Banana Republic Catalog #20 Fall 1984 and the Fall 1984 Update

Banana Republic Catalog 20 Fall 1984

This page has been updated since it was first posted.
The Fall 1984 Catalog seems like such an anomaly to me, mainly because I’m not used to seeing cartooning on the cover of the catalog (the artist in uncredited).  The map of the UK describes some of the sources the Zieglers used to create their early clothes as they tracked down manufacturers who had “outfitted the empire”–creator of clothing of exceptional quality for the British armed forces. Banana was by now well into it’s transition from a purveyor of retro-fitted surplus to a manufacturer of new clothing and their quest for specialized materials and makers continued to be fodder for their catalog content. This cover was also sold as a poster.


Banana Republic Catalog Autumn 1984 Cover by Rob Stein

The Fall Update has 8 more pages than #20. The notable NEW items are the Leather and Linen Document Bag, the Leather Artist and Writer’s Case and the Sahara Shirt which would be produced in a wide assortment of colors over the years.

The Update cover gives us what we expect from a classic BR image, a beautifully rendered still life of product in an African savannah, complete with a scarf-wearing Livingstone the zebra. This cover by Rob Stein looks to be an oil on canvas, a departure from the watercolors we usually see from him. I love the shadows on the hat and the jacket and the surprising mood of cloudy afternoon.

Initially, I thought the the Fall 1984 Update was a near-reprint of Fall 84 #20, and indeed, many of the pages are almost identical. It turned out however, that the Fall Update is almost entirely reprinted in the Holiday catalog #21. There are subtle but interesting differences between the two Fall catalogs, mostly along the lines of new artwork. We can see the earlier art style give way to the later style that I think is most iconic. A prime example for me is the new artwork for the Yukon shirt that appears in the Fall Update. This more precise high contrast illustration of the famous BR staple will be in use until the end of the catalog era.

 

Comparison of the new Yukon shirt illo from the Fall84 Update with the earlier version from Fall84 #20

The famous British Artisan Nightshirt makes it’s debut in Catalog #20 and would be very popular for years to come. The entry  also includes an interesting note omiited in the Update about finding the Bannerman Shirtworks of Scotland to produce these Empirically inspired shirts. The drawing of the long-sleeved ventilated shirt is also radically different from the Update’s entry (in the gallery below) which would also be changed the following summer.

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There are a few other art changes to notice. In the gallery below I’ve scanned the entire Fall Update and then added the pages from Catalog #20 that are different or notable in any way. Some is pretty minor like the new background art on the flight helmet, mostly it’s new art for a piece of clothing.

One of the goals of this site is to break down these catalogs and understand the timeline of the product and the marketing that made made BR what we remember. Taken as a whole, the entire BR catalog can become a bit of a blur so I believe it’s helpful to sort it out and take the time to appreciate the nuances in each one of these marvelous books.

I feel like these Fall editions are showing us the missing links as the catalog evolves from it’s low budget hand-made origins to the sophisticated award-winning icon it became.

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Meeting the Founders of Banana Republic

Mel and Patricia Ziegler did a Wild Company book signing at Book Passage in San Francisco’s Ferry Building last night and I was in attendance in full BR regalia along with my very supportive wife Julie who insisted I say hello before their talk. I must admit I was a little nervous to introduce myself. You never know what it will be like when you get the chance to meet your heroes.

In this case it was more than I could have hoped for. They could not have been more kind and gracious. They are great fans and supporters of Abandoned Republic, so much so that they asked me to say a few words about the blog during their talk. I’m glad I  was able to let them know how their work influenced and inspired me and what a treat it has been to really dig through the material and share it with so many BR fans.

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The event was an amazing Banana Republic reunion with many former staffers in attendance (whom I hope to contact for some good stories!). The Zieglers read from the book, pausing now and then to elaborate on a story. In just that short reading I heard several stories I had never heard before and I know the book will be amazing. In the question and answer portion I asked how it felt to finally tell their side of the story of the split with Gap. I wish I had taken actual notes. The short answer was it felt very good. Mel mentioned that Don Fisher of the Gap had written a very complimentary chapter on them in his memoir but that he didn’t want that to be the final word on what happened. The last chapter is fittingly titled “Coup”.

Afterward I asked them to sign my Summer 1984 Catalog Poster (Patricia’s portrait of them in Africa) in addition to a copy of the book. Mel’s inscription reads “Thanks for keeping the flame, you should have been there, you are one of us!”  All in all in was a perfect event I will always remember.

