Should Banana Republic revisit its safari past?
Banana Republic is launching a new brand identity and positioning — “winking at its heritage while reinventing itself for today’s modern world.”
The heritage being referenced dates back to the retailer’s founding in San Francisco in 1978 as a “weirdly wonderful safari brand,” as described in an Adweek profile from 2016. Initially known for its illustrated catalog reminiscent of J. Peterman, stores featuring elephant-tusk door handles, live tropical foliage, 17-foot fiberglass giraffes and army jeeps, Banana Republic rode a brief adventurous safari fashion trend that was elevated by movies such as Indiana Jones, Out of Africa and Romancing the Stone.
With preppy fashion taking over in the late eighties, Gap, which acquired Banana Republic in 1983, repositioned the chain as a mainstream, upscale retailer. Only beige khakis seemed to survive from the safari mix. The chain has underperformed for several years and is set to close 130 of its approximately 500 stores by early 2024.
In the brand’s refresh, the safari heritage can be found in its just-released “New Look” campaign that was filmed in Morocco and features leather and suede updates to the brand’s iconic BR photojournalist vest and cargo pants.
The brand will deliver its “Imagined Worlds” campaign on Sept. 28 “reflecting Banana Republic as it was originally conceived — a fictitious, faraway and unknown place to be explored.” Citing Shangri-La, Middle Earth, Westeros or Wakanda as metaphors, Banana Republic’s team considers the premise, “a springboard to redefine fashion, design, activism, sustainability and creativity.”
Banana Republic isn’t swapping the classic cashmeres, wool sweaters and chino pants it’s been selling for the last three decades for pith helmets. Beyond the “San Francisco Imagination” theme tied to its origins, the updated collection reflect two other influences: the “Mythical American Look” dating back to ’50s and ’60s designs and the “Late 1990s” metrosexual look.
The shearling bomber jackets, suede trench dresses and other safari-themed revamps are designed to be ”hero” products hopefully supporting Banana Republic’s stronger identity.
“When you see someone in Gucci, you know it’s Gucci,” Ana Andjelic, Banana’s chief brand officer, told The Wall Street Journal. “I want you to be able to see someone and be, like, ‘that’s Banana Republic.’”
- Banana Republic Debuts a New Look – Banana Republic
- EXCLUSIVE: Banana Republic Moves to Reposition – WWD
- Banana Republic Tries to Become Cool Again—By Looking to Its Past – The Wall Street Journal
- Banana Republic unveils new brand identity with latest campaign – Fashion Network
- When Banana Republic Was Mainstream Fashion, It Was a Weirdly Wonderful Safari Brand – Adweek
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Can Banana Republic’s original safari positioning help the chain recraft its identity 43 years later? What advice would you have for a Banana Republic refresh?