There was a time when you could shop Banana Republic through a catalogue filled with romantic hand-illustrated drawings and flourishing annotations. When walking into a Banana Republic store was like walking onto the set of Raiders of the Lost Ark, complete with Bush jackets, Ghurka shorts and a stipple mural of an African safari. A time when adventure and fashion went hand in hand.
Pat and Mel Ziegler, the founders of the store, met as journalists at the San Francisco Chronicle and, judging from their artistic, adventure-inspired motifs, were clearly storytellers, not business people. They traveled the world collecting vintage military surplus, determined to celebrate unique and original designs and discourage them from slipping into global homogeneity.
Flip through one of the vintage Banana Republic catalogues for a preview of those days, and enter the time machine: back to the 80s, to a daring yet utilitarian spirit (a British binocular case as a purse? Of course. How else will you scan the horizons for enemy troops?) and flourishing product descriptions written like sonnets: “Can a poet go woolgathering in cotton? Yes, when the cotton is as soft as little cat feet, thick as woods on a snowy evening, comforting as apples.”
BR sold actual safari gear, repurposed “for fatigue duty in the urban jungle.” Their goal being to revive the lost and abandoned objects of the past, and in so doing, rekindle the possibilities of the modern individual’s lifestyle. Yes, you could wear a castoff lambskin flight helmet to a meeting. Make a bold statement because you – yes, you – are a bold individual.
There’s a new memoir about the Zieglers – Wild Company, due out October 2nd – which tells more of the story of how the couple met and built their small, family run business in Mill Valley San Francisco.
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