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Are Gap's new clothes for boomers any good?

Forth & Towne, the new stores from Gap Inc., was born of a statistic. The company which also owns the Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic sells clothes to about 8 percent of women under 35. But it reaches only 3 percent of "older" women: that is, women 35 and over. And so it has created Forth & Towne with the intent of luring in this demographic.

Women over age 35 are, in the words of Forth & Towne's president, Gary Muto, "underserved." They have more income than younger women, but fewer places to shop. For most middle-aged women, the mall is a barren wasteland: Apart from Eileen Fisher, which peddles roomy clothes in natural fibers, and Chico's, which sells ethnic print sweater-coats and the like, it's just tumbleweeds rolling through the food court. As a result, many women in this demographic are forced to comb through the racks at department stores or pore over catalogs like Coldwater Creek and J. Jill. For women in this age group, shopping can be a time-consuming (and, at times, frustrating) cobbling together of bits and pieces from various sources.

As a business idea, then, Forth & Towne makes sense. As a fashion concept, though, it raises a few questions. For starters: Who are these "women over 35"? It's a group both enormous and diverse. It includes Sarah Jessica Parker and Madeleine Albright, Anna Wintour and Oprah Winfrey, Mrs. Robinson and Miss Havisham. It includes both my elegant 59-year-old mother, who scours department stores and discount chains like Loehmann's for classic suits, and her chic 44-year-old sister, who recently devised a way to wear a Hermès scarf as a shirt.

How does Forth & Towne intend to appeal to all these women? To find out, I drove to West Nyack, N.Y., where one of the first outposts opened in August, to take a look at the clothes.

Even in the fashion world, not everyone has it.

My first impression, as I walked up to the monumental 55 Wall Street, former home to the New York Stock Exchange, was one of money. The granite exterior, with huge imposing columns, seemed at once incongruous - high fashion on Wall Street? - and cynically appropriate: At some level, the industry is all about the green stuff. I was there, along with a crowd of about 1,000, to catch the Y-3 runway show. Launched in 2000, Y-3 is a joint venture between sportswear giant Adidas and Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto. There was a lot of excitement about the show since Yamamoto, arguably Japan's greatest fashion talent, is notably reclusive and rarely makes a stateside appearance. (Short Yamamoto bio: He debuted his first collection in Tokyo in 1977, though he now stages his ready-to-wear runway shows in Paris. He is known for his uncluttered, conceptual sensibility and somber palette - and his clothes are expensive.) For 30 minutes, I stood outside fretting, waiting for my friend-with-ticket-who-was-late.

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