Sneak peek: L.L.Bean shows new Signature line

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LEWISTON — In under two minutes, she’d picked up a big, boxy leather bag with a rope handle and slung it over her shoulder. Moved on to a red canvas purse and tried its zippers. Held a white and blue cotton wrap skirt to her waist and marveled at the pocket.

“We are loving it,” said Lisa Hartung, a Bates College senior from Farmington. “It’s more stylish, more fitted clothing, which is better for women our age.”

“It” was the new L.L.Bean Signature clothing line, debuted for Bates students at Willy Beans Bistro & Cafe on Wednesday, five days before the rest of the world sees it.

The Signature line doesn’t go out to the public at large until Monday, when it will be sold online, by catalog and at an L.L.Bean store outside Washington, D.C.

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“We’ve never had a college trunk show like this,” Chris Vickers, L.L.Bean vice president in charge of the line, said in a phone interview earlier in the day. “We’re planning to do this at six colleges, but this is the first one.”

Another tactic it’s trying: student models serving as brand ambassadors.

Charlie Carey, a first-year economics and art history major at Bates, and friend Charlie Hale at Hobart College in upstate New York reached out to L.L.Bean with the idea after hearing about the new line. Carey said they liked the concept — fitted clothes aimed at a younger market — and pitched promoting the Signature line on campus in a casual way.

Carey and Hale are not employees and they don’t get paid, but they do get free products and they have L.L.Bean’s ear for feedback.

“I’ve had them for two weeks and 30 people have come up to me and asked, ‘Where did those shoes come from?’” Carey said, pointing to ankle-high boat shoes called the Ranger Moc.

Harvard University and the University of Vermont are getting male and female ambassadors, whom the two Charlies are picking for style and networking skills.

“Style is something that’s really interesting,” Carey said. “I follow people like (Signature line designer) Alex (Carleton). It’s a really good learning experience.”

Carey’s company, Tremor Effect, co-sponsored the event.

Nicolette Whitney, a sophomore sociology major at Bates, said Carey asked her about being his counterpart on campus. She writes a fashion column in the student newspaper.

Whitney said she doesn’t intend to be a billboard; she’ll wear the clothes naturally, as they fit into her wardrobe. The brand’s traditional big and baggy fit hadn’t worked for her in the past, she said.

“There’s definitely more of a sexiness to it,” Whitney said. “I think in the past a lot of (companies) have missed out on students. We’re going to go out in the world and try some things out — why not appeal to us?”

At Willy Beans on Lincoln Street, students filtered in and out of the café, checking out racks with samples and a table with bags, jewelry, wedge sandals and round-toed heels. Vickers said the first Signature line has almost 200 pieces for men and women and prices from $19.50 to the low $200s. No one outside of staff had seen the full catalog until Wednesday.

“We’re as interested to share with them what we’re doing as we’re interested in hearing what they have to say,” Vickers said, adding that the company is working on the spring 2011 collection. “We can change any messaging, promoting one product differently based on what people say.”

Anne Cravero, a first-year Bates student from New Hampshire, said she liked what she saw.

“I miss the rugged style of L.L.Bean,” she said. “Then again, I’d wear these clothes more than I would (the others). It’s very J.Crew, Ralph Lauren. Depending on how it’s priced, I would choose L.L.Bean.”

kskelton@sunjournal.com

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