40th Anniversary of Banana Republic Travel & Safari Co.

40th Anniversary of Banana Republic Travel & Safari Co.

Patricia Ziegler in front of the MillValley store circa 1978. Courtesy Wild Company. (https://www.facebook.com/wildcompanybook)

The original Banana Republic store opened in Mill Valley, CA on the day after Thanksgiving in 1978. The owners, Mel and Patricia Ziegler. They had left their jobs as a reporter and illustrator, respectively, for the San Francisco Chronicle to pursue their vision to bring timeless, well-made garments to the public with their  imaginative writing and artful presentation. They began by re-styling and reselling surplus garments from the United Kingdom and abroad, Spanish Paratrooper Shirts and British Army wear, and eventually branched out to produce their own clothing and styles.

After the second store was opened in San Francisco on Polk street  the business was purchased in 1983 by the GAP and the Zieglers led the company as creative directors. The infusion of capital and expertise from the GAP allowed BR to grow into the company we all remember.  The catalogs were expanded, printed in full-color and a staff of illustrators were hired. Product lines expanded and mass production was enabled. Over 300 stores we eventually opened, each with the elaborate detailed interiors filled with custom-made props and fixtures. A Jeep in every window!

The Travel and Safari era ended in 1988 when the Ziegler’s were forced out by incoming CEO Mickey Drexler, a ruthless “turnaround artist” for fashion brands wanted to take the company away from the safari theme and into a more mainstream, American sportswear direction.  Over the next decade the brand would suffer an identity crisis before becoming the high-end GAP it is today. Fewer and fewer people know the origin of the name Banana Republic today. Abandoned Republic exists to celebrate and preserve that memory. 


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Robyn Adams

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