Something happened to the constrictive seriousness of clothes when one of Esprit’s sleek, oversized catalogs was delivered to the front door. The unique quality behind Esprit’s clothes was not just the garments, but the lifestyle one seemed to live while in them.
Started by husband and wife team Doug and Suzie Thompkins in 1968 as the Plain Jane Dress Company, Esprit became one of the biggest apparel companies of the 80’s. The Thompkins sold their first garments (40’s-inspired dresses) out of the back of their station wagon, and within two years were able to hire a team of designers to further their dream.
In 1970, the name changed to Esprit de Corps, and in 1979, the famous three-bar ‘E’ became integral to the company’s logo when graphic designer John Casado created one of the most recognized symbols of the apparel world. By 1980, Esprit’s catalogue campaign garnered international recognition for their clothes and avant-garde advertising.
Bold colored clothes in comfortable, natural fabrics were the cornerstone of Esprit. The look was for sophisticated, fashion-conscious individuals who had the money to be a preppy, but considered themselves too cosmopolitan to wear Izods and Duck Head. Esprit instilled great label lust in youths seeking an exotic label during the Eurochic days of the 80’s, and to own just one item with the three-bar logo was the secret password to cooldom.
Esprit released its first kids’ line in 1981, featuring a rainbow-colored logo and fashionable digs for the little ones. The explosive company broke the mold again in 1984 when they utilized their employees as models in their catalogues for the Real People campaign. Esprit was for everyone, and their customers graced the next round of catalogue pages.
Esprit became much more than clothes: it was a complete look, and a way of life that appealed to the unconventionally conventional. Cafe Esprit opened in 1986, and the Esprit name was on an entire range of household products to complement the growing obsession with the chic lifestyle offered by Esprit.
Controversy arose when Esprit used their advertising to publicize the growing concern over the AIDS virus, but the company was heralded for their socially responsible convictions. Esprit’s edge dulled with the fading trend of Eurochic fashion, but returned to the forefront of fashion with the Ecollection of environmentally friendly clothing in the 90’s. Esprit reunited with children’s wear with the wildly popular Dr. Seuss collection, and the company continues to promote its line and lifestyle today.
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