The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Joss jostles out Sarah as ‘It’ girl

New York, May 19: On television, clothing chain Gap’s new pitchwoman caresses a microphone and croons The Right Time, an old Ray Charles ballad. Dressed in a tank top, beads and white jeans, she radiates a neo-hippie charm.

She is Joss Stone, the 18-year-old soul singer from Devon, England, who has a best-selling CD and three Grammy nominations under her paisley silk belt. Now Gap is about to find out whether her youthful appeal will play to a broader market. It has signed the lissome Stone to replace its previous “It” girl, Sarah Jessica Parker, whose nine-month stint as the face of the company coincided with a relentless decline in sales.

News that Stone had supplanted Parker set fashion industry tongues wagging. At 40, Parker is old enough to be Stone’s mother: too old, and too closely tied to her high-fashion Sex and the City image, some marketing experts said.

In hiring Parker, the Gap “fell into a real trap, and that trap was that they wanted to be something more than they were,” said Robert Passikoff, the president of Brand Keys, a market research company in New York. Enlisting the Manolo-shod Parker to sell sportswear basics “looked largely like an act of desperation,” he said.

Although Gap does not blame Parker for its business woes, the experience highlights the difficulty many companies face in creating a credible match with a celebrity endorser. But the consensus of fashion marketers is that celebrities are more effective than models now in imprinting a brand in the customer’s mind. It is a strategy as old as advertising itself, but it is relatively new to the fashion world.

Now Gap is hoping that Stone will embody the company’s relaxed style in a way that Parker apparently did not.

Asked to find a personality to embody the company’s white jeans, a look Gap stores are aggressively promoting for spring, Trey Laird, Gap’s creative director, said he started with a song, The Right Time, a blues standard. Then he chased down a contemporary artist who could endow it with new life.

His musical instincts led him to Stone.

Consumers of course will have the last word. Late on Tuesday, Nicola Wilson, 34, a production worker for a clothing company, wandered through the Gap outpost in Times Square. Shown a portrait of Gap’s new “face,” she responded instantly. “That’s Joss Stone,” she said. “She’s very soulful and vibe-y. I’ve seen her in the ads.” In Wilson’s view Gap’s new commercials are an improvement over those featuring Parker. “These are just younger and hipper, I think.”

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