Faherty Is Not for Men in Black

Often, the brands that we think of as big-umbrella mainstream dinosaurs did not in fact begin that way.

I remember fondly and a little perplexedly the Banana Republic that was on the immediate left of the entrance to the Pier 17 mall at South Street Seaport when it opened in 1985. There were plants jutting out at odd angles, and most of the safari gear was, to my memory, sand beige or military green. Shopping there was experiential and disorienting, just as intense as in the Sharper Image across the hall, which still had a “Back to the Future” sheen.

That mall also was, a few years later, home to the first J. Crew retail store. By the early-to-mid-1990s, J. Crew, still family-owned, had refined its progressive prep approach, and filled mailboxes across America with its catalogs, paeans to the leisurely moments of the white upper-middle class who hoped to pass for truly wealthy.

Banana Republic, J. Crew, even the Gap: They all began by encapsulating a narrow slice of American life, and then streamlined, expanded and mainstreamed it from there.

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