Interview: Michael Anderson, SVP of Design for Banana Republic

BR 2The last few years have been game-changers for Banana Republic. The company has made some significant changes and has stepped back into the spotlight as a primary retailer for stylish women. This year marks the 20th anniversary for the retailer in Canada- a significant milestone. The first location opened in Edmonton, Alberta on February 3, 1995 and was followed by locations in Toronto’s Eaton Centre and on Bloor Street. AM2_0680To celebrate, Banana Republic hosted a wonderful meet and greet with Michael Anderson, SVP of Design. Held at the flagship location on Bloor Street in Toronto, guests indulged in delightful Canadian-styled h’ors d’oeuvres while they previewed the new holiday collection.
Style Calling contributor Jessica Thompson spoke with Michael about his tenure at the brand, the inspiration for the collection, and his thoughts on the Canadian shopper.

Michael Anderson BW HeadshotYou’ve been with Banana Republic for quite some time, 11 years. What’s kept you with the company for so long?
That’s a great question. I think opportunity. Not just my opportunity, but that brand’s opportunity within the market places that it’s in. I think we have so much opportunity in both men’s and women’s just to sort of push our aesthetic into more doors and more places and really stand for something in a market place where, frankly, there’s a lot of clutter. I think the brand really has an amazing point of view, an amazing platform around quality and fashion and detailing, and this great sense of the DNA of utility and styling as well as feminine detail.

It seems like there’s no one else really in our sweet spot in our market, who can do it as well as we can. So I think, yeah, opportunity, and the people, we have some amazing people on our teams. The teams behind me are fantastic. Both the men’s and women’s teams, production and merchandising are amazing as well.AM8_9948

Speaking of the team, what do you feel Marissa Webb brought to the company when she came on board? 
I think Marissa has an amazing attention to detail. [She] and I share the same love of utility and of vintage and all that kind of styling. And I think she recognized on the men’s side that there was a lot of that sort of ingrained in the product.

What she brought was that great eye for detail and vintage and to sort of bring it into the women’s area as well, and to give that slight edge to the women’s product, and that masculine/feminine kind of tension as well. Which I think is really exciting, it’s something the brand can own, as well, that kind of balance of the hard and the soft, and some of the masculine tailoring and ideas with beautiful feminine touches as well. I think it makes for a very unique kind of positioning.AM2_0732

There’s been some fantastic changes in the brand. What is one of the biggest changes in your time at BR in how we dress ourselves?
The brand in the past has been known as sort of a workwear brand. By that it was a very, sort of, a narrow point of view around work. And in the last ten years or so, work has sort of morphed into something other than just one place you go to do your [job]. Work is taken home, work is taken to different areas, work is really about a lifestyle as much as anything else.

Probably the biggest difference for us is designing into more of a lifestyle point of view and less about one occasion versus another. You know, I think women are quite happy to let us know where and when they’re going to wear the product. They do a great job of that. It’s more about a lifestyle than anything it is about any one occasion.AM2_0747What were some of inspirations for the current collection?
We were in Banff, which was amazing. It was the first time I had ever been to an environment like that, which I guess is the Rockies, was is just incredible. I wasn’t almost prepared for some of the breath-taking views; it was amazing. So, we kind of immersed ourselves in it. We did a few touristy things, back-country hikes, and really the collection was about this ability to feel coocooned and this softness, this protection. So it was all about the warmth and texture and novelty. We were really inspired by that, this cozy kind of warmth.AM2_0693You used a lot of different textures in the collection. What were some of your favourites?
Some of the wool’s, textures like stitch development like we did in some of the women’s topcoats. The sweaters I think are amazing. I think being able to sort of stitch, the three-gage sweaters, they have this beautiful, sort of lofty feel. What I also love as well is the tension between those kind of ideas which can lend themselves a very masculine look, then these beautiful, soft silks, and that softer side. Then tension between that harder, sort of wool, but the softness of [silks], I think is what makes [the collection] feel modern, and very lifestyle-driven.AM2_0714What was the colour palette?
So we mixed it up a little bit, we were loving these camels and the navies, which we think looks beautiful. But we also liked these hits of pinks. So we’re all about these great, amazing neutrals with hits of either [bold colour] as well. The brand, essentially, revolves around these great neutrals with amazing colours layered on top. So we’re always looking at new neutrals, khakis and olives and camels, and then looking at the colours that we can be layering on top. We’re loving these hot pinks and greens.AM2_0693What are some of the key pieces that you feel men and women should have in their wardrobes?
For this season, I would say outerwear, for sure. I think we’re getting back to this tailored aesthetic but in more unusual fabrications, the tweeds and the donegal. And if it’s a very classical silhouette then have some fun with the colour. The pink coat I think is beautiful because it’s got that sculpted, tailored feel but in a more fun, less reverent colour, which I think is really great. I think the quintessential tailored topcoat this season is a must-have for everyone.AM2_0710What do you think is the biggest difference between the client in Canada versus the US?
Interesting question. I think there’s a certain sophistication and a certain way that women shop [in Canada]. They are very much more collaborative, I notice, with [Banana Republic stylists] about ‘What should I be wearing?’, they almost want to be guided. They love the energy of being shown different ideas and different ways of putting things together, which I think is really great.BR 1

You can shop Banana Republic’s full holiday collection online at BananaRepublic.ca and in stores now.