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Tracy Gardner to Advise Gap

Former J. Crew president to consult for Gap brand.

Gap Inc., in what’s been an ongoing, aggressive hunt for talent, has tapped one of its alumni, Tracy Gardner, to work at Gap’s Global Creative Center in New York.

Beginning Monday, Gardner will be working alongside Pam Wallack, executive vice president, and the rest of the team, in an effort to improve the product and help turn around the retailer’s sagging women’s business. “She is joining us in an advisory capacity and will provide oversight and guidance on the development of our women’s product,” said Gap spokeswoman Louise Callagy. “They will begin working on developing holiday product for 2012.”

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According to other reports, Gap is searching high and low for talent, including reaching out to former Gap employees and others with creative and merchant skills and track records of high performance. Gap continues to search for a replacement for a head of Gap Adult design, previously held by Patrick Robinson, who was involved in a broad spectrum of categories until being ousted last year. Gardner is not considered a successor to Robinson, since she is a merchandiser and not a designer. Sometimes, however, executives who start in consulting roles eventually take on permanent positions within a company. Gap had no comment on whether Gardner could eventually take on a bigger role.

Gardner has strong merchandising experience and is considered a solid tactical merchant, rather than someone who would set a new strategic course, though some retail analysts believe that’s exactly what Gap needs. Comparable-store sales at Gap stores in North America were negative 4, 2, and 5 percent last December, November and October, respectively.

“This is a key positive for the company given women’s has been a struggling division for several years and could significantly benefit from Gardner’s input,” Jeffries & Co. said in a report Thursday.

Gardner was vice president of women’s merchandising at Gap Inc.’s Banana Republic division from 1998 to 2000; led Gap Adult Merchandising from 2001 to 2004 when the business was still on a growth curve, and became president of J. Crew Group Inc. in 2004 until leaving in 2010. Currently, she’s a partner and member of the board at social selling Web site StyleOwner.

According to a Gap internal memo, Gardner will be advising on Gap Adult product development, particularly women’s and accessories. The memo from Wallack also explained that “across global design, marketing and production, we’ve taken a number of steps to bring clarity, resources and focus to our work, and we’re making real progress.”

A year ago, Gap Inc. shook up its Gap North America division, naming Art Peck as president to succeed Marka Hansen. Also, the Gap Global Creative Center, located at 55 Thomas Street in New York’s TriBeCa, was formed. Wallack, who at the time was president of Gap Adult for North America, became executive vice president of the creative center, which houses design and product development teams as well as marketing, fashion public relations, fabric research and development, and technology services, to serve the Gap brand globally.