Gap dismisses creative head

Friday, 06 May 2011
Gap announced on Thursday that it had dismissed its star creative director, Patrick Robinson. By doing so Gap acknowledges its problems run deeper than merchandising, and that actual product is an issue. Three months ago Gap fired the top business-side executive overseeing its Gap division and it blamed merchandising, how items are presented in stores, for the brand’s faltering sales, not design.

John M. Morris, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets, said of Mr. Robinson’s dismissal. “We thought that the challenges lay beyond merchandising and spilled into design, but it is a little bit of an about-face on the part of the Gap, to be making the change now."

Mr. Robinson, who was perhaps Gap's best pr, joined Gap in 2007. He previously designed for Paco Rabanne, Perry Ellis, Giorgio Armani and Anne Klein, and had been nominated for a Council of Fashion Designers of America award, the industry’s equivalent of an Oscar. (And his wife, Virginia Smith, is a Vogue editor, a handy connection for securing editorial in the top tier magazines.)

Beyond the buzz, Mr. Robinson had a difficult job: trying to figure out what Gap should sell. After defining American basics in the ’80s and ’90s , the chain was lost. Competitors like Abercrombie & Fitch and J. Crew, and fast-fashion brands like H&M and Zara, were offering sharper takes on trends.

Introducing one of his first Gap collections, Mr. Robinson said he wanted to “take the classic, iconic heritage of the company and make it relevant.” His Gap designs produced some popular items, particularly skinny cargo pants and a revamp of denim. But tops never seemed to go with bottoms, and dresses and outerwear were puzzling, too. Gap’s merchandise today is an unlikely mix of pants in khaki and olive green, and floaty, ruffly tops in peach and beige.

Since 2005 Gap’s North America stores have had annual declines in same-store sales . In 2010, though Gap Inc.’s other units, including Banana Republic and Old Navy’s North American stores, posted positive same-store sales, the Gap unit had a 1 percent decline.

Mr. Robinson is leaving as Gap overhauls its Gap North America division. In addition to dismissing the top business-side executive overseeing the Gap brand in the United States, the company has named a new global chief marketing officer for the Gap brand.

“I’ve made the decision to make a change within our Gap Adult design team,” Pam Wallack, chief of the Gap Global Creative Center, said in the statement. “Our leaders of the new Gap Global Creative Center are taking the necessary steps to compete and win around the world,” Glenn Murphy, the chairman and chief executive of Gap Inc., said.

Image: Patrick Robinson
Source: Gap Inc, International Herald Tribune©

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