Over the years, Banana Republic has been known primarily for its workwear — and that’s been echoed in the relatively corporate-feeling design of its stores around the world. But when the Gap-owned company brought Marissa Webb on board as creative director in April 2014, an immediate rebranding began; and as her first collection for the retailer trickles onto sales floors, she’s celebrating another milestone for the label: a just-opened flagship on lower Fifth Avenue. As the new home for the brand’s women’s, men’s and accessories collections, it represents a step forward in what Webb hopes will be a shift in the public’s perception of the label.
“We really wanted to show the personality of the company,” Webb told us as she walked us through the massive 27,892 square foot space. “With such a big store it’s hard to create that feeling, so we wanted every nook to feel like a shop-in-shop.” Despite its size, the store has a decidedly homey feel, akin to a small Nolita boutique: the floors are covered with plush Moroccan rugs; jewelry lines reclaimed wood tables covered with succulents and terrariums; lush fiddle leaf fig trees are tucked into the corners and walls boast neon signs and hand-painted drawings created by Banana Republic designers. “Some of the more corporate elements we’ll take away in the future, but the team has done a really great job of making it feel intimate and giving it personality,” Webb added.
Webb put extra emphasis on showing off the accessories (which she plans to ramp up even more in future seasons) and integrating more everyday pieces into the racks of workwear to better reflect how people actually get dressed these days. She is looking forward to courting a growing customer base with the new product and shopping experience, but wants to be sure that loyal shoppers knows that the office staples that Banana Republic is famous for are not going anywhere. “It’s still here, it’s just shown differently,” she says.
Though the construction process was already underway at the store when Webb came on board, she wanted to make sure she could put her signature stamp on it, taking a very hands-on role and making herself readily available to help out. In fact, the team often sent her texts and photos of its progress at all hours of the night. But for Webb, it was worth it to get the end result she desired. “I want shoppers to think it’s an intimate, comfortable space for them to shop — I don’t want them to feel like they’re walking into a huge corporation or a mall space.”
In a perfect world, Webb sees shoppers spending their time on the weekends getting cozy inside the store, either sitting on the couches in the shoe section to try on a few pairs and chat with friends, or by reading some books on the ledge upstairs in the men’s section. "I compare it to my house — like I want to feel as comfortable inviting you into my home as I would inviting you into the store. You should want to come back, if I invite you over to my house and I serve you some crappy-ass food and I was a hot mess you wouldn’t wanna come back, right? You wouldn’t have fun! Same kind of philosophy."
With the new space, Webb has certainly made strides in revamping the look and feel of Banana Republic and its product, but she only considers it a small step towards all she hopes to achieve. "We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but we’re excited about where we are."
Click through the gallery below to see more images of Banana Republic’s new Fifth Avenue flagship.