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Beyond Tiki, Bilge, and Test / Beyond Tiki

Banana Republic and Tiki

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Posting this in Beyond Tiki because there's no actual Tiki content here, but a parallel between Tiki and the clothing company Banana Republic. (Although there have been Tiki sightings in BR, at least just over a decade ago, so...)

Anyway, I found an old pair of BR linen shorts yesterday -- they're fantastic and go perfect with old Aloha shirts, and so it's not surprising that they're unlike any new shorts you can buy today. These things are well-made and rugged and make you feel like you're ready for an expedition ... if not to a small islet in the South Pacific, then at least to the nearest beach or backyard tiki bar. This got me thinking about the history of the company, and I just realized how closely the pattern of BR's rise and fall fits that of the history of Tiki.

Banana Republic came after Tiki's heyday, and after the heyday (and death knell) of Modernism. It was founded in 1978, in California, by an eccentric and enterprising couple who took old military surplus clothing and remarketed it as "safari wear." The clothing was all pretty much classic, well-made, and well designed. They sold leather bomber jackets, safari shirts, khaki, classic blazers -- all iconic stuff.

The stores, like the name of the company itself, were decidedly un-PC. And like classic Tiki bars, they were also escapes: the stores decorated with layers of mosquito nets, bamboo, tents, crates, actual safari equipment, and the like ... speakers played a blend of 1940s music and ambient jungle sounds and exotic drums ... Army surplus Jeeps were even brought in and made to be "bursting" out of their window displays and into the streets!

If The Warehouse ever expanded to open a full-sized gift shop next door to it (reachable down the end of the front dock), it would undoubtedly look like an early Banana Republic store. They were pioneering "themed retail."

Just as Tiki experienced its devolution, Banana Republic's explosive success meant that it soon became a Big Corporate brand ... they were sold out to The Gap at some point and became a generic "Mall brand" ... Gone were the Jeeps and the safari theme, and gone were all the important elements of adventure, danger and play. Also gone were the high-quality, traditional military surplus items ... now it was all made in China junk, maybe with a bland, beige "tropical" theme. Sounds a lot like the latter-day Trader Vic's!

When you think about it, along with vintage Aloha shirts, old Banana Republic should be the official clothing brand of Tiki!

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