Banks, Jeffrey 1953–
Jeffrey Banks 1953–
Fashion designer, business executive
Known for his ability to merge practical comfort, whimsy, and casual sophistication, clothing designer Jeffrey Banks made his reputation in the fashion industry by putting a modern twist on classical elegance. “While he retains the classicist’s concern for quality, elegance and simplicity, he cannot help but infuse his clothes with color, exuberance—a wholly American sensibility,” stated a publicity release from his design firm, Jeffrey Banks Ltd.
Banks’ designs have reflected his own enchantment with the glamour of movie stars in Hollywood’s golden era. “A self-avowed romanticist,” continued the publicity release, “Banks often draws upon the ‘silver screen’ Hollywood of the 1920s and 30s for his icons; but whatever the inspiration, his clothes always maintain a crisp, contemporary edge.” Banks’ interest in timeless elegance is also shown by his private collection of well over 300 black-and-white photographs by famous photographers that showcase fashions worn by famous film stars, writers, and fashion designers in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.
Successful at both the creative and business ends of the design world, Banks established his own firm in 1978 at the age of 25. Weathering the storms of a cutthroat business and the winds of change in fashion style, he has survived and thrived, later forming a second firm to deal with demands for his designs. According to Lloyd Gite in a 1997 issue of Black Enterprise, millions of people around the globe were wearing designs by Jeffrey Banks at that time. “From Bloom-ingdale’s in New York to fine shops in Japan, his name appears on everything from shirts and suits to neckwear and small leather goods, even sunshades and prescription eyewear,” claimed Gite.
Jeffrey Laurence Banks knew from an early age while growing up in Washington, D.C., that he was going to be a fashion designer. “I was only 10 years old when I designed an Easter suit for my mother,” he told Black En terprise. “The dress was raw silk and it had a banana-colored, wool jersey coat that buttoned to one side. I picked out the fabric, went to the dressmaker with my mother and even picked out the accessories. She loved
At a Glance…
Career; Served as design assistant to the president, Ralph Lauren/Polo, 1971-73; was design assistant to president, Calvin Klein/Calvin Klein Ltd., 1973-76; designed clothes for Nik-Nik Clothing & Sportswear, 1976-789; established own design business, Jeffrey Banks Ltd, 1978; created second company, Jeffrey Banks International; began designing furs for men and boys for Alixandre, 1980; worked as head designer for Merona Sports sportwear, 1980s; made licensing agreement with Neema Clothing Ltd., 1995; has designed clothes for Concorde International, B, Glanzrock, L’Aiglon, Lakeland, and Oxford Industries.
Awards: Special Coty Award for Men’s Furs, Coty Fashion Critics Award, 1977; Excellence in Men’s Wear Design, Harvey’s Bristol Cream Tribute to Black Designers, 1978-80; Special Coty Award for Menswear, 1982; Cutty Sark Award for Outstanding U.S. Designer, 1987.
Addresses: Home –New York, New York; Professional —Jeffrey Banks Ltd., 15 East 26th Street, Suite 1811, New York, N.Y. 10010, (212) 889-4424.
it and wore it with lots of pride.” As a child Banks was also fascinated by fashion photography, especially Richard Avedon’s spreads in Vogue magazine.
By the time Banks was a design student at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, he had already proven his ability to rise in the professional ranks. While still a student there he worked as a design assistant to Ralph Lauren, one of the biggest names in the fashion industry. Next he honed his skill as an assistant to the president of another fashion giant, Calvin Klein, while completing his degree at the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York City.
Armed with his design ideas and a relentless work ethic, Banks quickly moved up the ranks from a job as a clerk at an elegant haberdashery in Washington, D.C. He worked for three years as a designer for Nik-Nik Clothing & Sportswear during the late 1970s, and in 1977 won a special Coty Award for a men’s fur collection that he designed for Alixandre. Still only 23 years old at the time, Banks was the youngest person ever to win this coveted honor—the “Oscar of the fashion industry,” according to Ebony.
