By Janet Kelly
I FONDLY remember the Paratrooper Canvas Messenger Bag I bought from Banana Republic— decades ago. I loved the army green color and the red embroidered insignia. As my mother would say, “It had a look.” So did the BR clothing in the ‘80s and ‘90s—safari-inspired khaki shirts, suede jackets and multi-pocket vests for the globe-trotting photojournalist.
The stores themselves evoked a spirit of adventure, propped with elephant tusks and open-top jeeps by husband-and-wife team Mel and Patricia Ziegler, the design and marketing brains who founded the company in 1978. (They sold to The Gap in 1983).
For at least the past 20 years, though, the brand has been better known for its mostly conservative, not-so-imaginative workwear.
Something had to give; the label’s years of declining sales spurred the charge for reinvention, along with the hiring of a new CEO in 2020 —Sonia Syngal—and a chief brand officer —Ana Andjelic—in 2021. A campaign updating the styles of the brand’s heyday launched in early September with the theme “The New Look.”
The fall collection focuses on old favorites, especially suede and leather but also brings back the materials Banana was known for—Italian merino wool, silk and cashmere. As Anjelic has said, the clothes take the best of the past and use it to make the DNA for the future.
LEFT: In hopes of reinventing the past, rather than repeating it, BR’s High-Rise Cargo Pant ($119) is slimmed down and instead of just khaki, it’s available in blush and cream and in petite, as well as regular, sizes.
RIGHT: This Merino Cashmere Sweater (a blend of 70% merino and 30% cashmere, ) nods to the oversize knit trend. Details like slits in the hem, a funnel neck and wide cuffs add to its contemporary look. It sells for $249 and comes in navy, too.
LEFT: A mid-shaft Slouchy Boot ( 3-inch stacked heel) in suede looks luxe and with a cushioned insole should feel that way. Pair with slim jeans, cargo pants or midi skirts. Also available in taupe and black. It’s $239. A similar pair from Manolo Blahnik is $965.
RIGHT: An in-between seasons essential in a cotton-linen blend, but you can also layer BR’s Cargo Jacket ($149) under a winter coat. It has the look of a safari jacket but with tweaks, such as the shawl collar, armhole grommets and camo-green shade.
LEFT: A throwback to Banana Republic in the ’90s but without the bulky aviator look. Unfortunately, this suede jacket is sold out, but note how it’s styled—with a chunky cable knit turtleneck over a leopard-print slip dress.
RIGHT: Again, inspired by former BR styles, but more refined with quilting on the sleeve and in pebbled leather. The semi-fitted, above-hip-length moto jacket ($598) looks even more hip when worn with wide-leg wool pants.
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