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Banana Republic was one of my first jobs out of high school. At the time, it felt sort of like working in fashion, at least when you compared it to the Lilly Pulitzer store just up the street in my extremely preppy Virginia town. That was almost 10 years ago. (Don’t do the math.)
In the meantime, I’ve learned that retailers who sell cargo shorts for dads are not exactly setting the fashion industry ablaze, and I’m still, honestly, harboring resentment about the dress code that let Kim wear shorts, but not I.
So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that Banana Republic bags are kind of killing it. Despite their recent Moms Can Haz Influencer Too? collab with actress and dotcom owner Olivia Palermo, the brand is churning out some decidedly chic — and on-trend — minimalist bags.
The two current styles that are my absolute favorites are the Portfolio Structured Leather Tall Tote (which also comes in a squatter, not-tall version) and the Italian Leather Double-Zip Pouch Crossbody, an inoffensive Céline knock-off. I had my mom buy it for me in black. (She’s the one with the Banana card, so sue me.)
The Italian Suede Slouchy Carryall is also really cute, and the Convertible Leather Crossbody might be to some people’s tastes, namely COS shoppers who mistakenly wander into a Banana Republic. Someone on the design team obviously has their shit together, but it gets lost in the brand’s middle-of-the-road art direction, suggesting a graduated version of Loft.
It’s hard not to feel some nostalgia for Banana, seeing as it played a particularly formative role in the development of my baby homo fashion sense — Jack took one of his only jobs there on Will & Grace, after all — but it’s become virtually impossible to work the brand into any sort of narrative that appeals to me now. I haven’t touched a chino since Willow Smith wore diapers, and the brand lacks the sensible business acumen to release its own spin on, for instance, the sailor pants I’m currently living in. (To be fair, first quarter comparable sales for 2017 do show growth, though — up to -4 percent, from -11 percent in 2016.)
This is another way of noting that its core customer base — I’m assuming upwardly mobile and dating a guy named Chris — isn’t particularly fashion-savvy, nor does it want to be. And the numbers suggest that this is a problem, rather than a long-term solution centered around suiting separates. The brand is sort of like the secret sex of shopping — I pop in to wade among hordes of out-of-towners looking for a discounted poly-blend midi dress, hoping my eye will alight on something worth my while. But, like, who really shops at a Banana Republic?
A jolt of creative energy could get Banana product in front of the right people in a way that fond memories never will — start a new, more compelling conversation with shoppers. For now, I don’t tell anyone where I got the bag, because no one asks. And that’s sort of the point. They just assume it is what it isn’t and we mosey on all the merrier. It is my mom with the Banana card, after all.