I grew up in the 1970s and ’80s. My awareness of, and fascination with, fashion began in high school in the ’80s, which means that Esprit was a huge fashion influence on me.
Esprit was the epitome of cool back then, and I was captivated by it. The company and their ads felt so European, free-spirited, and contemporary. The brand was really visionary for its time, working with amazing photographers, architects, and graphic artists to create the visual identity for the company. That vision carried over into every product and product category they designed: glasses, socks, shoes, shoe boxes, the feeling of their stores…. Everyone in their ads looked like they were having so much fun, which was a novelty back then, and I especially loved it when they featured their own employees–i.e., “real people”–in their ads. It was such an aspirational brand. (Although, in retrospect, it was also so white! Where were all the people of color in their marketing during the time of the Cosby Show and Fresh Prince?)
Personally I wasn’t so attracted to the primary colors or very ’80s graphic prints of their apparel during some seasons, some of which haven’t aged so well; instead, I loved the later collections that featured sophisticated styling, layers, mixing of patterns, and an overall relaxed elegance of the clothing.
Years later, long after Esprit had lost its cool and was making a last-gasp effort to re-capture some of it, I spent quite a bit of time working for the company. The new owners sent me to San Francisco to work in their headquarters, which no longer featured the amazing Amish quilts that the founders, Doug and Susie Tompkins, had collected. In fact, by then the building was largely an empty shell, and I had my pick of desks and work spaces while the remaining on-site employees congregated in back corners. Still, it captured my imagination, and while I was there I tried to learn just as much about what it had been as I could.
I still have my Esprit branding book, which demonstrates just how well-thought out the brand was. It’s really quite impressive, even today. Some of the photos in today’s post were taken from it.
One thing I love about Esprit is how classic and timeless many of their styles were. Like this one, which I would happily wear today.
This was also about the time of the “thirtysomething” television show, which my mom and I watched regularly. The couples in the ads still remind me of Hope and Michael. Such amazing relaxed style!
Esprit was a master of pattern mixing and color, as demonstrated by this ad.
I mean, come on. They made it all look so natural and appealing.
I remember saving both of these ads because I loved the styling so much. I’d still wear these today!
And look, there were even Esprit sewing patterns! These still feel so relevant and inspirational, although the proportions may need a bit of tweaking and updating.
Maybe you had to live in that time to really appreciate the brand, but I still think of Esprit a lot. The clothes were classic with a twist, which is largely what I try to do with my own designs and wardrobe. I definitely count Esprit as one of my fashion inspirations.
- Girl with diabetes writes to apparel company, apparel company listens and creates her design. And invites her to model it. (No one ever wrote to me when I was an apparel designer! I’m envious.)
- French woman confront the cliche of French style vs. today’s real French woman.
- Speaking of France, I genuinely admire Sibeth Ndiaye, President Macron’s spokesperson, for her very personal style. She owns it, which is what personal style is all about.
- Excellent advice for building a sustainable wardrobe.
- Clothes made from algae? I’m here for it.
- Has the art world really, finally recognized weaving as an art form?
- Every time I wash my exercise clothes, I think about those microbeads and feel terrible. Turns out that there are solutions.
- Did you know that organic cotton saves a lot of water? I didn’t!
- Here is Spain, Queen Letizia’s designer repurposed a traditional shawl to make her a stunning pencil skirt and blouse with matching collar. Isn’t it gorgeous? I’m not going to do the same with the shawl my friend Whitney gave me. But I might look for one at El Rastro and see what I can manage….
What are you sewing this weekend? I’m working on some personal sewing that I’ll show you soon. I hope you’re making something that excites you!
I’ve still got that pattern (Butterick 6119) on the left from years ago – just checked as it looked familiar
I have used it as my go to button up blouse pattern for years. The pockets are interesting.
So do I. I cut out the skirt but never made it up. Still have it in my fabric stash. Definitely won’t fit now, but my 19 yr old daughter considered sewing it up. Did you make any of the garments?
