Ms. Gross, who put the retail chain on the map with her 1988 "Individuals of Style" campaign, has left over differences with President-CEO Millard S. Drexler, industry executives said.
Ms. Gross' departure could give ad agencies a shot at working with the high-profile Gap, which spent only $24 million on advertising last year but could spend much more going forward. Ms. Gross was reluctant to work with outside agencies and developed a sizable in-house ad group.
The Gap would only say last week that Ms. Gross had taken an indefinite personal leave.
Earlier this year, The Gap told Wall Street analysts it will undertake a major branding effort and will add as many as 200 new stores, upping square footage by 16% and increasing the Old Navy chain by almost 50%.
The Gap currently has some 1,700 stores, with 900 in the core Gap chain, 440 GapKids, 200 Banana Republic and 130 Old Navy stores. It has expanded offerings beyond clothing to include personal-care items, stationery, food and even coffee shops.
GAP `RE-INVENTED' ITSELF
"They are the only ones that have re-invented themselves in the '90s," said Alan Millstein, publisher of Fashion News Network. "They are far and above their competition."
The Gap's advertising, however, has not fared as well, failing to give the retailer the marketing boost that others such as Sears, Roebuck & Co. have realized.
"They don't have a clear brand identity and could benefit from one," said one competitor.
Ms. Gross and Mr. Drexler had built the AnnTaylor stores into some of the hottest in retailing in the mid-1980s, when Gap founder Donald Fisher hired them to revitalize his then-failing chain.
Mr. Drexler refurbished the look of the stores and the merchandise, and Ms. Gross dropped the chain's "Fall into The Gap"-theme TV spots and launched a print and outdoor campaign using celebrities wearing Gap basics such as T-shirts with their own accessories.
But Ms. Gross, 48, who described herself as a recluse in a 1992 interview with Advertising Age, never was able to duplicate the success of the "Individuals of Style" campaign.
TV AD FORAYS
In the early 1990s, as The Gap began expanding into baby and children's clothing, Ms. Gross experimented with her first TV campaign, with a spot jointly developed by San Francisco agency Atlas Citron Haligman & Bedecarre (now Citron Haligman Bedecarre) introducing the line "For every generation, a Gap." Ms. Gross created in-house a second TV effort, a spot for jeans featuring a beat poet in a nightclub. That ad was pulled and the Citron work was rebroadcast during holiday seasons.
The Gap later developed a khakis campaign using dead celebrities such as Gene Kelly, but the print and outdoor ads failed to meet company expectations.
In the interim, The Gap consulted a half-dozen ad agencies, among them Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., for a TV campaign that never materialized. It also consulted with Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, for an Old Navy radio campaign, which never ran. More recently, The Gap made overtures to agencies seeking advice on strategic direction.
Despite its growth and profitability, The Gap traditionally viewed its store windows as its main ad vehicle. As a result, ad spending has been limited. Last year, The Gap spent $24 million in measured media.
Industry experts have questioned the chain's reliance on print and outdoor ads, and its reluctance to work in radio and TV, media popular with The Gap's young target audience.