Banks cashed in on his increasing visibility in fashion by creating his own design firm in 1978, with himself as president and chief designer. He continued building on his reputation as a designer of furs for both men and boys. According to André Leon-Talley in Ebony, by 1980 Banks was creating furs for males “so smart and tailored that some women want to wear them.” At this time he was also designing outerwear for L’Aiglon, and men’s clothes for Glanzrock. Perhaps he made his biggest mark as a designer with his line of so-called “spectator sportwear” for men, women, and children for Merona Sports that were cited as both practical and offbeat. According to Teri Agins in the Wall Street Journal, Banks’ clothing for Merona Sports was “a hot-selling line of boldly colored knit weekend clothes that became as trendy in the early 1980s as jogging suits once were.” Banks himself became known during this period for his own impeccable yet breezy tailoring that “earned him a niche on the ‘Best Dressed List,’” according to a publicity release from Jeffrey Banks Ltd. By age 26 he already had 130 pairs of shoes, according to Ebony, and his own striking good looks and trim build probably could have earned him a few walks down the runway himself if he had wanted to pursue a modeling career.
Despite receiving frequent praise for his design vision and creativity at such a young age, Banks has never harbored any illusions about what it takes to be successful in the clothes universe. He has also lamented the downfall of many young designers who fail to grasp the business aspects of their trade. “Fashion is not art,” he said in Black Enterprise. “It comes very close, but at the end of the day it’s commerce. The more you know about business, the better designer you’ll be. Many young designers don’t realize that they can’t go to a bank or the investment community without a business plan. They just think that everyone will look at their sketches and see their talent shining through.”
Banks himself struggled on the business end during the mid 1980s, but then got a shot in the arm by Japanese businessman Tomio Taki. In 1988 Taki, who already owned a successful design company in New York City, agreed to invest in a new business with Banks that would give him a one third share in the company. Banks claimed at the time that Taki’s infusion of money would “free me up to design after spending the last three years so enmeshed in the business side of my company,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Various ups and downs were also experienced by Banks during the 1990s. He was beset by legal difficulties in 1994 when he was sued by the artist Gloria Fox Lynn, who said that he had produced shirts using her copyrighted paintings without her permission. In 1995 Banks bounced back by signing a licensing agreement with Neema Clothing Ltd, granting them permission to manufacture and market clothing that had the Banks label on it.
By 1996, Banks was heading two companies—Jeffrey Banks Ltd. and Jeffrey Banks International. Between them, they boasted sales of almost $20 million a year. And he continues to be a force in the fashion world after nearly a quarter century of active designing.
Architectural Digest, September 1989, pp. 78-84.
Black Enterprise, June 1997, p. 277.
Ebony, November 1980, p. 172.
Forbes, December 3, 1983, p. 153.
Inc., November 1990, p. 68.
Los Angeles Times, Section V, p. 9.
Wall Street Journal, August 30, 1988, p. 27.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from publicity materials of Jeffrey Banks Ltd., 15 East 26th Street, Suite 1811, New York, N.Y. 10010.
"Banks, Jeffrey 1953–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 18, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/banks-jeffrey-1953
"Banks, Jeffrey 1953–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved January 18, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/banks-jeffrey-1953
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Born: Washington D.C., 3 November 1955. Education: Studied at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York, 1972-74; graduated from Parsons School of Design, New York, 1977. Career: Part-time assistant to Ralph Lauren, New York, 1972-74, and to Calvin Klein, 1974-76; designer, Nik Nik, 1976-77; designer in New York for Concorde International, Alixandre, Merona Sport, 1977-circa 1980; launched own menswear company, 1980; introduced boyswear collection, 1980; formed joint venture for designer line with Takihyo Inc., Hong Kong, 1988; design consultant, Herman Geist, New York, 1990; designer, Jeffrey Banks label for Hartz & Company, New York, beginning in 1984; Jeffrey Banks menswear, neckwear, and eyewear licensed for production in Japan, beginning in 1982; menswear consultant, Bloomingdale's, New York, beginning in 1993; extended sportswear collection with Johnnie Walker, 1998. Awards: Coty American Fashion Critics award, 1977, 1982; "Earnie" award for boyswear, 1980; Cutty Sark award, 1987. Address: 12 East 26th Street, New York, NY 10010, USA.
Trachtenberg, Jeffrey A., Ralph Lauren: The Man Behind the Mystique, New York, 1988.
Bloom, Ellye, "Jeffrey Banks: To Boyswear with Love," in Teens and Boys (New York), October 1979.
Kleinfeld, N. R., "Jeffrey Banks Suits the Mood," in the New York Times Magazine, 2 March 1980.
Gruen, John, "The Designer's Eye for Timeless Fashion Photography," in Architectural Digest, September 1989.
Gite, Lloyd, "Breaking into the Fashion Biz," in Black Enterprise (New York), June 1997.
White, Constance C.R., "Patterns," in the New York Times, 16 June 1998.
