“Wild Company: The Untold Story of Banana Republic,” by Mel Ziegler & Patricia Ziegler
Review by Eric Renderking Fisk | February 22nd, 2016
With $1,500 and no business experience, Mel and Patricia Ziegler turned a wild idea into a company that would become the international retail colossus Banana Republic. Re-imagining military surplus as safari and expedition wear, the former journalist and artist created a world that captured the zeitgeist for a generation and spoke to the creativity, adventure, and independence in everyone.
In a book that’s honest, funny, and charming, Mel and Patricia tell in alternating voices how they upended business conventions and survived on their wits and imagination. Many retail and fashion merchants still consider Banana Republic’s early heyday to be one of the most remarkable stories in fashion and business history. The couple detail how, as “professional amateurs,” they developed the wildly original merchandise and marketing innovations that broke all retail records and produced what has been acclaimed by industry professionals to be “the best catalogue of all time.”
A love story wrapped in a business adventure, Wild Company is a soulful, inspiring tale for readers determined to create their own destiny with a passion for life and work and fun.
©2016 Mel and Patricia Ziegler (P)2016 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
It’s hard to believe that I must explain to a lot of The Fedora Chronicles readers who were born after 1990 that there was a “BANANA REPUBLIC” before there was a “Banana Republic.”
Once upon a time in the more retrocentric/dieselpunk friendly world – specifically back in the 1980’s - there was a chain of stores called “BANANA REPUBLIC” that featured everything you could ever want if you were retrocentric since It catered to those of us who favored the style and fashions of the first half of the 20th Century. It was the most incredible franchise chain we could ever imagine, it was the rustic supply store where you buy the right style of clothes before heading out on an adventure in the jungle, desert, or any wild destination.
ADWEEK: "Before Banana Republic Was Mainstream Fashion, It Was a Weirdly Wonderful Safari Brand Revisiting the pith helmets, Jeeps and life-size giraffes," By Robert Klara|March 16, 2016
The pictures I’ve borrowed from around the internet don’t do the original stores justice; "BR" wasn't this awesome, it was more. It was the ultimate combination of traditional style, Army Navy surplus, and our social mecca.
“Wild Company: The Untold Story of Banana Republic” shares with us the authors Mel and Patricia Ziegler created the original stores with the idea that there are a whole bunch of people like them (and us) would enjoy shopping at a store with a rustic theme that sold unique “safari style” clothes that they found around the globe. These items included contemporary clothes made with "the safari vibe," to military surplus. "Wild Company" reads like an adventure novel about how they were able to find what they were looking for before the internet and how they uncovered incredible finds such as large warehouses full of unused items from military branches from all over the world.
Many of these collections were from The Spanish Civil War, World War 2, The Korean War, Vietnam... and from all sides of these conflicts. It wasn't unusual to find Soviet era fatigues or African made bush shirts in the same treasure haul.
Catalog image from "Abandoned Republic: A Jouney Through The Vintage Banana Republic Catalog
Thanks to their partnership with The Gap and the owner Don Fisher and his wife, BANANA REPUBLIC also offered reproductions of originals and created new products under their own line, many of these items with the original BANNANA REPUBLIC logo are coveted today via Etsy and eBay.
The story of this book also focused on the stores themselves and how they use everything they could get their hands on original military surplus items they found like tent frame or mosquito netting that they used to display their wares, again utilizing the concept of using old surplus items to enhance that rustic adventurers’ vibe. The BANANA REPUBLIC stores themselves were destinations since no two outlets were alike. Often times the BANANA REPUBLIC shops were the destination of many of my trips since you could find something at one store that might not be available at another.
Then there were their catalogs that were essential reading for everyone in The Fedora Chronicles demographic with images and graphics that were all hand drawn that continued the rustic, vintage adventurer vibe. The catalog was a huge part of THE BANANA REPUBLIC experience.
It’s thought by a few that BANANA REPUBLIC was just merely riding the “safari craze” during the 1980’s. Then there are those that believe that it was the Ziegler’s who created it in the first place and they were carried along with the Indiana Jones flicks and the resurgence in interest in the World War 2 years. Yet there are other’s like myself believe that it was it was BANANA REPUBLIC that played a huge part in making that style popular again and it was mere synchronicity and divine intervention that brought these events together. I really don’t know or care which came first because I’m just grateful that I was there when it happened and it reflected a great part of my life. I consumed the first part of this book while going down memory lane.
Memory lane was fun while it lasted and then things became dark while I rediscovered what a true, genuine monster Mickey Drexler has been to the retrocentric community. The reason why BANANA REPUBLIC became the bland copy of the other mere clothing stores and became simply ‘Banana Republic’ was petty and short sighted – the monster Mickey Drexler simply hated the vintage adventurer safari style.
The degenerate Mickey Drexler simply hated "Safari Shirts and Pith Helmets" and made the unilateral decision to change the entire theme of BANANA REPUBLIC.
All the passion employees had for the ‘BANANA REPUBLIC’ brand from everyone from the employees, the catalog devotes, the customers were lost the minute it’s brand identity was literally thrown out and put in a landfill as a part of Antichrist Drexler crusade to make "Banana Republic" look just like every other clothing store.
The rest of the book illustrates how Drexler betrayed the original deal The Gap owner Don Fisher and his wife had with Mel and Patricia Ziegler which caused them to abruptly quit, and then how the Ziegler’s made the conscious decision to move on with their lives with a very Zen attitude.
This is the perfect book for anyone who has a vision but doesn't know how to accomplish their goals and realize their dreams. If there’s anything to learn from The Ziegler’s, is that there’s always a way to get things done if you surround yourself with quality people with talent. Nobody will read this book and finish it without a better understanding of what an incredible thing The Ziegler’s did and how they made an entire decade better for those of us in our demographic. They’re heroes and champions of people like us who believe “no” isn’t an answer and to believe in the concept of the word “Jeito” – a Brazilian word for “There’s always a way.”
Share with us your memories of The ORIGINAL BANANA REPUBLIC!