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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!
This is a rare treat. Mike Madrid generously sent me a copy of this catalog for the archive. I knew it would be duotone printed on newsprint paper, but I was really surprised that it was not trimmed like a standard BR catalog. It’s an inch taller than usual and the edges along the top and side were perforated but not separated. So you had to separate the pages when you got it to open it. The pages were still attached so I took some photos of them before I opened it. I debated long and hard about opening it, let me tell you…
The cover of the 1982 Holiday catalog is a pencil drawing by Patricia Ziegler (That would be colored for the 1984 Holiday Catalog and then re-imagined for the holiday 1986 Update). It’s a real masterpiece of the BR dream, a cozy domestic scene with the New Yorker, The Wall St. Journal, some wine by the typewriter, and Livingstone Zebra asleep at your feet along with a cat and an artistic monkey. The BR Xmas tree has been decorated. I wish they had sold that tree topper in the catalogs. I can totally picture a nice hand painted tin Star and Banana ornament…
Staff artist Kevin Sarki shared these thoughts on the 1982 Holiday Cover:
The 1982 Gift Catalogue cover illustration was pure Patricia. It became the model for all my drawings. The Summer 1983 cover clearly shows that pedigree.
Patricia’s style of rendering was playful yet sufficiently descriptive. The lack of pretense was endearing. Consider the placement of the elephant figures that flank the title. They resemble Monopoly tokens put into service as parenthesis. Auspicious yet accessible.
That funky quality was diminished as the product was subjected to groupthink. Great illustrators would follow with evolving BR interpretations, but for me, that cover best represented the BR look and feel. Having Mel & Patricia model the comfy footwear is the cat’s meow!
Here we have Mel and Patricia’s manifesto (which many of you can still get behind today). Seeing this catalog after reading Wild Company is especially illuminating. This safari vest with it’s vintage warehouse-discovery alpaca lining and leather pockets sounds amazing. As for the BR Yukon shirt, I’d love to see an example of this from that era. The design lasted throughout the BR run, but it must have looked much different. At the book signing I asked Patricia what the clothing labels looked like way back then before they could afford the embroidered labels we are familiar with, but even she could not remember.
The frequent BR theme of the cozy, comfortable garment that inspires artist and writers is really compelling. I think it defined some of my earliest idea of what it means to be artistic. Years later I would learn that it takes more than a rustic sweater and a funky bookbag to be an artist, but hey, you gotta start somewhere. Note also the classic packing tip illustration at the bottom of the page.
The Safari Dress entry really exemplifies Patricia Ziegler’s knack for presenting the many ways a garment can by styled for maximum versatility. Much of what the catalog and stores did was coach people on how to think about clothing and how to stretch something in as many way possible. I wonder what the source was for the rain slicker.
Here’s the safari clothing spread from 1982. One of the things that the Wild Company book cleared up for me was that the Zieglers were not exactly safari experts when they founded the company…they were enthusiasts for a certain kind of clothing and attitude. I had always imagined that BR was a full-fledged safari outfitter at first before expanding into other kinds of clothing. It’s also unclear to me if they were manufacturing these safari clothes or if Kenya Safari Clothing was something they sourced and purchased.
Fall 1988 was the last season for the Banana Republic catalog, and the update to Catalog #38 would be the last Banana Republic catalog published. This is also the first catalog ever published with no mention of the founders of the company. Mel and Patricia Ziegler had resigned in the spring of 1988, this catalog went to press son after they left. The transformation of BR’s identity begins in this last catalog. Much of the clothing is new, and leans toward a Ralph Lauren-ish Americana look. Old favorites such as the Bush Hat and the Paratrooper briefcase are shown but are marked down in red, something we never saw before in the catalog.
Something else we’ve never seen is a catalog focused on North America. It’s not a bad idea to do an issue about hiking and biking trails in the U.S. (the Rails to Trails Conservancy is still in operation. The introduction states that they had been approached by the group the previous year, so this issue must have had some input from the Zieglers at least in the initial planning stages) but the contrast from the previous fall’s trip to Burma really makes it clear that BR is leaving the exotic and quirky behind it. The size and shape of the catalog may be familiar, but everything about Banana Republic is about to change.
There is no notice inside that this is the last catalog. When the holiday catalogs start filling mailboxes in 1988 Banana fans will be perplexed, bereft, and feeling….ABANDONED.
After hiking the Inca Trail in Fall 1986 we hit the Road to Mandalay for Fall 1987′s Catalog No. 33. This striking cover was done by BR staff artist An-Ching Chang.
The travelogue from Mel and Patricia’s journey to Burma is a great read and reminds me of the Soviet Safari as they navigate past an authoritarian regime to get a taste of real life for the people of this fascinating land.
The clothing and illustration continues to become more sophisticated and slick but retains the flavor of classic BR. As usual, there are a number of new items featured in the first few front and back pages of the catalog.