Gap Inc. Co-Founder Donald Fisher Dies At 81

Donald Fisher and his wife Doris opened the first Gap in 1969 in San Francisco, after running into difficulties finding jeans that fit. Fisher died at at home Sunday after a long battle with cancer. He was 81. Sally Singer, the fashion news and features editor of Vogue magazine, talks with Renee Montagne about Fisher's accomplishments.

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(Soundbite of a trumpet)

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

A man who built an empire on T-shirts and khakis has died. Donald Fisher founded the Gap with his wife, Doris, 40 years ago. He started with a single store in San Francisco selling blue jeans and records. The Gap now has over 3100 stores in 25 countries.

Don Fisher, who died on Sunday from cancer at the age of 81, influenced both fashion and retailing. To talk about that, we reached "Vogue" editor Sally Singer at Fashion Week in Milan.

Good morning.

Ms. SALLY SINGER (Editor, "Vogue" Magazine): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, Don Fisher said he created the Gap with, and I'm quoting here, "a simple idea to make it easier to find a pair of jeans."

Is that what it was all about, really?

Ms. SINGER: Well, I think, back in the day, it was all about... Because there's one thing about Don Fisher that I think people who worked with him know, is that he always spoke his mind, and he spoke pretty clearly and pretty truthfully.

I think to find a pair of jeans in 1969 was a different task than it is today. Back then, the idea of shopping as a pursuit for the masses, that was very new and that wasn't done. So to find a pair of jeans that fit, back in 1969 - if you weren't, say, you know, on Haight-Ashbury at the time - was probably a rather an impressive and interesting gesture from a retail point of view.

MONTAGNE: The Gap's co-founder, Don Fisher's wife, Doris, came up with the name The Gap. And I gather it was in reference to generation gap that was so much talked about then.

How did the company go from that idea to becoming such an icon?

Ms. SINGER: Well, I mean it's had a sort of amazing growth and through many sort of successive administrations; most notably in the '90s, when it really became most clearly identified as sort of the great American company that was going to sort of take on the world - and did quite successfully.

One thing the Gap has done so well, and so brilliantly, is they've allowed a certain idea of good taste and appropriate dressing to be reached for the masses around the world. So that everyone can wear a khaki and a polo shirt. Everyone can wear what looks like a college sweatshirt. That just wasn't done a long time ago.

You know, things were much more stratified by race and class, and the like. And it's had a transformative affect the way, I think, Americans in particular view their ideas of taste - how taste can be part of every aspect of your life.

You know, it used to be that you just went to Sears or JC Penney's, when I was growing up, to buy jeans. You know, they didn't have to have any style, they just had to fit. You know, they just had to like not deconstruct very quickly. And the idea that somehow when you buy a jean it should be a cool jean - it should have the right cut - that comes in later. And that comes in a lot because of the Gap.

MONTAGNE: So, in the end, how do you think Don Fisher, who founded the Gap, how do you think he'll be remembered?

Ms. SINGER: I think he'll be remembered as a great proponent of the American lifestyle, someone who really understood the sort casual cool that this country, and particularly the West Coast, can offer the world. And he got that and he allowed that to sort of grow and develop. And along the way, I think he democratized good taste, and that's a very hard thing to do.

MONTAGNE: Don Fisher, who co-founded the store the Gap, died yesterday.

Sally Singer is the fashion, news and features editor of "Vogue" and she joined us from Milan.

Thanks very much.

Ms. SINGER: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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