Our Design Team recently relocated from New York to San Francisco to be with the rest of the brand. With the whole team working together under one roof, we thought it would be cool to get a better look within our own brand, starting with the head of our women’s design team, Omar. Read on to discover his path to Banana Republic and the inspiration behind our upcoming Spring collection.
BR: What sparked your passion for design and what path did you take?
I was inspired by my father’s closet — all these beautifully made tailored suits from British manufacturers. In my early teens, I started wearing the clothes he had bought for himself in the ’60s and ’70s. Loving fashion was really about loving style.
After college at London’s Central Saint Martins, I worked in fashion PR and special projects for Hussein Chalayan, the British Designer of the Year in 1999 and 2000. Then I went back to CSM for a master’s degree in Womenswear. I had to get back to designing.
BR: Describe the Banana Republic woman. What is she trying to accomplish with her wardrobe?
She leads a busy, complex life. She loves style and cares about how she expresses this. She wants to look put together, but it needs to be effortless—both practically and aesthetically.
BR: How does the filter you design through today compare to Banana Republic’s heritage?
Our brand filters and values are very much consistent with the brand’s heritage. Banana Republic has always been a brand grounded in the appreciation of timeless style and quality.
BR: You recently held a design workshop that focused on the brand’s military heritage. Tell us about it.
The purpose of this workshop was to use our founders’ methods of deconstructing military surplus clothing to generate new ideas. It’s ultimately a form of upcycling. It was also just a chance to have some fun as a team and exercise some different creative muscles.
BR: Your team is still pretty new to San Francisco. After being here for a few months, how has the city influenced your team?
The team is much more collaborative than we were previously. It has been a change in both the way our studio is set up and a more collaborative culture. Many team members are new to the Bay Area, and that has created a more supportive environment—which is awesome.
BR: You’ve basically grown your career within one brand — are there advantages to that?
Some people might think you’d stagnate being in the same place, but I think it gives you a safety net to be bolder creatively. There’s vulnerability in putting your ideas out there. Being in a place where I trust the people I work with, and there’s trust in me, makes it a safe place to be bold and be creative. And at the same time, there are always new challenges and ways to expand your skill set.
BR: With a more timeless and iconic brand, how do you decide what trends to incorporate into Banana Republic designs?
Any interpretations of trends that we engage in need to fit through the brand filters. We are a brand that celebrates timeless style and quality. Our customer trusts us to edit relevant trends for her in a way that is brand right.
BR: Do you take inspiration trips as a team? Or as a designer, how do your personal travels inspire your designs?
We travel seasonally for inspiration—both home and abroad. For Fall inspiration, the team traveled to a wide range of cities including Paris, London, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Tokyo. It is a great opportunity to get out of our everyday routine and have conversations on what we are all seeing. They are a really important facilitator of creativity.
BR: What was your design inspiration for the upcoming spring collection?
The collection was designed during our transition back to the West coast so we decided to use California as our inspiration. We started North and journeyed down further and further South as the season progressed and the months become warmer.
BR: What’s your best advice to young designers?
Do not compromise: Make sure you’re working for and with a brand that you’re proud of. We designers are pretty lucky; we get paid to do something that we love and that we’ve wanted to do since we were kids. Not many people get to say that other than rock stars and firefighters! It’s a privilege to do this for a living; never forget why you went into this field and why you love it.
A portion of this interview was originally published on Gap Inc.’s News Room on January 25, 2018.