ACL knocks another one out of the park with his selection of ball caps from the Cooperstown Collection. You can bet I will proudly sport these puppies at Citi Field this June when my beloved Cardinals come to town.
Daily Archives: March 19, 2009
Special thanks to Boots on the Fly, this clip from Bill Green’s Maine featured on Portland’s WCSH Channel 6 features the factory, Ruth Porter and the archive, and several of the employees featured in our post on the factory.
Ruth Porter is a Mainer. Slow-talking, droll, she’d scoot as she walked to the hermetically sealed door. She turned to Foster and I, grinned slightly, and rolled her eyes at the sight of two grown men, ebullient at what awaited us inside Art & Archives.
Bean Boot with Kilty
“Sure go ahead,” she said, unfazed, as we hesitated to touch anything. Mrs. Porter opened her home at the archives of L.L. Bean, and every clichéd childlike metaphor I could apply wouldn’t do justice to how we felt. Giddy, standing outside her “candy shop,” Mrs. Porter gave Foster Huntington and I full access to their archive. The amber color of the low wattage fluorescent lighting took some getting used to, as did the knobby cotton gloves. At one point, a glib Mrs. Porter remarked, “Yeah, the Minnie Mouse jokes are never-ending with the guys in design.”
An early version of the Rubber Moc, I love the elegance of the wingtip toe.
Mrs. Porter is a student of history, and the history of L.L. Bean is illustrious, as she was easily able to demonstrate. Roughly ten to twelve heavy aluminum shelves were set on rollers. Each shelf was jam-packed with close to a hundred year’s worth of everything from matchbooks to oil paintings, rods and reels to the earliest iteration of the hunting jacket. Mrs. Porter had a story for all of them. A menswear designer’s dream of an inspiration room, I was ready to pull out the Therm-a-Rest and set up camp.
These boots were petrified. The sole looked like it’d been dipped in heavily leaded cherry red paint.
The signature chain link only made it to the heel on the old Moc. Note the incredible wear on the toes.
A new arrival to the archive, this donation included a note that claimed L.L. Bean once wore these moccasins. Foster was quick to point out some dried blood around the back of the left boot cuff. After finishing her research, when Mrs. Porter sends word, I will provide the full history for this beautiful boot.
All images (c) 2009 Foster Huntington.
Leaving the factory in Brunswick, Foster and I agreed, we could’ve stayed there all day. It was awe-inspiring, but in order to get a fuller picture of Bean, I wanted to sit down with a few of the folks who make the big decisions. Production Manager, Anne Smith, and head of Design, Jim Hauptman were gracious enough to show us around Footwear and Design.
As L.L. Bean expands their retail emporium – they’ve currently established brick & mortar stores in ten states – it has become of increasing importance that they simplify wherever possible. Prior to Mr. Hauptman’s appointment, the men’s, women’s, and kid’s design departments didn’t share anything. Since coming on, he has encouraged the obvious: communication. Keeping an idea board cluttered with post-it notes and nurturing team members to share cost, and time-saving ideas, Mr. Hauptman, one-time ad executive, is cleaning up the process one step at a time. If you’ve read Chairman of the Board, Leon Gorman’s book, L.L. Bean: The Making of an American Icon, you know all too well, the challenges he faced in streamlining the operations once taking the reigns from company founder and namesake, Leon Leonwood Bean. Mr. Hauptman is, like with most things at this company, carrying on the tradition. As we left his office, beginning a tradition of our own, Foster and I conferred, again, “That guy is being groomed to run the company someday.”
In meeting with Anne Smith, as anticipated, we were shown a bunch of cool, new products Bean will be offering coming Fall ’09 and Spring ’10, and we were shown several updated styles (a waxwear version, one lined with the Norwegian sweater, a classic Bean Scotch plaid, etc.) of Bean Boot – yes, that Bean Boot, the iconic one – that’d been dropped from the assortment for one reason or another, and we were told we weren’t allowed to take photos. As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke….
That said, she did bring to my attention a boot they currently offer. The Katahdin, a rugged work boot is produced by Chippewa. It’s made in my home state of Missouri, in a small southwestern town called Carthage.
Both Anne and Jim reiterated the point that L.L. Bean has built itself around staples. Their styles don’t change very often, and when they do – as with the switch from vulcanized rubber to the injection-molded rubber for the Bean Boots – it is well-researched, done as seamlessly as possible, and you better believe it is for a good reason. The customer, as they’re currently experiencing, will come back.
The customer returns time and again, because L.L. Bean offers such quality across the board: quality products, quality guarantees on everything they sell, and quality customer service [have you ever called L.L. Bean? Try it: 1 (800) 441-5713, the nice person on the end of the line will be from one of their four call centers in Maine, and they’ll answer promptly].
What will happen to the look and feel of L.L. Bean as they continue to expand? Mr. Bean insisted the company, its catalogue, and all accompanying materials have the look and feel of something from a family-owned general store. Their model has been successful for nearly a century, may it be successful for centuries more.
Stay tuned, as Foster and I head over to Art & Archives where Ruth Porter was kind enough to show us around her treasure trove.
Also, check out Foster’s photos of our visit to HQ.