When we first heard that Patrick Robinson had been dismissed as the head designer of Gap almost exactly a year ago, we can’t say we were completely surprised. With sales still looking dismal, the brand cleaned house at an executive level days before they canned Robinson–you could say he was a sitting duck. Still, we wondered, with a talent as big as Robinson’s (the Vogue darling has designed for Giorgio Armani, Perry Ellis, and Paco Rabanne) and a brand as powerful as Gap’s: What went wrong?
Apparently, a lot of things. This weekend the Sunday Styles took an in depth look at the various ways the Gap is trying to get back on its feet, namely with cleaner, better organized and peppier stores. More interestingly, the article delves (in a really dishy way!) into why Gap has been floundering these past few years, and, well, let’s just say it doesn’t exactly reflect kindly on Robinson.
Apparently, the designer’s more high fashion sensibility was “lost on Gap customers,” and efforts made by the merchants and management to change that were met with obstinacy from Robinson. One former senior executive remembered a preview for the 2009 holiday collection, which was filled with spring colors–not traditional holiday ones. Management urged Robinson to add in festive winter colors but the designer refused. In the end, the retailer was forced to rush in some holiday plaid so it would have something to feature.
Another issue was the way Robinson dealt with merchants. Normally, merchants are responsible for ordering a selection of products that will work specifically for their location and can make adjustments to the way products are displayed and merchandised. Robinson, however, felt that this was “ruining his vision,” and so, in 2011, the brand’s President, Glenn Murphy, gave him full control.
“Merchants were literally told, ‘You don’t get to change the product as it’s presented,’ ” one former merchant recalled. “Usually, you want to bring financial history, a consumer focus, make sure you do have a white button-down.” Yikes. And then this doozy about the collection Robinson delivered that same season he was granted full control: “The clothes that arrived were in drab grays, peaches and roses. Rivals were offering bright solids that season. Gap’s sales kept sinking.”
Of course the blame for Gap‘s less than stellar performance does not fall squarely on Robinson’s shoulders: According to the article, Gap’s management continuously gave inconsistent direction. One season, executives were asked to focus on women’s career wear, only to be told the next season to get back to Gap’s core, denim. “Then it’s, ‘Don’t focus on the denim business; focus on tops,’ ” one former executive said.
“[One] product review meeting looked like we’d just walked out of a nightclub,” another executive remembered, after the brand’s CEO Glenn Murphy had told designers to “watch what Express was doing.” Yet another issue was quality–or lack thereof. In an attempt to increase profits, Murphy had cut production costs, which wound up having a negative affect on the product. “We were worried about the quality,” one former inventory executive told the paper.
Obviously there are a number of reasons why Gap has been struggling–and the solution will by no means be simple or easy. However, one thing is clear from the Times article: The brand is dedicated to figuring it out. Now we’ll just have to wait and see who they (finally) hire as head designer…