Maggie Rizer L.L.Bean madras top

Maggie Rizer wearing the new L.L. Bean Signature collection. Photo courtesy of L.L. Bean

In defiance of a certain adage about old dogs, L.L. Bean just debuted a sleek new sportswear collection.

L.L. Bean Signature joins the fold in time for the company's 100th anniversary.

This men's and women's clothing line reworks longstanding favorites, introducing a trimmer, more polished look. The collection is available online and through a dedicated catalog, both launched March 15.

"It's an evolution, not a revolution," creative director Alex Carleton tells StyleList. "There's no outrageous idea... Part of the concept was to cherry-pick from [L.L. Bean's] history, pull things forward, and replicate things that have relevance for today."

Carleton shaped the Signature project from its first moments on the drafting board. (He's also the man behind the hip-historic Rogues Gallery clothing line.)

While developing Signature, he dove into L.L. Bean's archives, tracing the spirals of the company's DNA.

For the new line, Carleton took a three-pronged approach: A large part of the Signature collection tweaks and updates historic L.L. Bean items. Other pieces, flagged as "archive items," closely replicate vintage clothing. A third segment of the line is purely modern, following L.L. Bean in spirit but introducing new fabrics and styles.

The upshot: For spring 2010, you'll see many familiar pieces with a fresh, subtly updated, and refined look.

For instance, the Boat & Tote Bag reappears in a salt-washed, slouchy canvas. Jacket styles from the 1940s resurface in a light cotton twill, with a closer fit.

Madras patterns now crop up on shirtdresses and a lean tunic -- no more raiding the men's section for a summery plaid. If you want to channel Cybill Shepherd in "The Last Picture Show," now's your chance.

While there are still some rugged, outdoorsy choices, most items are more tailored than what you'll find in the main L.L. Bean line. Many looks would be more at home in an office than at a campsite.

Carleton praises his team's careful attention to detail and materials. "We have introduced some lighter weights and finer fabrications," he says, "like the natural shell buttons, the wooden trims on a chunky cotton sweater, the new types of yarns we're using, like a cotton/cashmere blend. We've become broader in our lexicon."

He also found inspiration in his own life, outside the archives. For instance, Carleton bought a boat and discovered that someone had left behind "a wool, shawl-neck marine-supply sweater... so we took that wool sweater and said, 'Let's do it in cotton.'"

L.L. Bean Signature Men's button-down

We'll take three! Photo courtesy of L.L. Bean

The team developed a chunky cotton yarn to mimic the look of the original but with a lighter weight.

Because of the slimmer new cuts, customers should check their measurements and the size chart before ordering; each item has a fit specific to its style. (One thing that hasn't changed a whit: L.L. Bean's ironclad customer-satisfaction policy.)

Carleton promises more changes ahead for the Signature collection. "I'm really excited for the upcoming seasons because we get more and more diversity," he reveals to StyleList.

"We're looking at sateen cottons and finer twills, a crisper canvas. We're working with vendors to replicate some antique fabrics."

And how do things feel at the Maine home office? Carleton confesses, "It's like Christmas!"


Read how another classic, Ann Taylor, has also reinvented its look.