Gap, the iconic American brand that’s lost its way, is once again trying to find its creative center of gravity. Today, during new Gap Inc. CEO Art Peck’s first earnings call, he announced Wendi Goldman would join the brand as its new executive vice president of product design and development. In the newly created position Goldman will lead the San Francisco-based company’s global design team, while working closely with merchandising, product operations, and customer experience.
Goldman sort of fills the hole left by Rebekka Bay, the brand’s creative director who was unceremoniously fired in January (the two hold different titles; according to the company Bay’s position was “eliminated”). Whereas Bay’s aesthetic was minimalist, European, and at times androgynous, in Goldman Gap is betting on an arguably less polarizing touch. “Wendi is a commercially-driven, customer focused leader,” said Jeff Kirwan, Gap’s new global president, in a press release. Goldman spent over a decade at Limited Brands, where she’s credited with creating Victoria’s Secret’s PINK line. Most recently she was chief product officer at the now defunct C. Wonder and Burch Creative Capital. Like many Gap Inc. leaders, this will be her second lap around the company; Goldman–who studied business, not design–did product development for the company’s Banana Republic brand in the ’90s.
At first glance, it’s not a particularly inspiring hire. When the struggling retailer put Peck at the helm in February, many were concerned that what the staid retailer really needed was a merchant CEO. Not a merchant, Peck is a management consulting vet who’s spent the past nine years at Gap Inc, having successfully led many parts of the business, from omnichannel to turning around the Gap brand in 2012. While Peck wants to fix the Gap product by getting the brand back to its “casual, American, optimistic” roots, the choice of its new design head doesn’t feel ambitious; more like a safe bet that might help it regain its apparel footing. While we daydreamed that Peck might try to poach J.Crew’s Jenna Lyons for the top design spot (okay, it was a fantasy), it seems Bay’s distinct fashion point of view may have scared the brand away from wanting to have a strong designer at its core, even if they managed to find one with a better fit. So Goldman, who has 25 years in the business under her belt, may have the reliable aesthetic the brand needs to once again become arbiter of the basics.