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iStyle: Easy does it: Workwear with Californian roots

Banana Republic has come a long way from its adventurewear origins, says Rebecca Gonsalves

Over the 35 years since its launch, Banana Republic has established a reputation for being the go-to destination for stylish workwear with a preppy twist that is quintessentially American. So it was unsurprising that when it launched on these shores five years ago,  the excitement was palpable – especially among those who have to adhere to a workplace dress code that falls on the stricter end of the spectrum.

Five years on from the opening of the first flagship, on Regent Street in London – the brand’s first European location – there are now eight stores across the UK, with another opening its doors later this week in Canary Wharf. Surprisingly, the contemporary professional clothes for men and women that are so fitting for the corporate world of the latest location are in stark contrast to the company’s original ethos.

In 1978, Mel and Patricia Ziegler, a couple who loved travelling, and collecting clothes while doing so, founded the brand in California as a purveyor of military and safari-style adventurewear. The business expanded through a mail-order catalogue and was acquired by Gap in 1983. Since then, Banana Republic has gradually changed into, in the words of the creative director and executive vice-president of design, Simon Kneen, “a global brand famous for modern American style that’s versatile, elevated and uncomplicated”.

With more than 650 stores worldwide, the brand truly is global, but those Californian roots remain integral to its ethos today – even the most buttoned-up pieces have a distinct sense of West Coast ease about them. “It’s exciting to take this moment to reflect on the pioneering, innovative spirit of San Francisco that has always been at the heart of our brand,” Kneen says. “With that spirit, we’re inspired to blend work, life and love into all that we do.”