Banana Republic’s comeback has begun!
One of the main challenges facing brands today, especially in the United States, where many brands seemed to have peaked in the 1990s, is not just how to reach customers or determine what they want, but how to regain your composure, if you seem to have lost it. Stussy did this by sneaking up on their designs. J.Crew does this by hiring Brendon Babenzien, founder of transformational cult brand Noah. The Gap does this by literally hiring Kanye West.
And now, the Banana Republic mall mainstay is undergoing its own transformation, a process that begins in earnest on Thursday, with the launch of BR Vintage, with 260 vintage products from the brand’s golden era of the ’80s and’ 90s. The idea, Ana Andjelic, who joined the brand just four months ago as Brand Manager, is that while Banana Republic seems a little frozen now, it was pretty cool. “If a brand ditched this today, it would be super modern,” she said on a Zoom call earlier this week. “It’s better than anything Banana Republic has done in the past ten years. That’s before Mickey Drexler’s metrosexual phase, ”she said, referring to the retailer who ran the owner of Banana Gap in the 1990s before taking off to overhaul J.Crew.
The pieces are a fascinating glimpse into the annals of American fashion, when mid-priced sportswear dominated and a powerful middle class of yuppies were eager to express their well-developed taste. Founded in the late 1970s by Mel and Patricia Ziegler, Banana Republic embodied “this spirit of daring and aspiration, of adventure and [combined] with urban clothes, ”said Andjelic, who comes to Banana with experience in it-girl brands Mansur Gavriel and Rebecca Minkoff, and is extremely contagious. While safari shirts and dresses – which the Zieglers initially made from recycled military fabrics – were the mainstays, even after its acquisition by Gap, Andjelic is quick to point out that the company has retained its moral center. “They were not colonialists. This is not a real safari. It is a spirit of adventure, and a spirit of imagined territories, ”she explained. There is a whimsical side to clothing, “in the sense that you almost dress in a costume”. The workplace was a challenge filled with unknown dangers to be overcome. You just needed the right uniform. And the clothes from Banana Republic, Andjelic said, “made your ass feel bad.”
Thanks, perhaps, to the cyclical nature of fashion, these vintage pieces are almost exactly what a retailer like Banana Republic should to do today: perfectly draped pleated chinos, cinched waist Saharan jackets, big khaki shorts and printed champion shirts. Along with the classics, there are more advanced offerings, like waxed cotton rag and leather and canvas boots, which only a retailer like J. Peterman would be eccentric enough to make today. Andjelic said he worked with the vintage Thrilling resource to find all of the pieces.
Andjelic said they were partly inspired by the response the brand’s debut elicited on Instagram: “Every time you post something on Instagram, like a catalog or a sketch of old clothes, people go crazy. It is literally the fabric of these people’s lives. Yet, while vintage brands are all over the platform – is there an American fashion brand whose early ’90s campaign and catalog images Instagram users failed to unearth the campaign and catalog images from the early’ 90s for? celebrate ? – The past luster of Banana Republic is less well known than that of, say. , old Ralph or J.Crew. You must be wondering if this could actually help the turnaround: as there is a real novelty in the idea of “vintage Banana Republic”, the company avoids giving the impression that it is only responding to the pressures of the second-hand market. (Although, Andjelic told me, “Our thing on Depop is, like, alight. ”)
Andjelic insisted his workwear philosophy was about something bigger than post-pandemic dressing. Yet this is where my thoughts wandered. Brands like Fear of God and The Row, which seem to have influenced the style of Banana’s back-to-work microsite (the non-vintage section, titled “The Art of Work”), seem well placed to represent a sort of professional l ‘ elegance that workers are likely to aspire to. This energy seems to be exactly what Andjelic was describing, with his imagined safaris. Now that maybe we’re all destined to be less office-bound and more in control of our time, might we want clothes that convey a sense of easy dominance? Can making a deck be like looking for an elephant? What if business casual … became a subculture!
BR Vintage is just the start of a new era for the brand. “Very ambitious and very fast,” as Andjelic described the changes. “We are revamping our entire design strategy,” adding, “We have a blank slate to reinvent what we want to be and what it’s great about.” It seems to work: most parts are already sold out. Meet the safari heads at the mall!
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