By  on September 24, 2007

Old Navy has hired Todd Oldham as its creative captain.

The $6 billion, 900-unit Gap Inc. division said Friday that Oldham will become creative director on Oct. 1, and divide his time between New York and San Francisco. He'll play a key role in developing the merchandise direction and creative vision at Old Navy.

Dawn Robertson, Old Navy's president, explained in an interview how Oldham fits into the mass chain's evolving turnaround strategy: "Last June, I hired Doug Howe [executive vice president of product]. He's the leader of all the design functions. He's a merchant and leader of talent. But we also needed a creative visionary. Todd is going to develop, motivate and inspire the creative teams and provide input. He's the big-idea person, from a creative point of view, and will help design product. He has an unbelievable fashion pedigree.

"Todd was an interesting choice because he is so relevant," Robertson added. "He is really modern. He knows apparel. He knows home."

Oldham is considered a celebrity designer, having wide experience on Seventh Avenue across a spectrum of price points, and a familiar face on the talk show circuit and reality shows. The 45-year-old designer is founder of Todd Oldham Studio, a multifaceted design studio, and hosts "Todd Time" on MTV's "House of Style" and "Top Design," Bravo's reality series spotlighting interior design. His 20-year career spans interior design, film, photography, furniture, graphic art and even floral design for FTD.com. He's also the author of "Hand Made Modern," and from 2002 to 2003, he designed dorm-room furnishings for Target.

But he's been more successful at the mass level than with his own designer collection. Oldham sold the trademarks for his name six years ago to Jones Apparel Group, which did little with the brands. He reacquired his name a few years later, and subsequently focused his energies on home products. Oldham is the second well-known designer Gap Inc. has hired, following Patrick Robinson, who was tapped to be executive vice president of design for Gap Adult and GapBody.

Asked if Oldham could become a spokesperson for Old Navy, considering his high profile and TV exposure, Robertson replied: "He may evolve into something like that. It's something he is really good at and comfortable with."Eventually, Oldham will develop a line of merchandise under the Todd Oldham name to be sold exclusively at Old Navy stores, in effect creating the first designer line at Old Navy. He also could design home and beauty products for Old Navy, Robertson acknowledged. But she stressed the first priority is to improve the core Old Navy product and brand, and gave no time frame for the launch of the Oldham line.

Asked if that could foreshadow adding other non-Old Navy product to the retailer's mix, Robertson replied: "Not at this point. We are very much a vertical retailer and want to continue to be."

It hasn't been smooth sailing for Old Navy. The last few years have been marked by negative sales trends and declining market share and loss of talent. While Oldham could help reverse the tide, Robertson already has implemented significant changes as part of the turnaround effort since she joined almost a year ago, replacing Old Navy veteran Jenny Ming. "The first thing we did was focus on the target customer," primarily women in their early 20s, and secondly, mothers shopping for their children.

"We have a pretty clear target customer, although we serve millions," Robertson said. "That target customer is the filter for everything we do."

The company also has reduced the time it takes to develop product and have it ready to sell, has changed its design team and rolled out new denim, dress and swim campaigns, which Robertson said have been successful. She said Old Navy now has a "consistent point of view" and a five-year strategy in place to improve the brand.

The Old Navy crew has made other key changes. John Luttrell will join the retailer as chief financial officer Oct. 1, and Michael Cape, formerly of J.C. Penney, became executive vice president of marketing in February.

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