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Gap Ousts Designer Rebekka Bay

Bay’s departure has us already speculating–and fantasizing–about who might replace her.

Gap Ousts Designer Rebekka Bay
[Photo: David M. Benett/Getty Images for Gap]

Today Gap, Inc. announced Rebekka Bay, the designer recruited in 2012 to help reboot the iconic brand, is out of the company.

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“In evaluating the right leadership structure for the brand” Gap is “eliminating the Creative Director role, resulting in Rebekka Bay’s departure from the company, effective immediately,” the company wrote in a press release.

Bay’s departure is the latest in a slew of changes spurred by incoming CEO Art Peck, who officially begins his new role on February 1. In November, Peck named new presidents for the $16 billion company’s Gap and Banana Republic brands, and last week shuttered its digital Piperlime business.

Bay, a Danish trend forecaster and design consultant, built her reputation by launching H&M’s more modern, upscale Cos brand. When Gap hired her in 2012, it was hoping some of that fast fashion magic might rub off on its brand, which has been losing relevance over the last decade. In 2013, the Daily Mail posited that Bay might become “the new [J.Crew] Jenna Lyons,” while last year Businessweek asked on its cover “Can Rebekka Bay Fix the Gap?

But the Gap seems to have been suffering from an identity crisis for years. “They flip-flop between a little trending, a little Euro, a little stripe, whatever. It just gives you a headache,” says WSL Retail analyst Wendy Leibmann. “They’ve been redesigning the clothes for a decade because there is a total lack of clarity around who they are designing for. Who do you think they think their shopper is? I think it depends on the week.”

Anyone who looked at Gap’s track record back when it thrived–optimistic, all-American, with pops of color–could have guessed Bay would be the wrong fit. The last time Gap nailed a trend was with its colored denim. That was three years ago, before Bay started. The look spoke to Gap’s heritage, but spun it forward–and the customers followed. Sales went through the roof.

But Bay is the antithesis of poppy. The Cos product is minimalist, boxy, and at times, androgynous, comprised of a palette of muted grays and blacks. Just look at Bay’s own personal uniform: a bland white shirt. (“I’ve worn the same thing for 25 years,” she told the Guardian of her style late last year). To some degree, it was an aesthetic experiment doomed from the start.

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So all this has me and my colleagues at Fast Company wondering–and fantasizing–about who will replace Bay at the Gap. While a Gap spokesperson says the “future of the creative director role” is unclear, one interesting, but unlikely possibility, is Marissa Webb. J.Crew’s former head of womenswear was recruited by Gap sister brand, Banana Republic, last year to help breathe new life into the staid retailer. Webb already has two full-time jobs as Banana’s new creative director and executive vice president of Design while still running her own eponymous upscale line (which Gap, Inc. invested in as part of the deal). With her J.Crew sensibility, one could imagine Gap, Inc. elevating her role to creatively lead its three major brands, including Gap and Old Navy.

But the ultimate coup for a Gap revival, in our humble opinion, would be Jenna Lyons herself. The queen bee of new American fashion has spent her entire 25-year career at the once-preppy retailer, and she could be reaching her creative expiration date. After a few off seasons, the company recently reported an annual loss of $607.8 million. In December, the New York Post‘s Page Six reported (by an anonymous source) that CEO Mickey Drexler “is tired of Jenna Lyons being out on the circuit and not paying attention to business.” Maybe Lyons is just ready for a new challenge and a bigger stage–like transforming the significantly larger $6 billion Gap brand? Of course, this is all speculation–who knows what’s going on behind Lyons’s famous glasses.

About the author

Danielle Sacks is an award-winning journalist and a former senior writer at Fast Company magazine. She's chronicled some of the most provocative people in business, with seven cover stories that included profiles on J.Crew's Jenna Lyons, Malcolm Gladwell, and Chelsea Clinton.

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