In this last part of the interview Mike talks about the end of the catalog era at Banana Republic and life at BR after the departure of the Zieglers. We all look forward to hearing much more about this time in the Ziegler’s upcoming memoir Wild Company. See also the History section for a selection of news articles from the time.
We’d always have these big company meetings and the CEO would say they knew there would come a time when the safari thing would run out of steam. We needed to have some idea of where this brand was going to go when this trend ends.
When that actually happened, it happened pretty quickly.
I think it was a combination of a couple of different factors. The product, towards the end, was evolving—and Patricia was moving in a different direction, less safari and more just sort-of wearable stuff. They were opening all these stores and the catalog business was declining as a result. The Zieglers had started TRIPS magazine and the Travel Bookstore—developing the idea that it could be a travel-based company on a lot of different levels, clothing, the magazine, the bookstore.
Then, at a certain point, business just really dropped. I think Gap gave them a few opportunities to change it, but there were a lot of stores and a lot of people working there, and Gap had to look at the bottom line.
As far as I could see, the Zieglers’ departure and the cancellation of the TRIPS magazine went hand-in-hand. The second issue of the magazine was being finalized when the plug was pulled. We were all called into a meeting where we were told that Mickey Drexler (who had been brought in to turn around Gap) would now be in charge, that the clothing would be going in the direction of “haberdashery,” and that things would be changing.
We came out of that meeting at the same time that the Zieglers were leaving the building. We got to say goodbye to them, right then, and that was it.
There was one last catalog that was finished and scheduled to go to press. I flew to Atlanta where our printer was to do that last press check, and that was the end of that version of the BR catalog.
After the Zieglers left, BR was still trying to stay within the travel genre, but a little more fashion-forward. It was moving into a little retro/Ralph Lauren/late 80s thing. They had hired a woman as product designer who had worked at Ralph Lauren. There were some safari elements mixed with denim and this authentic Americana/fringe-buckskin-jackets and that kind of thing.
After that, the BR and GAP advertising departments merged under then-head of GAP advertising, Maggie Gross. She offered me a job overseeing the combined art department, which now would do work for GAP, BR, and an upscale brand called Hemisphere (which no longer exists). I worked on the many attempts to re-brand BR, until the early 1990s, when the company decided to bring on an outside agency to retool the image.
By that time, GAP was doing quite well, and was about to start working on developing the Old Navy brand. We watched BR develop into the higher-end brand that it is now from a distance. And after awhile, it seemed like no one even knew anymore what that name, Banana Republic, had meant at one time.
It’s funny to talk about those days, because they really feel like a different lifetime. I realize I’d forgotten a lot about labor-intensive work that went into producing those catalogs.
When computers came into the advertising world at the end of the 80s, all of that process changed very quickly. I was very lucky to get that job at a relatively-young age, and be handed a lot of responsibility for what was a big money-making business at the time.
I met a lot of people who I am still friends with. I got to work with a lot of smart talented people who I learned from. The Zieglers were very inspiring because they had real clarity of vision when it came to the Banana Republic. It was also good to see them go off and do other things after they left BR.
I left the advertising world about seven years ago. I wrote a book. I’m focusing on doing things that I like to do, including traveling the world.
I think the Zieglers’ love of travel inspired me to see more of the world. I still think about them whenever I pack a suitcase, because I learned some good packing tips from them.
Roll up your clothes, rather than fold them. Your clothes wind up getting less wrinkled. Good thing to remember.
Mike Madrid lives in San Francisco and is the author of The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy and the History of Comic Book Heroines. He is featured in the documentary Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines.
For more info, visit: www.heaven4heroes.com