The New York Times recently called the Gap "one of the great hot-to-not stories" of American retailing. In her article, Stephanie Clifford called it "a remarkable comedown for a chain that once seemed to dictate how America dressed".
I've been intrigued by Gap's rise and fall and maybe inching-up again. I could never understand how they let Mickey Drexler leave. He's one of the great merchants of our time, and now c.e.o. of J. Crew and doing fabulously. Mickey was replaced at Gap by Glenn Murphy, former head of Canada's Shoppers Drug Mart.
According to Ms. Clifford's article, Gap is on the verge of a renewal. Their store at the Grove, the outdoor upscale mall in Los Angeles, is a lab for renewing the brand and doing quite well.
The article mentioned that Gap also replaced their advertising agency. That kind of surprised me. Their ads weren't all that great, but neither are their new ads. In my experience, the difference between good ads and ordinary ads is the client. A restrictive, conventional client will get restrictive, conventional work. The saying in the advertising business is that every client gets the ads they deserve.
For Gap to start changing minds about the store, the ads will have to be edgier, provocative, and actually speak to people. Not just look like stills from "Glee". That will take guts. The kind of guts Levi's had when it introduced the "501 Blues" and went from cowboys to the streets of New York. Levi's has since slipped back a bit in young people's consciousness, and Gap will, too, unless they shift into contemporary gear.
Commenting on the L.A. store at the Grove, Ms. Clifford wrote, "This can't be a Gap. The mannequins look kind of happy."
Hopefully, soon their financials will look kind of happy, too.