Wow–what a wonderful flashback to my youth! Indeed, so aspirational back then. I remember shopping with such glee at the huge San Francisco outlet store a few times during my tween years. I think I still have a merino wool sweater from the late-80s/early-90s now in deep storage from one of their lines–I can’t remember the name of that brand now–that seemed a little more refined/dressier than the main Esprit de Corp line. Thanks, Liesl, for this trip down memory lane. I was just reminiscing last weekend with a fellow fashion-watching friend that our love of clothes started with Esprit. Did you have one of those white canvas totes, too?
I loved, loved, loved Esprit as a high schooler in the 80s. Like you, I wasn’t a big fan of their primary colors, but I fondly remember a black and white plaid oversized jacket of theirs that I wore for years and some cute cropped wide legged pants that would be trendy again today. Thanks for the memories!
I looooooved esprit! That’s an understatement. I am 3yrs younger than you and I had their ads and catalog pages all over my walls. I only just parted with two of their oversized catalogs a few months ago – it was difficult to do! I don’t think any other brand evoked the feelings that esprit created. Benetton was similar, but I liked esprit much better. I didn’t know enough about mixing with basics to extend a wardrobe (you know, middle school, high school…) so I always felt like I could only wear their matching ‘groups’ of clothes. Which is very expensive! Thank you for a trip to the land of warm fuzzies. If I get any sewing done this weekend it will be a nightgown in coral double gauze for my 15y.o.. 🙂
I still wear the softest French terry sweatshirt I bought many, many years ago! It’s my go-to comfort shirt! Every year I would take my 4 daughters to the outlet near Palm Springs and outfit them for school. Esprit had the best styles and fabrics, and a wonderful fit. Such fun memories!
My daughter had some Esprit garments in her teen years, and I thought she looked darling. My other Esprit memory was in 1992, when the Esprit Amish quilt collection traveled to the Laguna Beach Museum of Art. It did extremely well in visitorship. I was a docent for it of sorts; I actually docented the accompanying computer quilt design room that they ran with it. So I got to see the quilts many times. Truly works of art.
I even have a souvenir mug from the Esprit Amish Quilt exhibit at the Laguna Art Museum. I couldn’t figure out how to post it here. I tried.
Similar age and also very fond memories of Esprit, but I was more of a Benetton fan! Is it the fashion version of being either a Rolling Stones or a Beatles fan? 🙂
One of the odd things about Australia was that our culture (with the obvious exception of the very old and undervalued indigenous culture) was a mix of every other continent, so we had European Benetton AND Esprit in the same way we had British television and ALF!
And I have very strong memories of the United Colours of Benetton ad campaigns with their prominent use of models of all “colours”. People that I didn’t see around me in the bland monoculture I grew up in (our nation’s capital) It struck me at the time so my memory of that eras ad campaign is the opposite to yours. 🙂
I had forgotten that you worked for Esprit for a short time. How interesting! My absolute favorite shopping trip in Junior high and high school was to the Esprit outlet in San Francisco. I definitely found the advertisements and marketing aspirational. I would pin my favorite magazine ads on a cork board: OG Pinterest! I remember the quilts on the walls of the outlet. I actually had a hard time finding clothing that fit my curves, even though I was petite. But I would happily spend a few hours at the outlet trying to find a few chic pieces that I would wear over and over. I was so sad when it closed! I don’t remember the patterns strangely because I did my earliest sewing during that same era. Maybe they seemed too complicated for me and my self-taught-Mom who preferred the styles marked as “easy”? I think it would be fun to make a classic Esprit design now.
I didnt know you worked at ESPRIT- that was my dream company when i was in high school. I dreamed of moving to SF to work for them. I felt so cool when i wore my side zip stirrup pants- they were stretch corduroy(velvet?) with horizontal wales! I loved their clothes and had some of their patterns. Some of the most favorite things I made myself were with Esprit patterns: an oversized shirt that i made more than once and a black corduroy jacket, also oversized