Gap, the all-American casual brand, has decided that its vision for the future should be filtered through a European designer with a Scandinavian aesthetic.
Nevertheless, Rebekka Bay, a former top designer at H&M who on Monday was named creative director and executive vice president for Gap Global Design, said in an exclusive interview with WWD on Monday that her mission will be to build upon the heritage of the brand. “Gap has great potential as a lifestyle brand,” said Bay, who was born and schooled in design in Denmark. But she emphasized that with Gap, “It’s important to continue to [build upon] the product’s American heritage. Gap is the brand that owns casual fashion. It can take more ownership over casual.”
She sees the opportunity to introduce a more sophisticated range of colors to Gap, more prints, more washes, and said that, long term, the company will be able to add lines to broaden the range of styles. She said the mission will be to deliver high-quality, well-priced products, not just seasonally but trans-seasonally. Gap, while recently performing well, has for about a decade found it difficult to deliver consistent, stylish, quality product.
“I am superexcited about joining Gap and I don’t know if I fully understand the size of the task,” Bay said.
The stock market applauded Bay’s appointment, though, sending Gap Inc’s shares up 2.4 percent to $36.05 in a generally tough day for retail shares.
Over the next few weeks, Bay will relocate to New York with her husband and seven-year-old son, and will be based at Gap’s Global Creative Center on Thomas Street in lower Manhattan. Her impact on the Gap collection will first be felt in the second half of 2013.
Asked what is working at the brand right now, she said the company has great khakis and great denim, as examples, but potentially could “own more product categories.”
Bay succeeds Patrick Robinson, who left in 2011, but actually has a bigger role since she will be creative director, a title Robinson didn’t have. She will develop the vision for the entire Gap brand, including working on the marketing and communications, and, as executive vice president, will have global responsibility for Gap women’s, men’s, 1969, accessories and body lines.
She will report to Art Peck, president of the brand’s North American division, and Stephen Sunnucks, president of Gap Inc. International. She will also work closely with Pam Wallack, who leads the Gap Global Creative Center; Seth Farbman, who leads Gap’s marketing team, and Jennifer Giangualano, head designer for kids and baby. Gap said Tracy Gardner will continue as a creative adviser to Gap.
Like Robinson, Bay will be high profile at the Gap, particularly with the media at fashion shows and presentations, and to convey the brand message, though she is not as gregarious as Robinson tended to be.
“I am very hands on,” Bay said during the interview. “I like the behind-the-scenes work. My main focus will be developing the product. That’s what I came here for,” though she added that she is “more than happy” to communicate the vision and serve as a voice for the brand.
She joins Gap Inc. at a relative good time for the $14.5 billion company, which has experienced two positive quarters and seems to be gaining momentum, though it is too soon to say that, after years of negative comparable-store sales and declining traffic, it has been turned around. The Gap brand last month saw comparable-store sales rise 9 percent.
“We’re confident that Rebekka’s approach to design, along with her considerable international experience, will allow her to help us build upon the momentum we’re delivering in the business today,” said Sunnucks.
The 42-year-old Bay, according to Gap, was selected because she has had more than two decades in design and can articulate a vision. In 2006, she conceptualized and developed COS, the higher-priced line of H&M that sells in Europe, Asia and the Middle East and is expected to make its way to H&M in the U.S. Since 2011, she has been with the Danish brand Bruuns Bazaar as creative director, overseeing the design of women’s and men’s wear. Gap said that at Bruuns Bazaar, Bay was instrumental in creating a strong signature for the BZR and Bruuns Bazaar collections and built upon the strong Scandinavian heritage of the brand.
The Danish aesthetic, she said, is in her DNA, and will, to some degree, affect her work and the taste level she brings to Gap. She defined it as “very functional and modern and based on great craftsmanship and design. The approach to design is very craft based. The material itself can carry a good part of the design.”
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa's “I-did-it-my-way” ethos stood out starkly at a time when brands are experimenting with consumer-facing fashion shows, coed formats and trans-seasonal collections – anything to perk up lackluster sales of ready-to-wear in an age of Insta-everything. “It’s not creation anymore. This becomes a purely industrial approach,” the late designer told WWD in an interview last year. “But anyway, the rhythm of collections is so stupid. It’s unsustainable. There are too many collections.” Read more about the iconic designer’s life and work on wwd.com, link in bio. #wwdfashion #azzedinealaia (📷: @WWD Archive, 1986) #alaia
Sneaker reselling app @goat’s latest exhibit, "The Greatest: New York," tells the story of New York's sneaker culture. To celebrate the exhibit, an intimate crowd gathered on Thursday night at the pop-up gallery space, located at Platform in Culver City, to hear guest speaker and illustrator @esymai talk about her own rise in streetwear and women in the business. "For me I'm just someone who is creative. I like to create things," said Chang. #wwdfashion
Azzedine Alaïa, one of the most iconic couturiers of the modern era whose body-con designs defined Eighties fashion, has died in Paris. The diminutive Tunisian-born designer, known for his structured knitted dresses with fitted waists and impeccably cut, figure-hugging second skin silhouettes was deeply admired by his peers, and counted supermodel Naomi Campbell - his adoptive daughter - among his inner circle, one of a gang of glamazons including Farida Khelfa, Carla Bruni and Stephanie Seymour who became ambassadors of his style. (📷: Alexandre Guirkinger) #wwdblast