It's Bye-Bye, Jeans, and Hello, Khaki, as the Banana Republic Stages a Coup in Safari Rags

updated 11/14/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/14/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

It's a jungle out there, and no one knows it better than Mel and Patricia Ziegler, who are waging guerrilla war against the fashion establishment. Under the flag of the Banana Republic, their promotional battle cry is "In Surplus We Trust."

Worried that the Banana Republic is somewhere near Belize or Suriname? Take a deep breath. There are already five Banana Republics scattered up and down California. Beverly Hills most recently fell for the upscale safari look, and now tout Hollywood is flocking to the glossy Banana boutique off Rodeo Drive. By next summer the Zieglers hope to advance on Washington, Boston, New York and Chicago.

"Khaki," crows Mel, "is turning into the denim of the '80s," which helps explain why the outposts of the Republic expect to ring up sales of close to $10 million this year. Another reason for the company's success is its witty catalogs. Featuring writers like Cyra (The Serial) McFadden and sayings like "Man who wear bush vest is man who have nothing up his sleeve," the catalogs boast descriptions of such disparate items as official Royal Navy swim trunks ($6) and French Army bush hats ($12).

The seeds for the Republic coup were sown back in 1974 when Mel, a disaffected journalist, and Pat, a courtroom artist, were both working at the San Francisco Chronicle. "I guess we kind of recognized two kindred spirits who didn't fit into the system," says Pat. Hawking military threads became their way out, and in 1978 they opened their first store in Mill Valley with $1,500 worth of Spanish paratrooper jackets.

Recently Mel, 38, and Patricia, 34, began manufacturing their own clothes under the Banana Republic label. But they still travel half the year, dyed-in-the-khaki clothes-runners tracking down fresh supplies in Calcutta or at military auctions in Portugal. Along the way they have uncovered a home truth or two. As Patricia puts it, "Some countries still cannot believe we want to buy their rags. But I guess one man's junk is another man's gold."

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