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Fashion designers mad for ‘Mad Men’

Banana Republic borrows looks from stylish wardrobes of 1960s

- Associated Press - Sunday, August 7, 2011

"Mad Men" has gone beyond a fashion fad. The AMC show about a 1960s ad agency - in which style is as important as the characters and plot - continues to influence runways and retailers with a branded collection debuting this week at Banana Republic.

Movies and TV shows commonly inspire fashion designers - especially when they offer highly stylized looks. Vera Wang had her "Deadwood" collection, Anna Sui mined "Doctor Dolittle" and Tommy Hilfiger has tapped "The Royal Tenenbaums" more than once, but the influence of "Mad Men" has had a straight run for more than four years, reintroducing the masses to skinny ties, pocket squares and body-hugging dresses.

The new clothing line also provides a temporary fix for "Mad Men" devotees awaiting the show's return in 2012. No new episodes of the show aired this year.

The clothes are sexy, and Joanna Coles, editor-in-chief of Marie Claire, said that is one of the things that has resonated with viewers and shoppers. The show gives us permission to dress to impress the opposite sex - and in fact encourages it, she said.

" 'Mad Men' shows you how to look great in the workplace, and it shows you how to work it," Ms. Coles said.

It's the rare TV show that glamorizes the office and fills it with attractive people, she said: "When you look at something like 'The Office,' no male executive wants to re-create the style of Steve Carell. No one wears lipstick at Dunder Mifflin. 'Mad Men' makes the office a more exciting place than it often is, and Banana Republic is trying to channel that."

Madison Avenue during that era was practically a catwalk with men in three-piece suits and fedoras, and women in sheaths and high-heel pumps carrying handle-top handbags.

It's a good look - and one that people look good wearing, said Simon Kneen, creative director for Banana Republic. "It's about good tailoring, it's bon ton, and a little more buttoned up and polished."

He said a key part of the collaboration between Banana Republic and the show's costume designer, Janie Bryant, was to be sure they weren't crafting costumes. The clothes are modern, with shapes and details adapted to a contemporary eye, Mr. Kneen said.

Gone is the enhanced hourglass created with bust darts and high waistline, Ms. Bryant said, and they have changed the colors to focus on more sophisticated navys, reds and blacks instead of the popular palette of the '60s of acid green and mustard yellow, Ms. Bryant said. She said the 2011 alternatives to those shades - if you're married to green and yellow - would be emerald and canary.

Fabrics have stretch and are more lightweight, and the design has to consider comfort.

"We have a totally different way of thinking and getting dressed," Ms. Bryant said. "Sixty years ago, there was a different code of what was presentable. There was no going out of the house without stockings, pantyhose, slips and garters, and long-line bras. Now you go out of the house in sweat pants."

Mrs. Bryant and Mr. Kneen say you don't have to go to that extreme, either. There is something to admire in a refined appearance, careful fit and chic silhouette.

"I have always loved dressing up," said Ms. Bryant, who is again an Emmy nominee for "Mad Men" costumes. "It's exciting that people want to learn about that again, not in a stodgy or update way, but I know that when you feel better in your clothes, you feel better all the way around."

Mr. Kneen agrees: "You want to feel like you're wearing a well-made, beautiful piece that's relevant for today."

His favorite piece in the collection is a maroon iridescent taffeta dress, inspired by a white satin dress that character Betty Draper wore on the show. It has lots of pleating, and the idea was to give it "the feeling of handmade couture," Mr. Kneen said.

He said he plans to add the slim suits to his own wardrobe.

"I can pull it off," Mr. Kneen said. "I was born in the '60s, so if I can't do it, who can? I remember Mom and her hairspray - I'd have to get out of the way when she sprayed - and the cigarette smoke in the air."

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