Gap Inc. has put its creative destiny in the hands of Zac Posen, who has been named executive vice president, creative director of the American retail chain that also owns Old Navy, Athleta and Banana Republic.
Posen, 43, will join the American retailer’s executive leadership team and serve as the “cultural curator and creative partner” to CEO Richard Dickson, the company said Monday. He will also serve as chief creative officer of Old Navy, where he will lead design, merchandising and marketing, reporting to Haio Barbeito, Old Navy’s brand president and chief executive.
His appointment marks the first time Gap Inc. has hired a creative lead at the portfolio level and is its first fashion insider hire since Armani alum Patrick Robinson exited his role as the Gap brand’s chief designer in 2011.
In Posen, Dickson said he saw a combination of cultural savvy and technical skill that would help Gap get back on track.
“Zac’s combination of technical design, creativity, as well as an awareness of pop culture will really lend well to the future endeavours of Gap Inc.,” Dickson told BoF in an exclusive interview ahead of the announcement. “[His] creativity backed by Gap’s talent and infrastructure will be an incredible unlock for us.”
To observers in the fashion industry, however, Posen could be a puzzling choice. Much like Gap itself, it has been years since the former wunderkind inhabited the cultural zeitgeist.
Posen seized fashion’s spotlight as a precocious 20-something in the early aughts. A New York City native, he studied at Parsons and later, Central Saint Martins. In London, his talent was spotted by none other than Naomi Campbell; the supermodel would become the first of many famous women Posen would dress in his career, cementing his name as a red carpet mainstay.
While Posen was known for fantastical gowns in feminine silhouettes, he also cultivated a personal celebrity. He embraced Instagram — his current follower count exceeds 2 million — and between 2012 and 2018, he was a judge on “Project Runway.” He regularly attended the Met Gala alongside his muses, and in 2017, he was the subject of a documentary, “House of Z,” that examined the tides of his career.
By then, his label’s relevance was on the wane. His fate was intertwined with the declining fortunes of upscale American department stores such as Barneys, which stocked his collections. In late 2019, days after Barneys was sold in a bankruptcy auction to licensing firm Authentic Brands Group and announced it would close its stores, Posen’s board said his brand would also shutter. The label’s majority owner, Ron Burkle of private equity firm Yucaipa Companies, had been shopping the brand for months. In the following year, the Zac Posen name and IP was sold to licensor Centric Brands.
While Posen’s most visible work has centred around Hollywood — his most recent public work involved designing costumes for a scene in the television drama “Feud: Capote vs. The Swans” — he has had experience designing for a struggling mall staple before. Between 2014 and 2020, Posen served as womenswear creative director at Brooks Brothers. That experiment wasn’t enough to save the brand, which filed for bankruptcy in 2020 and was acquired by ABG; unlike Barneys, it continues to operate as a retailer. Posen has also designed capsule collections for David’s Bridal and uniforms for Delta Airlines.
“Zac is very smart and he’s not going to come in and design cocktail dresses,” said fashion consultant Robert Burke, who was an executive at Bergdorf Goodman when it first began to stock Posen’s label. “What Gap is getting with Zac is a solid, solid talent, but also someone who understands the importance of marketing and positioning a brand.”
Gap’s challenges may dwarf even those of Brooks Brothers. The retail empire has undergone multiple turnaround efforts under a revolving door of CEOs, none of whom were able to arrest the company’s sliding sales. Its last attempt at cultural relevance, a collaboration with Yeezy, was marred by behind-the-scenes tension and product that confused core Gap customers, before ending abruptly in September 2022. Another anticipated tie-up with New York designer Telfar Clemens failed to materialise.
The company’s other brands are also struggling. Athleta and Old Navy, bright spots for many years, have stalled. A refresh at Banana Republic was received positively by some fashion insiders, but hasn’t noticeably revitalised that brand’s financial performance, either.
Dickson is betting that Posen’s role as a long-term employee rather than collaborator will be more impactful in orchestrating a renaissance, particularly at Old Navy.
“I think you’ll start to see a lot of fresh and but inspired-by-heritage approaches, and a much cleaner and concise communication coming out of our brands with a revised aesthetic,” he said. “These are all ingredients for what we call brand reinvigoration. There’s not a silver bullet today that can solve all the issues.”