Banana Republic goes back to its casual roots

Designer Marissa Webb (left) is expanding Banana Republic's range of accessories.
Designer Marissa Webb (above) is expanding Banana Republic's range of accessories.PHOTO: BANANA REPUBLIC

As a child, designer Marissa Webb would accompany her father on shopping trips to Banana Republic and while he shopped for cargo vests and Hawaiian shirts, she would entertain herself by running around the store.

On occasion, she would get his Banana Republic hand-me-downs or help herself to items from his closet.

Little did she know that she would become its creative director one day.

"To this day, a lot of his clothes are still from Banana Republic," she says of her adoptive father during a phone interview with Life from New York City.

Born in South Korea, she was adopted at age four together with her three biological siblings.

The Banana Republic that Ms Webb took over last year had lost some of its sense of adventure and was more closely associated with office wear.

Founded in 1978 by Mel and Patricia Ziegler, the American label, which is now owned by Gap, began by outfitting people for safaris and expeditions.

"It became a little bit serious and the perception from the outside was that it was only for workwear. I want to take it back to its roots and let people see that there are products for evenings with friends and for the weekends," says the 42-year-old American.

Armed with extensive experience - she was head of womenswear and accessories design at American lifestyle brand J.Crew before starting her eponymous womenswear label in 2012 - Ms Webb wants to strengthen Banana Republic's position as a lifestyle brand.

For her debut collection, she took staples from the brand and gave them a modern spin.

Inspiration for a utility jacket and patch pocket vest came from her father's closet.

The women's Summer 2015 collection was a study in contrasts between neutrals and colours, and feminine and masculine styles. There are eyelet tops, long tunics, moto jackets, flowy skirts, linen blazers and chinos for easy, everyday wear.

Her appointment with Banana Republic also marks her first foray into menswear.

For the men, she pushed a relaxed tailored look with utility details. Shoppers can expect a variety of blazers, chambray shorts, mock sweaters and T-shirts.

"The inspiration for this season was our roots in exploration. When I arrived, I packed everyone into a car to go on a road trip to see our environment and be inspired by the open road," says the chirpy-voiced Ms Webb.

Prices for the womenswear collection ranges from $30 for a pair of earrings to $390 for a leather and chiffon mini dress, while the menswear collection starts from $20 for a pair of socks and goes up to $470 for a wool blazer.

Banana Republic is at Paragon Shopping Centre and The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. The Fall 2015 collection will arrive in stores from next month.

There are 750 Banana Republic stores across the world.

Ms Webb has also injected some of her personal style by increasing the brand's range of accessories.

"I always say that accessories is the icing on the cake," says Ms Webb, who is engaged.

She is just as much of a social media star as she is a designer, with more than 96,000 followers on her Instagram account (Marissawebb).

On her account, she showcases expertly styled menswear-inspired outfits from a mix of labels, including Banana Republic and her own label, which may be beneficial in boosting sales for the brand.

First-quarter sales for the brand were down 8 per cent compared to the same period last year.

Although Ms Webb has brought a breath of fresh air to the brand, she still has some way to go.

"There is a new ease in our brand, which is effortless and really versatile," says her colleague, Mr Michael Anderson, the brand's vice-president of menswear.

During an investor conference call last month, Banana Republic global president Andi Owen told analysts that the label's increased casual sensibility is a step in the right direction, but has not been executed very well yet.

"We are still a work in progress and this is just the beginning of a very long journey," says Ms Webb.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2015, with the headline 'Banana Republic goes back to its casual roots'. Print Edition | Subscribe