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Books Passage will have signed copies for sale, if you haven’t gotten yours yet why not give them your business. I’ll post later after I have read the book…

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Banana Republic Catalog No. 15: Fall 1983

Banana Republic Catalog 1983 Holiday by Kevin Sarkki

Page 2 and 3 of the Fall 83 catalog. The introduction is word for word the same as the message from the founders in later catalogs. The company has 4 stores now (there would be 95 in 5 years). These rare monotone catalogs are filled with items not seen in the more common catalogs, such as the musician’s vest seen here.

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The Sierra Denim shirt is an old standby, howver, as is a Herbert Gold testimonial. Kind of a cool page showing the surplus item and the BR manufactured Drill Trousers offered side by side. The Sheepskin Vest is also very early, I don’t show it offered after 1983.

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Fall 83 page 8/9….I don’t think we’ve seen any of these neat early surplus items before! The raincoat sounds amazing. Leg Straps! And are the Survivalon pants the primitive ancestors of the Kenyan Convertibles? That detachable pocket is really unusual. $69 pants in 1983? Quite the investment.

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This native American beaded BR belt is something you find in the very early BR catalogs. I’ve seen a few online and picked one up cheap. They are very odd to me, exactly the kind of thing I remember buying at the highway rest-stop trading post on the Southwest.

Mike Madrid wrote in to say: “This was from the 80’s when logo merchandise was starting to take off. A customer may not be able to afford the expensive leather jacket, but they can buy a lower priced item and still be part of the ‘experience’. That’s why BR always sold graphic t-shirts. The customer gets something affordable and the brand gets free advertising.”

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Talk about old reliable…The French Army Bush Hat and Bombay shirt were in production seemingly for the entire duration of the Ziegler’s Banana Republic!

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I believe I have found the single most hilarious write-up in a Banana Republic Catalog. Unable to put his trademark spin on these Authentic British Navy swim trunks, Mel describes them as ludicrous, hideous and worth of a Monty Python sketch. No collection is complete without them. Take em off our hands for SIX BUCKS!

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The last page of the Fall 1983 catalog, where all of the hip flying aces shop. Fantastic that they once offered vintage GOGGLES as part of the ensemble. And I’m curious to know whether the scarf was once in fact a surplus item that they later manufactured or if it was always a replica item.

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Lastly, inspired by covers BR did where they colored previous black and white art I decided to try painting Kevin Sarkki’s bi-plane cover in Photoshop. I think I came up with a nice blustery autumnal feel for the 1983 all catalog. Mr. Sarkki himself approved. 

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Banana Republic Summer 1988 No. 36: Trips Magazine

Banana Republic Catalog 36 Summer 1988 Cover by Etienne Delessert

Banana Republic Catalog 36 Summer 1988 Cover by Etienne Delessert

Here we come to the end of the Summer catalogs from Banana Republic, 1988’s No. 36. The catalog introduces Trips, the new travel magazine created by the Zieglers as a bold expansion of the Banana Republic world view.

As was reported in this March 1988 article in the LA Times, the new venture was both a vehicle to sell BR clothes with a 16 page photo advertorial inside and a platform to expand upon the  BR philosophy with articles by veteran journalists about unusual locales and off-beat attitudes about travel.

The Times article goes on to quote Mel: “We want to attract people to the store who don’t understand what Banana Republic is all about. The clothes have evolved from strictly safari wear. We’ve been both the beneficiary and the victim of the safari fashion rage.” 

The following month (April 88) brought yet another article in the LA Times, but this one was announcing the departure of the Zieglers from Banana Republic, citing “fundamental creative and cultural differences”.

GAP “turnaround artist” Mickey Drexler had recently been named CEO and he was instituting big changes at BR, changing the focus from the safari theme.  Catalog sales were down as more and more customers shopped in BR’s 96 retail stores and sales in general were slowing. A new creative director came on board and change was coming.

The article mentions the expense of Trips as a contributing factor in the change. A later New York Times article said “Relations between the Zieglers and the Gap’s founder, Don Fisher, soured when the couple insisted on publishing a travel magazine and began selling travel books in their shops. (Mr. Fisher reportedly said that if he’d wanted to sell books, he’d have bought Rand McNally.)

