Banana Republic is following Greg Lauren down the path of artisanally crafted, domestically sewn fashion for its new men’s collaboration.
Lauren, who’s known for designing clothes that meld Old World tailoring with resourcefulness in incorporating vintage fabrics at his namesake Los Angeles-based label, is offering 16 pieces that have undergone multiple washings and hand-done techniques in local factories. In a partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Gap Inc.’s Banana Republic is embarking on the new capsule collection to follow a women’s project designed with Timo Weiland last March.
“We want to challenge our customers, the ones that are forward thinking,” said Michael Anderson, the retailer’s senior vice president of design. Having observed Lauren’s emergence in the industry, he added, “What really interested me in him is: His reference points in his collection are very similar to our reference points.”
Fond of whimsical details, such as inserting a red whipstitch on a denim jacket as it’s being slipped into a box for shipping, Lauren recalled that his initial response to the CFDA’s proposition from Banana Republic was: “Wow — that’s interesting. Are you sure they really want to work with me?”
Banana Republic did. Hoping to reverse a 10 percent drop in comparable sales at its worldwide stores that were open for at least a year in 2015, the retailer flexed its sourcing clout to provide Scottish tweed, Italian cashmere and twill it designed in Asia exclusively for its own use. With each taking a step toward the middle, Banana Republic and Lauren struck, in his words, “a true balance between an artistic, handmade approach and something that is production-friendly.”
To be candid, “that is what L.A. has been struggling to figure out,” he said. “L.A. is a pocket of denim and T-shirts. Now we have this creative voice that is emerging. Most of us have figured out how to create in-house and in our own studio these very specific brand identities.”
Lauren has shopped Banana Republic in the past, and he grew up wearing apparel from Ralph Lauren, who’s his uncle. He takes pride in making all the clothes he wears now. But like other emerging designers based in the City of Angels, he faces a moment of reckoning: How does he scale a business without compromising his integrity? The yearlong process of working with Banana Republic toward the Dec. 6 release of the collection provided some answers.
From the onset, Lauren took care not to water down his designs. “I don’t want to take my most artisanal pieces and dilute them to make them less expensive,” he said. “That was not the goal. With too many designers, when they do a diffusion line or a secondary line, you can tell when the most creative thing was diluted down to less expensive fabric. We wanted to maintain the quality of the pieces.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge was the adaptation of his signature jacket, named Oliver, to become the MVP of the collaboration. Sewn from vintage fabrics, the jacket with a peak lapel and built-in vest epitomizes dandy dressing in Lauren’s main line, where it sells for between $1,800 and $2,500. For the $998 version produced for Banana Republic, “we used a beautiful charcoal herringbone with a pigment-dyed canvas with grommets,” he said. “I think we moved it out of the hardcore inaccessible category.”
Lauren also paid homage to twill, which has played a big role in Banana Republic’s history. Devising a three-day wardrobe intended for a customer who packs everything he needs for adventures in the mountains, on the beach and at a black-tie gala in one bag, he stonewashed a black version of the utilitarian fabric and cut it into the $898 tuxedo jacket and matching $598 pants. “We made garments for a guy that is out there ready for something a little different,” he said.
Anderson liked that Lauren’s rough-and-tumble tuxedo contrasts the style Banana Republic has offered in the past. “It’s known to be very polished and sometimes uptight. We broke that down to a sportswear point of view,” he said.
The elevated prices and limited supply filter the number of Banana Republic’s stores that have been designated to carry the collection. The retailer is offering the $178 black thermal shirts, $298 light blue linen tuxedo shirts, $548 gray wool lounge pants and $3,000 black cashmere overcoats at its locations in SoHo and the Flatiron District in New York, and also at stores in the Grove in Los Angeles and on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, Calif.
Some prices are triple Banana Republic’s usual price points, but Anderson isn’t concerned with potential sticker shock. “You’re paying more for this manufacturing and the attention to details. We think it’s worth it,” he said. Besides, some things can’t be measured in numbers. “It shines a different light on both our brand and Greg’s.”