Meet Alex Carleton, L.L. Bean Signature Creative Director
Born and raised in New England, Alex Carleton's biography is as much about history as it is about design. His interest in early Americana led him to work in antique restoration and interior design, which led to a career in merchandising and fashion design.
After working for Polo Ralph Lauren and Abercrombie & Fitch in New York, Alex traded the crowds of Manhattan for the rocky coast of southern Maine. He found a position as a senior designer at L.L.Bean and spent nights developing pieces that would become his own business, Rogues Gallery. In 2003 Alex left L.L.Bean to focus on Rogues Gallery full-time.
Known for its juxtapositions of historical images and recycled fabrics, Rogues Gallery has evolved from a small line of garment-dyed tees and bags to an award-winning collection of shirts, sweaters, outerwear, shoes and accessories. It's sold in boutiques around the world, but its dedicated retail store is on a cobblestone street in the Old Port section of Portland, Maine. In 2009 Alex was named a GQ/CFDA "Best New Menswear Designer" finalist.
Before launching Rogues Gallery, what was your role at L.L.Bean?
I worked as an internal design consultant, doing a bit of everything - merchandising, working on special projects for creative presentations, product development and design. From there I became a designer for kids' apparel, and then I became a senior designer in the men's department.
Why was it important to you to work with L.L.Bean again?
When I was presented with the chance to be the Creative Director of L.L.Bean Signature, I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. L.L.Bean is an original American brand that's always inspired me. It's close to my heart. I wanted to help write the next page of its history.
So there's always been a pair of Bean boots in your closet.
Oh, yes. I spent my childhood on Cape Cod, and my family was active in the outdoors, from boating to the beach to the woods. My back-to-school wardrobe consisted of L.L.Bean things: backpacks, chinos, plaid shirts, those boots.
What sets L.L.Bean Signature apart from other new lines developed by existing brands?
The authenticity of L.L.Bean's heritage. We have a unique methodology of juxtaposing L.L.Bean's history - which goes back almost 100 years -- with modern design ideas. And, of course, quality. Like all L.L.Bean products, L.L.Bean Signature combines style with quality and value. It's built to last.
How did the L.L.Bean archives influence the design process?
The archives are like a time capsule of New England style, and that's really what provides the flavor of L.L.Bean Signature. Exploring the archives is incredible - this is history made tangible. We're inspired by all of it, not just clothes: there are photos from L.L.'s fishing trips, his journals, old catalog art. It illustrates the building of L.L.Bean, and it allows us to work in a very authentic way. We're not designing in a vacuum.
When we started thinking about L.L.Bean Signature pieces we looked for archive items that seemed especially relevant today. Our initial approach was to reinterpret those items - putting new twists on vintage ideas. From there it grew into creating brand-new products, but we're always using the archives for inspiration, even when we're making things that are new.
Who do you imagine wearing L.L.Bean Signature?
These pieces are rooted in classic American sportswear, and can be interpreted in many ways. There are great basics, plus unique items that work in a broad range of closets. So I think it's for people who lead versatile lifestyles. It's not just town, it's not just country. It can be both.
Any final thoughts about the evolution of L.L.Bean's legacy?
It's an honor to be part of this, and I couldn't do it without the amazing team that's as connected and committed to the L.L.Bean mission as I am. We're really excited about L.L.Bean Signature's future.