Gap, based in San Francisco, has had to overhaul the way it designs, markets and sells its clothes. Famous for its ubiquitous pocket T-shirts and khakis, itís now pushing an array of tweed and plaid jackets, striped tops, corduroy pants and floral pins. Gap says itís offering more varieties but wouldnít quantify the change. Its fall ad campaign features Ms. Parker of "Sex and the City" with the slogan: "How do you wear it? Personalize it. Customize it. Glamorize it. Make it you own."


Tomorrow, Gap will customize jeans for the first 400 Manhattan stores by adding ribbons, for example.

Gapís 400-store Banana Republic chain is going a step further, positioning itself as a series of boutiques. "We want to make every store have a personality of its own," says Deborah Lloyd, executive vice president of design at Banana Republic. It is varying store layouts and is no longer stocking each one identically, giving the impression that each store carries unique merchandise.

Ms. Lloyd says the chain is willing to run out of some items for the sake of image. For the holiday season, Banana Republic is experimenting with a few hundred tweed coats with sequins, sold in only a handful of locations. Running out "isnít necessarily a bad thing," Ms. Lloyd adds. The company hopes the boutique mentality will retrain shoppers to visit stores more often and to buy clothes before theyíre reduced in price.

Picture of Sarah Jessica Parker

Serious Threat

Consumersí quest to look different from one another is a serious threat to big luxury-goods brands who rely on selling status as a mass product. On the Web, consumers can easily find companies marketing handbags customized by shape, color and fabric.


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