Kevin Sarkki emailed me out of the blue and said he’d found some exciting stuff in his archives for us. I told him I squealed like a little girl when I saw the photos of the Zieglers in their offices at Banana Republic. The photos are everything you’d want to see. Mel is in full regalia in command at his impressive, no-doubt antique desk, water buffalo (fake) mounted on the rustic wooden beams. Patricia is at an entirely more modern and stylish work table, fabric samples and inspiration hanging on the wall. Lots of framed vintage prints as you’d expect. The real kicker for Kevin was seeing his cover to the #12 Catalog on the wall behind Patricia.
The article is a pretty light affair, and tells stories we’ve heard before (Franco’s Short-Armed Paratroper Shirt), but it’s a fantastic look at the founders of Banana Republic in their prime.I think the best observation in the article is that Banana Republic owes it’s success to the Ziegler’s “integrity and awfully good taste”. True enough!
Keeping track of the various shirts BR made can be tricky. At first glance they often look the same. The key feature in the Expedition Shirt is the angled pocket flaps. These photos are from a May 2013 eBay listing.
The Pith Helmet was a staple of Banana Republic from the very beginning. While it was likely a popular novelty buy, the BR helmets were authentic Indian imports. They were also something that people seem to hang hung onto, as they are surprisingly common on eBay, where you will see a few variations in interior fabrics and labels. Most of them simply say “Made In India” and don’t have a BR label, but there was at least one that was manufactured with the circular parrot logo. See gallery below. The hat box was optional, I suspect.
Thanks to JT for pictures of his with the price tag still attached. The Parrot version is in my own collection.
The BR Ventilated Shirt was originally manufactured for the British Army for use in tropical outposts. The cotton shirt is soft and light with an intricate weave to allow breathability. Introduced in 1984 it was sold in both short and long sleeves until 1988. Interestingly, the earliest long-sleeved “Authetic British” version was made in the UK, while the short-sleeved version is imported from India. On Page 108 of Wild Company, Mel and Patricia mention contracting with the manufacturer during their first visit to the U.K. and that story is repeated in the catalog copy By 1985 the long-sleeved version is also being made in India. Toward the end of the run in 1988 they make no claims about origin, suggesting they might have gone to another, cheaper source.
The example below from my collection is one of these early U.K versions sold in 1984 . Note the large BR tag and the interesting additional yellow and pink tags in the collar.
If you enjoy the site and would like to show your support I have extra catalogs for sale. I will discount 10% on orders of 3 or more catalogs anda 20% discount on orders of 6 or more catalogs (refund applied after I receive the order).
Price includes shipping priority mail in the USA. Thanks! -Scott
The Photojournalist Vest was staple of Banana Republic until well-past the catalog era. What’s most surprising to me is that there were catalogs when it WASN’T included. (Spring-Fall 1986) It is ubiquitous on eBay to this day, as many were sold and they never wore out.
The first version of the vest was discontinued in 1984, it’s distinguished by the vertical stitching on the shoulders and has fewer pockets. They appear on eBay infrequently. Notice the size tag is attached to the right side of the crest tag in this early example.
Version 2 was only produced in 1985 and was usually called the “Outback” Photojournalist Vest as many BR items were given the “Outback” designation at that time. It is distinguished by strong horizontal stitching on the shoulders and had 15 pockets.
Version 3 was introduced in Holiday 1986. It is distinguished by the press credentials window pocket on the right breast as well as the split in the middle of the back and is lined with a heavy mesh. It has 22 pockets. Fittingly, the final catalog, Fall Update 88 shows the vest as SOLD OUT.
Other versions of the vest followed after the catalog era was over. This one from the early 90s seems like a blend of versions 2 and 3 and I’ve seen it with both the Travel and Safari Tag as well as the early 90s tag. It featured interesting diagrams of the vest pockets on the inside front of the vest.
The vest was duplicated (superficially, if not to the same standards) by modern BR in the 2000s. You’ll find it with a black label and note it has three key ring hooks. It was worn by John Locke on ABC’s LOST in the fantastic first season episode “Walkabout”.
The 1987 Holiday Catalog (No. 34) and it’s update was the last holiday catalog Banana Republic did. The cover illustration by Rob Stein (at this point a freelancer for BR) is a marvelous Trompe-l’œil painting of the “Giftbook” with a handwritten shopping list and a pencil refracted through the shopper’s eyeglasses.
Possibly the best of the Christmas covers, this amazing illustration by renowned Bay Area painter Chester Arnold captures the spirit of BR adventure and the joy of Christmas giving. A sleigh loaded with the colorful new BR gift boxes has just departed the BR North Pole Expedition camp and Santa has traded in his red and white snow suit and cap for a much more sensible BR wardrobe for high altitude flying.
Merry Christmas, Abandonistas!
All aboard the Christmas train. This cover by Kevin Sarkki adds to the BR vehicle fleet. We’ve got Jeeps, Bi-planes, and now a Kenyan steam train festooned with Christmas decorations. Awesome. This is the last of the monotone catalogs. #17 would bring the full color treatment to the BR catalog as the new infusion of Gap money fully hits the company.
Now with 5 stores, BR is on the rise! Still plenty of surplus to pour over, including these British Civil Defense badges and armbands as well as Franco’s famous butt-kicker pants. The photojournalist vest is the first of three versions of what is arguably BR’s most famous garment.
Not one but TWO pages of aviation-worthy goods in this 1983 holiday catalog. Check out the sheepskin flight helmet and jacket along with the crazy cool “Trigger Mittens”!
Check out the entire catalog, it’s full of rare gems and old favorites. Norwegian String Vest? Hell yes!