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Monday, September 28, 2009

Don Fisher: Union Buster, Egomaniac, Rube, In His Own Words

Posted By on Mon, Sep 28, 2009 at 3:59 PM

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Fisher has been regarded in life and death -- even by his detractors -- as a man with exquisite taste for modern art. In "Falling Into the Gap," he explains his secret.

"One of my principles is to never buy an artist that I can't sell at auction... Buying art pieces in [the $5,000] price category means I might hit one out of 20, where the artist becomes very valuable. So what do I do with the other 19 that are worth only $5,000 each or less? I don't like those odds. I'd rather spend more money on an artist who is worth something right now and figure that piece has a good chance to appreciate. Then, if I don't like it later, at least I can sell it. Good modern art and the business of fashion make great style-mates."

Fisher describes how, while on the board of directors of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, he'd worked hard to veto a proposal by Frank Gehry to design what would become the SFMoMa across Third Street from the Moscone Convention Center.

"From what I'd seen, it scared me to death that Gehry might design a building that wouldn't fit into the San Francisco Landscape," Fisher wrote.

Don Fisher seems to have been a hard man to please. But he apparently could be pleased. He devotes a section of his book to recounting an extravagant 70th birthday party put on by family and friends in his honor. The U.C. Berkeley band was hired to perform, and a Hollywood director was contracted to produce a video homage.

"Before we sat down to dinner, I dusted off my cheer-leading skills and did some yells and songs with the Cal band. It was so much fun. Later, after a superb dinner, the lights dimmed. A video began to play on a giant screen at one end of the tent.... The music intensified as a raspy male voice sang, "there's a new don rising in America today..." the sun ascended and slowly came into focus as everyone in the room became aware it was actually my bald head rising up behind the lake, until finally my image, from the shoulders up, filled the screen," Fisher wrote.

The film turned out to be a mock political advertisement, positing Fisher as a candidate for president. It was "filled with heroic shots of people at work and play, Boy Scouts, firemen, Mount Rushmore and finally, the statue of liberty with fireworks all around her. My image set against a waving American flag concluded the spot. At the end of the commercial, Kate Kelly, the anchorwoman of our local CBS television station appeared sitting at her news desk and said, "the political future of this nation has just taken a bright turn. Don Fisher, founder and chairman of The Gap, a six and a half billion dollar casual clothing empire, has rocked the political community with today's announcement of his candidacy for president of the United States. There has been a tidal wave of enthusiastic support for Don Fisher. Here's what America's opinion makers have to say."

Then George Bush Sr. appeared on the screen, looking bewildered. "Don who?" he asked."
Fisher's associates hired a list of celebrities to pay tribute, a gesture The Gap founder seems to have appreciated.

"I watched wonderful performances by Willie Brown... Colin Powell... Pete Wilson... Willie Mays... Dusty Baker... George Schultz... Clark Kerr... Bill Bradley... Thousands of colorful balloons magically appeared. Everyone marched around the tables singing Happy Birthday while throwing confetti and streamers," Fisher wrote.

Fisher rounded out the evening dancing to the Glen Miller Orchestra, which had been flown in from New York. He had the video made into DVD discs, so that his grandchildren could enjoy them, he writes.

"I hope the laughter continues for many generations," he writes.

No doubt it will.

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