Appeared In
Special Issue
WWDStyle issue 01/21/2011

With its banana leaf-printed wallpaper, Indochine in Manhattan was a more than fitting spot for Banana Republic to unveil its easy, breezy summer dresses Wednesday night.

This story first appeared in the January 21, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Creative director and executive vice president Simon Kneen whipped up 70 styles — short, flirty numbers, black-tie worthy dresses and more relaxed knitted maxis. The medley may in fact be the company’s largest, though Wednesday’s affair was the first time Banana Republic had showcased all its dresses in one place for the media from the brand’s signature label, as well as its Monogram and Heritage lines.

Like some competitors, Banana Republic has been making a concerted global push. The retailer opened a 17,500-square-foot store in the heart of Milan in the Corso Vittorio Emanuele and will open a yet-to-be-disclosed Rome location this year. There are currently about 600 Banana Republic stores in the U.S., Canada, Japan and the U.K. Kneen noted that Asia is another area of interest. In November, Banana Republic’s parent company Gap Inc.’s Gap brand opened stores in Beijing and Shanghai, and simultaneously launched an online store in China. Establishing Gap in China remains the focus for now but opportunities for its other brands will be considered down the road.

To try to keep sales floors looking fresh, Banana Republic ships 12 collections annually but new goods are gradually added each month instead of in one full swoop. Most of the summer dresses will retail for less than $100, though the range starts at $70 and tops off at $300. As for shoppers’ fondness for high-low shopping, Kneen chalked that up to consumers’ modern mind-set. “I don’t feel like that is a fashion thing,” he said. “People appreciate getting a deal. We all love that — it doesn’t matter what your pocketbook is. That’s a very modern way of thinking.”

And he need not travel far for design inspiration, since he is often inspired by the women he works with. “All I need to do,” Kneen said, “is call a design meeting, look around the room and I see what the trends are.”

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