Maybe it’s the weather, or last week’s lunar eclipse. Whatever the reason, Thursday saw yet another shakeup in retail after a slew of high-level departures over the past week.
In the latest, Marissa Webb is leaving her post as executive vice president and creative director of Banana Republic, indicating that business at the upscale Gap Inc. division continues to lag.
However, Webb and Gap Inc. aren’t completely parting ways. Gap Inc. continues to have its minority investment in Webb’s own collection business, and Webb will act as a creative adviser to Banana Republic, without the wide day-to-day responsibilities she has held for the past year and a half. Webb was involved in everything at Banana, from design and styling to windows, store presentations and marketing.
Gap Inc.’s Intermix chain will continue to sell Webb’s collection.
Sources indicated that Banana management wanted to take a more collaborative approach, similar to how other Gap Inc. divisions operate. The role of creative director at Banana Republic will not be filled.
A new approach seems warranted considering Banana Republic’s business has further slowed this year. For the five-week period ending Oct. 3, sales were negative 10 percent versus positive 2 percent last year. Comparable sales were down 4 percent in the second quarter and down 8 percent in the first quarter. In 2014, comparable sales were flat in the second quarter and down 1 percent in the first quarter.
Webb joined Banana Republic in April 2014, in an attempt to energize and recast Banana as a more modern, lifestyle brand, and wean it off an overdependence on traditional careerwear. At the time, Gap disclosed it had taken a minority stake in Webb’s contemporary design business. Webb started her own label in 2001 and earlier worked at J. Crew for more than a decade.
“Marissa has brought incredible passion and leadership to Banana Republic over the last year and a half. I admire her talent and tenacity and the creative spirit that she’s infused within our brand, all while further establishing her private label,” Andi Owen, Banana’s global brand president, said. “With a very strong product team in place at Banana Republic, this is the right time to evolve her role. We’ll continue to support Marissa and her success in the future.”
“I’m really looking forward to stepping into my new role as creative adviser at Banana Republic,” Webb said. “This opens the door for even more possibilities for my own collection and Banana Republic. So many great things are happening at Banana Republic and at my Marissa Webb label and I am proud to be part of the growth and evolution of both brands.”
Webb did build up the design team at Banana, and tried to push the brand forward in terms of providing styles that women could wear for their daytime activities and into the evening, with more details. As the face of the brand, Webb brought some much-needed energy and fashion credibility. She also brought a touch of whimsy to the Banana Republic stores and tried to make some units feel less cookie-cutter. At a new flagship in Manhattan last March, for example, there was a sprinkling of items from artisans that manufacture in America.There were also quirky slogans on the walls, like “I’m OK with my crazy” and “I have absolutely no desire to fit in,” which were all Webb’s. Her own spring 2016 designer collection contained key elements she’s been known for, including bright colors, military references, tailoring, tomboy and girly looks.
While the change with Webb stemmed from an inability to create collections that resonated enough with consumers, a source close to the situation denied there were any internal tensions between Webb and Banana management. “A creative director, that sort of role, does have a broader touch point,” rather than conforming to a collaborative spirit, said one insider. “Andi has a clear vision.”
Other key people at Banana include senior vice president of global design Michael Anderson, who covers men’s and women’s apparel and nonapparel such as accessories and shoes, and Lexi Tawes, senior vice president of global merchandising.
Over the past week, there has been a spate of high-level departures from retail corporations. In addition to Webb, another big change occurred at Gap Inc. when Old Navy global president Stefan Larsson left to become president and chief executive officer of the Ralph Lauren Corp.
On Wednesday, Kay Krill said she was stepping down as president and ceo of Ann Inc. and handing the reins over to Gary Muto; TJX Cos. named Ernie Herrman ceo, succeeding Carol Meyrowitz, who will remain executive chairman, and Tilly’s said Edmond Thomas would rejoin the company as president and ceo, replacing Daniel Griesemer.
At Old Navy, a search for a new president is under way. Jill Stanton, executive vice president of global product, will lead the division in the interim, reporting to Gap Inc. ceo Art Peck. Gap said it would consider candidates from both inside and outside the corporation.