EXCLUSIVE: Banana Republic Moves to Reposition

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Banana Republic is integrating trends and styles from the past to create “a new genre,” beginning this fall.

That’s at the heart of how the 43-year-old Banana Republic, long struggling with losing market share and relevance, is repositioning, modernizing and aiming for a better future. The fall 2021 campaign, themed “The New Look,” kicks off today.

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“We’re reimagining every detail of the customer experience in the form of democratic, approachable and inclusive luxury,” Sandra Stangl, president and chief executive officer of Gap Inc.’s Banana Republic division, said in a statement.

“From immersive product stories seen in-store and on digital platforms, to the updated quality of product designs and fabrics, customers will see elevated experiences and details across all touchpoints.”

In an interview last week, Ana Andjelic, Banana’s chief brand officer, explained, the the essence of the new Banana “is really the essence of the old one. We are modernizing it in a way that combines three particular influences. We mixed the mythical American look, San Francisco imagination, and the late 1990s. Just like punk and yuppie defined a decade, and grunge and metrosexual clashed on the same streets, The New Look blurs sartorial codes. Call it post-genre fashion. Or call it post-fashion altogether.”

Offering further detail on Banana’s new fashion formula, she cited elements that include design influences of Bonnie Cashin and Claire McCardell that set style standards for America in the ’50s and ’60s with functionality, separates and layering, and materials that drape and allowed movement when women were beginning to assume new roles in society.

The second inspiration is “the creative spirit” of San Francisco, home of Banana Republic’s founders, Mel and Patricia Ziegler. They developed the famed “safari look” utilizing up-cycled military garments that catapulted Banana through the ’80s and ’90s. The Zieglers originally called their company Banana Republic Travel & Safari Clothing Company.

Third, Banana’s is blending in the spirit of the late ’90s, metrosexual look revolving around suits and skirts for a work-related, more tailored approach.

“Combining all these three influences and you get the new Banana Republic look,” said Andjelic. “There’s a blurring of distinctions between luxury, street, evening and casual, with obviously, a very clear point of view.”

“The New Look is less about fashion and more about living,” Andjelic added. “Keywords are utilitarian chic and modern casualwear. It’s safari meets tuxedo, formalwear meets casualwear, men’s wear meets women’s wear, vintage meets tailoring, functionality meets imagination.”

Andjelic said the repositioning is a work in progress, though from the campaign’s get-go, several “hero” looks — suede trenchcoat, suede trenchdress, cargo pants, leather jacket, safari pants and white shirts — are front and center.

“The whole point to have a mix that is casual but can be dressed up, or something dressy that can be worn casual. That is the crux of the BR look,” she said.

What’s being shown for the first time this week “isn’t subtle,” she said. “It’s an unveil for sure, but stay tuned for what we will be putting forward” in the near future.

Banana’s classics, i.e. the cashmeres, wool sweaters and chino pants, aren’t being discarded, since the hope is to maintain legacy customers while attracting new ones. “We are keeping as many doors to the brand open as possible,” said Andjelic.

Banana at times has been quite promotional, sometimes even handing out discount coupons at store entrances. The posturing is changing, Andjelic suggested. “Our aim is to convey an excellent value-price ratio and focus on building brand equity and protecting full prices. We are playing in the modern luxury space, but it’s also about building availability. We are modern, democratic, inclusive luxury.” The inclusivity, she added, extends to age, gender, race and size.

The campaign has a focus on leather and suede, reworked in the form of BR’s familiar photojournalist vests and cargo pants, as well as “modernized” leather jumpsuits, suede shorts and blazer separates. Materials that Banana has been long known for are back: soft shearling, feather-light suede Italian merino wool, silk and cashmere. Aside from men’s and women’s clothing, Banana offers eyewear, jewelry, shoes, handbags and fragrances.

To further the repositioning, the brand introduces on Sept. 28 an “Imagined Worlds” theme reflecting Banana Republic as it was originally conceived — a fictitious, faraway and unknown place to be explored. Banana Republic’s team considers this premise, “a springboard to redefine fashion, design, activism, sustainability and creativity.” Both The New Look and Imagined Worlds campaigns will run across digital, social and media channels.

Banana has been downsizing its store fleet. Back in 2020, it was revealed that 130 units would close by early 2024, but executives indicated last week they are also upgrading stores, “thinking holistically” to elevate customer experiences, from hospitality and styling services to store design and merchandising.

Banana has what CEO Stangl called, “a very clear vision of what this iconic American company can be and what we need to do in terms of our product quality and design, packaging and service, our digital experiences and experiences in our stores, to bring this vision to life. This fall is just the beginning for Banana Republic. It has opportunities to be a forever brand, always relevant, always current, never not modern.”

Banana’s repositioning efforts are hardly surprising considering the team at the top is new and was purposely established to invigorate a brand stalled by a staid image. Stangl, who was hired in November 2020, formerly co-founded MINE, a pure-play home business. Earlier, she was an executive at Williams Sonoma for 23 years, and president of merchandising and business development for Restoration Hardware.

In February 2021, Stangl brought in Andjelic, who previously had stints at Mansur Gavriel and Rebecca Minkoff. Designers work under her supervision.

Sales at Banana Republic have continued to decline, and last quarter dropped 15 percent versus 2019 with permanent store closures contributing an estimated 10 percent of that sales decline, and international COVID-19-related closures driving another 1 percent of that drop on a two-year basis. Nevertheless, Sonia Syngal, Gap Inc.’s chief executive officer, said she is “pleased with the creative progress and momentum quarter-over-quarter.”

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