Why go to all this trouble to make a Banana Republic Catalog archive? The short answer: Because it’s too wonderful not to exist.
There has to be one somewhere, and frankly, I’m appalled it took this long to make it happen. C’mon, people. Our culture needs preserving!
My story is this: I loved Banana Republic clothes when I was a teenager. That made me a bit of an outsider among my peers, though my close friends (drama club dorks) shared the enthusiasm if not the wardrobe. I was never comfortable with teen fashion in the 80s, whether it was the surfer look of Ocean Pacific, the new wave look of Chess King, it all seemed pretty ridiculous to me. Of course, to a lot of other people dressing like a background extra from Raiders of the Lost Ark was pretty stupid too. Nonetheless, the retro style and pretensions of adventure and romance that Banana Republic traded in was right up my alley. I visited the BR store each time I left New Mexico for a larger city. San Francisco, Washington DC, New York and London stores all got a visit from me. I wish I had kept the clothes of course, I think a college girlfriend insisted I get rid of it all, but I can’t recall exactly. She gets blamed for a lot. Anyway….
I picked up my first catalog from my father, who actually WAS the adventure traveller I would never be. He lived in the Alaskan wilderness while I grew up in the suburbs of a New Mexico town, and I looked up to him and no doubt wanted to emulate his style in some way. Admittedly it was all for show. He had a dog team while I had a Honda Civic, and our lifetime score of live moose kills is about 12-0. I blame him for reigniting my interest when he gave me a vintage BR Israeli Paratrooper breifcase he had lying around a few years ago.
It’s been eating away at a little corner of my brain ever since, because what I am is a collector and amateur archivist. I started the Mego Museum in 1996 because I had become interested in collecting the lost action figure toys of my youth and there was nothing online about them. It grew into an obsessive archive of everything we could learn about the long dead toy company Mego. Similarly, the original Banana Republic is long gone (though the brand name did not die). and I hadn’t found any meaningful archive of their marvelous catalogs, just a few scans or blog posts here and there. So when I came across a giant collection of catalogs on eBay I decided it was up to me to put an archive together.
The illustrated Banana Republic catalog was particularly attractive to me as a young artist. So distinctive and beautifully rendered, I’m still kind of astonished they pulled it off as much as they did. I’m very curious to find out more about who did the illustrations, and how it was handled. I also hope to get some good photographs of the inside of Banana Republic stores with the fabulous props and murals. I am trying to contact an illustrator I once studied with who had painted a number of BR murals and had them in a portfolio. Fingers crossed on that one.
For the record, I still shop at Banana Republic, I like their clothes and have no problem with them being a high-end GAP. My attitude is not “BR used to be great and now it sucks and it’s so generic and boring”. That may be true, I’m no fashion expert and don’t care to be. But clearly, classic BR was a product of it’s time and was bound to change into something else. It would have been nice if the Ziegler’s had been able to retain creative control and manage it’s evolution, but that’s corporate America for you.
If you are an artist or designer who worked for BR and would like to share your work and experiences with us please get it touch.