program, implementing educational initiatives for underprivileged children.
Together with his wife, he also amassed an impressive collection of modern art, including works by Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, which are to be housed in a wing of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Donald Fisher was born on September 3, 1928, and died on September 27. He is survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter. * The National