- The Washington Times - Friday, August 7, 2009

You may never have seen the show, but you know the look.

“That’s very Mad Menish,” one might be complimented on one’s classically cut suit with a crisp white pocket square or curve-hugging shift dress with piled-on pearls at the neckline.

The AMC series “Mad Men,” returning for its third season on Aug. 16, is known as much for its polished mid-20th-century costuming as its intricate plotlines and even has inspired high-end fashion designers such as Michael Kors.

Now, it seems, “Mad”-ness has found its way to the mall, as the average shopper wants to be transported back to the late 1950s and early 1960s, the period setting for the show.

Looking to bring the “Mad Men” allure to its stores, Banana Republic, which has suffered financially because of the fragile retail economy, has partnered with AMC to use the show’s characters as muses for its fall line.

“The late ‘50s and early ‘60s offer an overall sense of elegance and sophistication that is still relevant today,” explains Banana Republic’s creative director, Simon Kneen. “I think we all have a sense of nostalgia for that time when it comes to fashion.”

“Mad Men” is centered around Sterling Cooper, a fictional advertising agency run by the debonair Don Draper, portrayed by Jon Hamm, and features a coterie of young copy writers and assistants whose easy refinement is so rare today. Gloves, ladylike tea dresses, polished oxfords, fedoras. Think Cary Grant, Doris Day and the Rat Pack. A far cry from K-Fed, Britney and Jon and Kate.

“It’s classic American, iconic style,” Janie Bryant, the award-winning costume designer for the hit show, tells The Washington Times. “The silhouettes are timeless, and that period started a fashion evolution.”

Walk by any Banana Republic this weekend, and you’ll see giant promotional posters of Don Draper and his wife, Betty, portrayed by January Jones, whose ethereal glamour conjures memories of the late Grace Kelly.

“Banana Republic has always been a destination for the perfect white shirt, trench, cardigan and suiting, which really sums up the style of ‘Mad Men,’” says the chain’s Mr. Kneen. “The ‘Mad Men’ look feels very authentic to who we are as a brand.”

Through Aug. 11, in addition to featuring “Mad Men” images in its store windows and looks from the show on mannequins, Banana Republic is offering a free iTunes download of the pilot episode as a gift with purchase.

In an effort to help its eager clientele master the “Mad Men” look, Banana Republic is offering a “style guide” with profiles of the characters and tips on how to copy their elan by using looks and accessories from the fall collection.

“Betty and Don are all about the facade of perfection,” Ms. Bryant reflects. “Betty is especially trying to be the perfect suburban housewife, so you see the preparation in her dressing. It’s all about what accessories to wear, which stockings to put on. There are so many layers. It’s like unwrapping a package.”

Naturally, each character comes with a unique back story. For example, “Betty loves Marilyn,” Ms. Bryant notes, referring to the period’s iconic sex symbol, while Trudy Campbell, another female character on the show, “is the type to watch what Jackie [Kennedy] is doing.”

“Don and Betty are Republicans,” she adds with a laugh.

As for Don’s style, he’s “mysterious and projects both masculinity and simplicity,” she says. “I always think of his suits as being his armor.”

Want the “Betty look” for that party next weekend? Try a knee-length black sheath, black sunglasses, chic wrap and snakeskin pumps. And don’t forget the requisite sparkly brooch.

Think a Don Draperesque effect would be a good fit for your cousin’s wedding? The style guide walks you through “the Don” — dark, fitted suit, sterling cuff links — even specifying how to wear your pristinely white hanky: folded flat, “Kennedy-style,” of course.

Mr. Kneen explains that anyone can copy the look simply by making some key sartorial choices.

“The perfect investment for men would be our new modern suit,” he says. “For women, a sexy pencil skirt, pretty chiffon blouse and fitted cardigan really sums up the Mad Menish look and won’t break the bank.”

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