Gap’s identity crisis is getting uglier

Not optimistic enough?
Not optimistic enough?
Image: Getty Images/Justin Sullivan
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This post has been corrected.

In January, Gap announced it would scrap the role of creative director, and with it, the job of Rebekka Bay. It was, frankly, a bummer for anyone nostalgic for the days when Gap was a source for true basics: trend-proof pocket tees, blue jeans, cotton sweaters, and even, yes, khakis.

Bay, who came in 2012 from the H&M-owned label Cos, had vowed to restore Gap to its clean, casual heyday. But, as Lauren Sherman pointed out at Fashionista, Gap’s merchandising structure has muddied the creative direction of leaders such as Bay (and Patrick Robinson before her) in the stores.

Now it sounds like Gap executives are actively dismantling any hopes we had for a restoration of the old Gap—or, as we knew it then, The Gap (pdf, p.3).

CEO Art Peck announced on an earnings call last week that the company has hired a new creative chief: Wendi Goldman. Goldman comes from C. Wonder, the headache-inducing peddler of made-in-China midwestern prep, which filed for bankruptcy in January. She also developed products for Gap’s Banana Republic chain in the ’90s.

Goldman’s official title is “executive vice president, Gap product design and development,” which may point to her role being one that’s equal parts business and creative.

“Wendi is a commercially-driven, customer focused leader,” Gap’s new global president, Jeff Kirwan, said in a press release.

Fears that Gap may soon adopt a color and pattern scheme as painful as C. Wonder’s lime green and hot pink chevrons are not unwarranted. Peck promised on the conference call that the new directive is “American optimism,” suggesting Bay’s tasteful palettes will be brightened up ASAP:

It was a very neutral summer that we had last year, you will see more color, brand appropriate color coming back into the business by the time we get to summer. So that’s a change that has been made.

Print and pattern obviously as we get into late spring and summer… Holiday for Gap is really a time we are very optimistic expression of the brand, it’s a time when a lot of the industry tends to go to a very dark and neutral place, we have done very good business over many years with the more optimistic expression of the brand during that time frame.

Bay’s designs are still in Gap’s product pipeline through autumn, and Peck said the current team is “focused on making product changes that they can make,” which sounds like a terrific way to mess up the rest of the year, and please no one. Minimalists won’t be able to find the last shreds of Bay’s vision, and “American optimists” may not start getting their hot pink until after the holidays.

Correction: A previous version of this post stated the incorrect date of hiring for Rebekka Bay.