Banana Republic

February 27, 2017

Design is in the details. And it takes obsession with detail to breathe life into that irresistible piece of clothing. These are the people behind the scenes at Gap Inc. — the dedicated professionals who push themselves every day to create customer experiences that resonate. Get to know these heroes of their craft.

Take a look around you: Is there a wall nearby with an interesting texture? Are the tiles beneath your feet in a particularly colorful mood?

Michael Castellano could make a print out of that.

In fact, he wants to! The Banana Republic designer for men's prints is inspired by anything and everything around him. Walking through his New York subway station, he'll stop to ponder how his BR team could decompose the tiles on the wall to create an original geometric pattern. When hiking, he'll venture off trail to snap photos of tree bark. (He has an entire digital folder on his desktop dedicated to different tree patterns, which he uses to create textures for graphics, or even an original camouflage.)

When we speak, he pauses to point out a textured wall nearby: “If I scan a piece of this wall and use it on top of a graphic, it could make a really cool washed-out effect."

Michael is constantly on the hunt for new prints, and for that extra something special that catches your eye, transforming an existing pattern into something truly unique.

“I want our guy to feel special in whatever he's wearing," Michael says. “If he's wearing our garment, or our print or our yarn dye, I want him to be like, 'This is cool because of this detail — it's special. And it makes me feel good; it makes me feel confident.'"

Each shirt has an entire team of designers, merchants, fit technicians, production specialists and fabric sourcing experts weighing in to make sure each piece reaches that special status. And when it comes to prints, a lot of the conversation centers on color and scale.

“We have a print that has 12 different color positions, so you can color that print in a seasonal palette 70-100 different ways if you really wanted to. There's always that, 'Can we make that brighter?' or 'That looks too bright — can we make this softer?'" Michael says. “There's always a back-and-forth until we get it just right."

Getting each piece just right, in a place where you feel special wearing it, can be all-encompassing — to say that Michael dreams in prints would not be an exaggeration.

“If I've worked on a pattern all day, and then I'm working on the colors — different colorway versions of the pattern — I'll literally see color combinations in my sleep of like, a plaid," he laughs. “It's crazy."

At the beginning of each season, Banana Republic design teams get together to brainstorm and talk through the creative concepts and themes that inspire each season's collection. Designers are looking at people and places near and far, taking cues from fashion trends — both on the runways and on the streets — and finding inspiration in regions of the world, a style of architecture, or a blend of colors they may encounter “in the wild."

From there, the design team starts pulling images, prints and patterns that fit into that season's concept to flesh out the theme and give it texture. They'll pull from their design libraries and from the Gap Inc. archives studio, too, and start sketching early versions of original designs.

“We get all of these tools together on our boards, flash it through the teams and see where we want to go," Michael explains. “It's all organic and really fun; we all chip in."

That collaborative, creative, energetic environment is what fuels Michael's obvious passion for Banana Republic, and for his job. After graduating with a degree in graphic design, Michael started his career at BR doing graphic work on a freelance basis. From there, he got to know the prints and patterns team, became enamored with textile design, and the rest is a very colorful history.

“I started delving in, getting more involved and asking questions: 'What does this do? What's that program? What are you guys doing here? What's the essence of this print?'" he recalls. “It was like I was a sponge, honestly, learning as much as I could from whoever I could."

That passion and enthusiasm for the craft is still with him more than ever. Nine years later, he's an expert in the prints and patterns design process, but that drive to learn and tackle new challenges is still well-met within the brand. He's still learning from people every chance he gets, and is constantly working on new projects.

“We don't just work on print; we don't just work on yarn dye and woven shirts and plaids and stripes. We work on socks, boxers, graphics for T-shirts, stripes and layouts for knits, scarves, accessories like bags, and camouflage for outerwear… That's really what I'm passionate about — the variety," Michael says.

“It's cool, and it's new and it's unexpected and it keeps you on your toes. It's so much fun here."


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