Wells, Melanie, "Johnnie Walker's First Nips at Apparel Strut to Shelves," in USA Today, 19 October 1998.***
At the age of 15, Jeffrey Banks was working as a salesman at the menswear store Britches of Georgetown, where he had already been a regular customer since he was 12. "He was surely the only high school student in Washington, D.C., with his own subscriptions to Daily News Record and Women's Wear Daily, " recounts Jeffrey Trachtenberg in Ralph Lauren: The Man Behind the Mystique. Banks is the consummate clothing aficionado and stylist, one who is positively obsessed with fashion. For some, apparel is simply the family business or narcissist's self-realization. For Banks, clothing is an ecstatic vocation.
A devoted movie fan since childhood, Banks has made his cinematic dream come true in clothing that evokes the golden age of Hollywood, in nuanced references to such stars as Audrey Hepburn (later a friend) and in a styling of menswear in the tradition of the debonair man about town. When Ralph Lauren visited Washington, Banks was chosen to pick him up at the airport. Fully dressed in Lauren clothing, Banks appeared as a precocious high school student and was asked by Lauren to come see him for a job when he came to New York for design school. While still in art school, Banks became Lauren's assistant and protégé in fulfillment of his interpretation of the traditional in menswear and in continuing development of his talents as a designer and stylist.
Banks subsequently designed furs for Alixandre, apprenticed with Calvin Klein, and designed for Merona sportswear. Even at Merona, his style was considered spectator sportswear, meaning the extended vision of sportswear but also the sportswear edited by Banks' keen eye to what is being worn and how it can be subtly improved. His deepest affection has always been, however, the romantic tradition of tailored clothing, a debonair style burnished by a sense of artisto nonchalance. In sportswear, Banks' strong sense of color is notable, but even for color his tailored clothing is his more natural medium. He calls himself a romanticist, but the term is weak for one so smitten by a passion for traditional clothing—a tradition that works for the most conservative gentleman but can be assembled with panache for the urbane sophisticate. Even more outside his own country, Banks' clothing in Japan epitomizes the grand sensibility of menswear brought into a fresh American focus.
Walt Whitman argued that American democracy promotes uniformity, even a sense of unimportance in individual citizens. American menswear in the second half of the 20th century was internationally effective in seeking distinction within the homogeneity of modern appearance. Designers such as Lauren and Banks addressed the social need for a traditional demeanor that would not disturb the standard of uniformity, albeit with a kind of smartness of detailing that is distinguished without being dandified. Both have, of course, learned a great deal from images in film and photography as well as keenly observing men of classic style. They then reinterpreted and refined that style.
Some would argue that a designer's transformative skill is honed in part by being an outsider—by observing that which cannot be possessed in its present form and by inherently needing and seeking change. Banks has given significant personal inflection to inbred, rarefied traditions of menswear, often connoting class. His customer— probably younger, because of his palette, than Lauren's—buys not to climb socially but to fit into a fantasy of best-dressed nattiness, perfect in effortless grooming, and informal high style.
Yet Banks' preppy, "dressed for success" image cannot be attributed to his look alone. The designer has more than just fashion sense; he has a proven business sense. He learned many things from his former mentor Ralph Lauren, and one was how to run a business. Although most designers tried to make it on their sketches, hoping to catch the eye of anyone who would look, Banks told Black Enterprise in June 1997, "Fashion is not art. It often comes very close, but at the end of the day it's commerce."
Planning and investing have been key elements to success for Banks. He may be one of a growing number of African American designers, but what separates him from others is his ability to secure sales of his designs to major department stores. Studies show African Americans spend more money on clothing than any other race, yet only a handful of African American designers have developed successful lines. Banks' $20 million companies, Jeffrey Banks Ltd. and Jeffrey Banks International, speak volumes.
After a lengthy hiatus, Banks came back in full swing in the fall of 1998. Teaming up with liquor company Johnnie Walker, Banks extended his line of rugged sportswear and accessories collection. Sold exclusively in Bloomingdales, the collection's signature trademark resembled a silhouette of a man in a top hat with a cane—not quite Johnnie Walker's ever-popular scotch liquor label. "That is the guy two years ago who wore his baseball cap backwards, drank beer out of a can and wore baggy jeans," Banks explained to the New York Times. "He now wears a $1,000 suit and is working on Wall Street, and he wants to look as good on the weekends as he does during the week."
updated by DianaIdzelis
"Banks, Jeffrey." Contemporary Fashion. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 18, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/fashion/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/banks-jeffrey
"Banks, Jeffrey." Contemporary Fashion. . Retrieved January 18, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/fashion/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/banks-jeffrey