Meet Up Monday: Michael Anderson, SVP of Design, Banana Republic

As head of men’s and women’s design for retail chain Banana Republic, Michael Anderson is clearly a busy guy. He’s been with the company, which began as an independent boutique near San Francisco in 1978 as a supplier of expedition and safari apparel, for 11 years and he oversees a New York-based 19-person menswear design team. Anderson recently chatted with me about Banana Republic’s latest–and, as usual, extremely varied–men’s offerings, which range in price from $19.50 for accessories to $450 for suiting and outerwear and are sold online at bananarepublic.com and in the store’s more than 700 brick-and-mortar locations worldwide.

What are some of the key men’s pieces currently in-store and what makes them special?

August is all about movement and utility as we transition into fall. I’m currently loving our new Custom Wash shirt, which is actually washed for more than 70 minutes to make it super soft and it comes in a wide range of colors, making it extraordinarily versatile. I think our Aiden Slim jogger pants are another fall must-have; the jogger is no longer just a trend, but has truly become a wardrobe staple taking you from work, to the airport, to brunch—perfect for life on the go.

How would you describe the overall aesthetic of the Banana Republic brand?

Banana Republic provides versatile wardrobe essentials grounded in the DNA and heritage of the brand, but updated to complement our customer’s 360 lifestyle. We’re taking a thoughtful approach to design, creating favorites that can work for multiple occasions.

What were the key inspirations for the current collection?

This season, we drew inspiration from our trip to New Scandinavia–Stockholm, Amsterdam, Antwerp and Copenhagen. We absolutely fell in love with the region and were most inspired by each city’s cultural, design and architectural histories.

What are some of your favorite fabrics to use?

I love that our jogger pant utilizes wools and cottons in both knit and woven fabrics—it’s a great alternative to either a chino or five-pocket denim, dressed up with a slim blazer or down with a denim jacket.

The Banana Republic offering is quite wide–from casual to suiting–how do you keep it consistent or do you find that your casual customers are different from those who buy suits?

I think our customers love to mix it up and pair tailored suiting pieces with more casual items. For example, wearing a sharp blazer with a slim fit shirt and relaxed denim or chinos is perfect for our guy who’s looking for that effortlessly cool look. We’re focused on offering versatility and a wear-now sensibility wherever possible.

What are some of the key trends in the current collection?

Utility and surplus styles are part of our heritage and we’re leaning into it a big way this season. Our trip to Scandinavia inspired us to work with a range of autumnal colors like olive greens and new gingers and design them into standout pieces like military style outerwear and utilitarian satchels.

What are the biggest challenges of designing for the brand?

We’re always pushing ourselves to innovate and combine things you might not traditionally put together in a way that doesn’t feel contrived. It’s always about the details.

What are some of your current bestsellers and why do you think they are so popular?

Our new Fulton skinny chino has been a huge hit with the guys. It’s comfortable, super slimming and flattering and comes in a great range of colors.

What is your all-time favorite piece you have created for Banana Republic?

Very hard to just pick one, but our new washed leather Moto styles are a favorite, also the half canvas construction Monogram suiting is amazing, with Italian fabric and a slim fit.

What other designers do you admire and why?

I don’t really have a favorite. I’m really inspired by good vintage product, particularly military where every detail had reason for being. I love the absolute functionality point of view; this is something we are striving for in both our men’s and women’s businesses.

What do you think is the current state of menswear?

This is a particularly exciting time for the menswear industry across the board. With the introduction of a dedicated Men’s Fashion Week and the rise of male bloggers, guys are paying more attention than ever to styling and fashion choices. Men aren’t dressing for just one occasion, like work, anymore–they realize the importance of having a more versatile, personalized wardrobe.

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