Have a Fearless Career: John Caruso on His Path from Law to Fashion

by Giuliana Carranza

Gap

June 11, 2019

You might recognize John Caruso, head of adult design at Gap, from the annual GQ x Gap collaboration — including last year’s “Coolest Designers on the Planet” collection where eight designers reimagined the iconic Gap hoodie.

But John didn’t become a designer overnight. In fact, he graduated from law school and was headed into a career as a lawyer before he changed paths. We recently had a chance to talk with him about doing a career 180, his design inspirations and his obsession with Gap’s heritage.

What attracted you to the fashion industry?
I became a designer in a very nontraditional way. I grew up in Detroit with immigrant parents from Greece. My mom was a seamstress and my household was incredibly artistic, but like lots of parents, they wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer. My heart was in fashion (I was even voted Best Dressed in high school!), but after college I decided to pursue law and actually graduated from law school.

How did you make the transition from law to fashion?
Ultimately, the lawyer path wasn’t right for me, so I applied to Parsons School of Design, got in and moved to New York City. At that point, fashion doors started to open for me. I interned for John Varvatos, then had stints at J. Crew, Abercrombie & Fitch and Tommy Hilfiger before landing my dream job leading men’s design at Gap. I really believe that my love of Gap’s mission and heritage brought me here. I had such an emotional connection with American aesthetics from the ’80s and ’90s. 

Rack of Clothes

Speaking of heritage…Gap is coming up on a big birthday! What does working for a brand with such a rich history mean to you?
Gap has had such a powerful narrative over the last 50 years! As a designer, I’m a storyteller, so taking the rich narrative of a brand that has literally shaped American and global fashion culture means that I’m part of history, and that’s powerful to me.

How do you express your own design style within Gap’s identity?
I’ve chosen to take jobs where my aesthetic aligns closely with the aesthetic of the brand, so it never feels like a stretch. I can always find myself within Gap’s identity.

What inspires you?
I thrive on creative collaboration. I might say “red,” you say “fuchsia,” then we land on pink, and the idea gets better and better as we iterate. I don’t believe any idea comes from one place; it takes the involvement of many people. And it takes leadership and curation to mold that inspiration into what it needs to be for the brand. Collaboration is valued in a big way here at Gap. We’re stronger when people feel no hesitation in expressing ideas. 

The GQ collaboration is always so highly anticipated. What’s the best part about that project?
This project is so enriching for me on both a professional and personal level. I truly admire all the designers we collaborate with on it, and we’re so similar at heart. They contemplate the same things I do, they don’t always get it right the first time, and some things take a tweak or two. It’s so refreshing to know my working style isn’t an anomaly.

The retail industry is changing dramatically. Why is Gap still relevant?
Gap is consistent in an industry of chaos and change. We’re evolving in our own way, but we’re staying true to who we are and making tweaks. That dependability creates a relevance.

Go-to outfit in your closet?
If I had to wear one outfit the rest of my life, I’d go for my weekend vibe at the beach: barefoot in a pair of ripped jeans and my favorite T-shirt.

After chatting with John for almost an hour, we can’t help but agree that he is in fact one of the coolest designers (and humans) on the planet. Are you inspired by the work of Gap’s design team? Check out our current openings and join us!

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