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Did Marissa Webb Deliver 'the New Banana Republic'?

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Photos by <a href="http://drielys.com/">Driely S.</a> for Racked
Photos by Driely S. for Racked

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At long last, we have our first look at Banana Republic under the direction of Marissa Webb, an appointment that was announced way back in April. Webb, in case you're unfamiliar, also designs her own namesake line (which parent company Gap Inc. invested in as part of her incentive for taking the BR gig), and has a resume that includes a decade with J.Crew.

Despite all the fanfare over Webb's new role, a hashtag—#TheNewBr—dedicated to the overhaul, and a big party celebrating the redesign of the Fifth Avenue store, we haven't actually seen this "new BR"—until now.

The short take: this is a pleasant, comfortable upgrade for Banana Republic. Mostly everything is still work-appropriate, but plays into more fashion-forward silhouettes like wide cropped pants, tunic-length blouses, and even a bib top dress. Outerwear, like a leather biker vest and a boxy utility jacket, looks especially good, and we were really impressed with the bags and shoes, inclusive of a mint green circle crossbody and a pair of black and white huarache heels.

"Does it look like J.Crew?" This is the number one question interested parties (friends, colleagues) throw my way once I'm through with the press preview, which took place at Milk Studios in New York City yesterday morning. A quick note on timing, then we'll talk about that J.Crew factor: this is summer 2015, not spring, which means BR didn't need to compete with the jammed fashion week schedule for their big splash. No, it's a quiet week on the fashion calendar, when all eyes can be on Banana Repbulic, Webb, and what the two look like together.

Yes, there are hallmarks of the styling we've gotten to know from J.Crew under Jenna Lyons. There's tonal dressing with a pop (see the peach look broken up by neighborly poppy above), there's proportion play, layering with texture, and that mix of fancy (eyelet blouse) with casual (denim shorts). But is this even J.Crew's "look" to copy anymore?

The tone J.Crew set a few years back with this mix has become what we're calling "new mall." It's Rebekka Bay showing us midi skirts and shearling crossbody bags at the Gap, it's Ann Taylor pairing a thigh-grazing tunic with trousers. It's kind of what we're used to seeing now. The "new" BR looks good, but falls predictably within this growing camp of mall brands, saying, "hey, we can keep with Zara!"

Beyond offering shoppers merch that's closer in line to what they can get from fast fashion retailers, the other key move for mall brands looking to revamp is tapping into the brand's past—that much overused "heritage." Shortly before naming Webb creative director, Banana had vowed to return to its safari roots. There are droplets of that here: patch pockets appear on a leather button-up (getting a rash just thinking about that sweat situation) and a boxy moto jacket in colors called "olive" and "seaweed." There's a trench-style belt cinching a paperbag skirt and a sleeveless trench dress (styled as a vest) in a hue of beige they've named "stone."

But, Marissa had also promised us BR would evolve from workwear to "360-degree lifestyle" (the crown jewel in mass market merchandising: wardrobe dressing, the concept of offering pieces for all occasions—office, date, weekend, special events—under one store roof). That is certainly evident, with raw hem denim shorts, a floral romper, and a graphic tee reading "no photos please," all of which beg for weekend outings.

Bottom line: Banana Republic done good with this one, adding seriously alluring pieces without alienating their core customer. The mall's going to be a much more interesting place to shop come summer.

· Can Marissa Webb Get You Shopping at Banana Republic? [Racked]
· More Beige Than Ever: Banana Republic's New Old Safari [Racked]