Designer vows hip tweak on Bean look

L.L. Bean, renowned for its hunting and fishing gear as well as its Freeport, Maine, flagship store, plans an upscale clothing line. L.L. Bean, renowned for its hunting and fishing gear as well as its Freeport, Maine, flagship store, plans an upscale clothing line. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)
By David Sharp
Associated Press / August 21, 2009

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FREEPORT, Maine - L.L. Bean will use a designer who once worked for Abercrombie & Fitch and Ralph Lauren and later founded the Rogues Gallery line of urban chic clothing to create a new signature line of clothing. Hunters and fishermen need not panic, however, because no one’s abandoning Leon Leonwood Bean’s outdoors roots.

Alex Carleton will take L.L. Bean’s classic style elements and give them a modern look that’s meant to be slimmer, hipper, and more urban but not a radical departure from L.L. Bean’s traditional tartan plaid shirts, thick sweaters, and rubber-soled hunting boots.

“He’s grounded in the fashion and design world, as well as L.L. Bean. The combination of talent and experience will give the updated style that people are looking for,’’ said Chris Vickers, vice president of L.L. Bean Signature.

L.L. Bean, the Maine-based clothing and outdoor-goods retailer, has weathered the recession better than some peers like Eddie Bauer, which filed for bankruptcy protection in June. Even so, its annual revenue dropped last year for only the third time since 1960, and the company laid off 150 workers last spring.

The goal of the new clothing line is to reach out to new customers while serving existing L.L. Bean customers who are looking for something different, Vickers said.

Candace Corlett, president of the consulting firm WSL Strategic Retail, said L.L. Bean is smart to expand its offerings. Her firm’s surveys indicate 80 percent of shoppers are willing to spend, but only for something new. They don’t want more of what’s already in the closet.

A decade ago, L.L. Bean made a similar attempt to branch out with its Freeport Studio line of stylish clothes for professional women. Within three years, it had faded away.

This time, things will be different because the L.L. Bean Signature line won’t be an entirely new brand, spokeswoman Carolyn Beem said. Also, Carleton has worked for L.L. Bean for the past six years, and he understands the brand’s hunting and fishing roots and its traditional customer base, she said.

The new line will be more expensive than Bean’s traditional clothing, with a basic T-shirt costing about $30, compared to $19.50 for T-shirts from L.L. Bean’s regular line, for example.

It will be launched in March with offerings that include madras shirts, navy linen blazers, and shawl-neck sweaters for men, and madras shirtdresses, wrap skirts, and new chino and denim styles for women.