I have not obtained a copy of Trips magazine, I’m sure I will eventually, but I’ve kept it at a distance. It wasn’t the cause of the end of the catalog and safari era, not by a long shot, but part of me still blames it a little…

We may hear more about this tumultuous time in the Ziegler’s upcoming memoir Wild Company. Can’t wait!

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Banana Republic Catalog #32, Summer 1987

We are now working our way through the Summer 1987 Catalog “Expatriates”. One of BR’s most memorable covers, this tightly rendered, delightful illustration by H. Craig Hannah, a Bay Area illustrator and a graduate of CCAC in Oakland.  Many of the figures are instantly recognizable–Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Pable Picasso and Josephine Baker. Livingstone the Zebra appears twice, at the chessboard and in Picasso-esque form on the sketchpad. A key to all the players is found on page 4.

Banana Republic Catalog 32 Summer 1987 Cover by H Craig Hannah

Page 2 of the catalog is not especially remarkable, the Adirondack Shirt seems like a new item. The thing that jumps out from a historical perspective is the popularity of the hooded Bush Vest with the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan. Allies change sides but a good bush vest is a constant.

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Banana Republic Catalog # 28, Summer 1986: Voices From Africa

“Voices From Africa” presents Banana Republic at it’s height, in my opinion. The company is robustly expanding and catching on across the country and the world, and the artwork and product are top notch, but still funky and authentic. This catalog so perfectly sells you on the heart of the BR concept, exotic wanderlust, counterculture idealism mixed with yuppie consumerism, and a heavy dose of colonial fantasy and dreams of a bygone era. Another epic cover from RB Artist Rob Stein sets the stage for the adventure that awaits within. Get your credit card out, the toll-free number is waiting for your call.

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Summer 1985 Catalog #24 and Update

Banana Republic Catalog Summer Update 1985 Cover by Rob SteinThere were TWO updates to the Summer 1985 Wanderlust catalog. The first featured a really fantastic pencil sketch  cover from staff artist Rob Stein. Emulating a well worn sketchbook the drawing is very solid and well composed. The painted dragonfly that has landed on the book doesn’t catch your eye until  second glance. It’s really handsome.

Inside, the catalog is an exact reprint of the Wanderlust issue, nothing has been changed.

 

But then there is the second update, which is almost a completely new catalog. It’s unusual in the first place because it’s the only update that is numbered (24). The cover is one of my all-time favorites. It’s a terrifically detailed Rob Stein painting of  classic BR gear in a African forest scene with giraffes–but the parrot, iguana and hummingbirds are all from the Americas, hmmm…matched up with a BR Army Air Corps plane and all the favorites: Gurkha Shorts, a Pith Helmet, a Swedish Bandolier and an Old English shirt.

Banana Republic Catalog 24 Summer Update 1985 Cover by Rob Stein

This update is very different from Catalog 23. Most of the product is the same, but the layout is quite different. Clothes are moved to different combinations from page to page. This is not unusual, but this update does seem to stand out for the amount of new product that is included. I’ll highlight what is new.

Page 4 and 5 are all about Kikoi cloth. In the first Summer 85 catalog BR featured the Kikoi Scarf on page 46. Here we have a double page spread of shirts, tops and dresses in the colorful African fabric.

Banana Republic Summer 1985 Update #24 Kikoi Cloth

Page 6 and 7 bring 3 new items–The Long Sleeved Ventilated Shirt, Trekking Shorts, surplus French Commando Sweatshirts.

Banana Republic Summer 1985 Update #24 Ventilated Shirt, Trekking Shorts, French Commando Sweatshirt, French Army Bush Hat

This is the first time I’ve noticed this cartoon accompanying the Kenya Convertibles. Pretty great….

Banana Republic Summer 1985 Update #24 Naturalist's Shirt, Sportsman's Bag, Kenya Convertibles

Many of the pages contain the same products and layout, but the images behind the products have changed…but just barely. The background on the denim shirt in catalog 23? A landscape with a zebra. In 24? A different landscape with more zebras. Why bother? Has anyone noticed this but me? Does anyone care but me? How much do I really care. Frankly, the more zebras the better, that’s what I say.

Banana Republic Summer 1985 Update #24 Old English Engraving T-Shirts, Denim Shirt

One of the more interesting new items is this surplus Clod War T-Shirt from Denmark. Check out the story behind it’s green dot. Amazing times…

Banana Republic Summer 1985 Update #24 Portable Pockets Vest, Fatigue Pants, Cold Wat T-shirt, RAF Shorts

 

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