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2009 October 15

Bean is Back, Baby

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Ariel Foxman, Alex Carleton, Bruce Pask Ariel Foxman, Alex Carleton, Bruce Pask
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(NEW YORK) L.L. Bean is one of America's best-loved heritage brands, but few would argue that it was due for an update. Judging from the lively atmosphere (and great clothes) found at last night's relaunch party at a gallery space on East 36th, it appears that Bean is back and better than ever. The brand hired Alex Carleton, a Bean vet and beloved designer of Rogues Gallery, to oversee creative direction on its new Signature collection of menswear, accessories, and women's wear. "We wanted to create a collection that could span the ages," said Chris Vickers, vice president of L.L. Bean Heritage. "It's urban, as well as rural. There was a way to expand the dressing occasions by bridging that gap. Alex Carleton is really the perfect choice, because he fully understands the heritage and he really speaks to where we come from. He's able to pull the best out of that and extract a style."

"I moved to Maine 11 years ago, and shortly thereafter, I met the folks at L.L. Bean," Carlton explained as revelers crowded around in what amounted to a plaid-filled lovefest. "I started working there as an internal design consultant on different businesses. I left about 6 years ago to start my own business, and a year ago, Fran [Philip, Bean's chief merchandising operator] called me for lunch and said, let's do it! We're ready to identify this next generation of L.L. Bean customer, and we're continuing to write our history as we come upon our centennial in two years. The time is right to start this new concept! I went through the archives, did a lot of market analysis, and worked with the internal team to identify this customer who is an extension of the L.L. Bean brand. If anything, this is an evolution of the brand, not a revolution. This isn't a conceptual project, it's about moving the brand forward in a natural, organic way."

On that note, there were plenty of great new classics ranging from fitted buffalo plaid shirts to gamine dresses, seventies-style pleated jeans and boating shoes. Oversized canvas totes are an updated alternative to the brand's classic Boat Tote, and as guests discussed what Carleton's take on the classic Duck Boot would resemble, they indulged in Maine specialties like Geary's beer, lobster rolls, and oysters plucked from the Maine coast merely hours earlier. Cheekily, they were served with a shot of Belvedere vodka to visibly enthused guests like Eric Wilson, Ariel Foxman, Madeline Weeks, and even Anderson Cooper.

"I live with my dog, Ranger, in a two-story bungalow with a couple of fireplaces in Cape Elizabeth," said Carleton of his classic Maine lifestyle. "No television. It gets dark at 5 o'clock in the winter, so I spend a lot of time building fires and reading and getting into history and working on craft projects. I like to build furniture and do a bit of printmaking. My laundry room downstairs is a studio. I love to junk and collect stuff. I spend a lot of time outdoors with the dog. In the summer, I sail. In the winter, I go up to Sunday River and ski. I love being outdoors. And then I work! I have a lot of relationships in New York, so I return here often. It's a perfect combination of apple-picking one weekend and Lincoln Center, the next."

As for the vodka/Belvedere shooters? "That wasn't my idea," said the man of the hour before hitting up an after-party at the Ace Hotel. "That was collective consciousness."
ASHLEY BAKER




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