A move to offer a line of men’s and women’s wear with updated styling and a tighter fit appears to be paying off for L.L. Bean.

The L.L. Bean Signature collection debuted in the spring with more formal and expensive clothing, accessories and footwear than what’s found in the catalog giant’s traditional sportswear offerings. This week, the company revealed that the clothing line is already beating its revenue projections.

“As of the last couple of weeks, we’re above our sales target for the year,” said Don Oakes, L.L. Bean’s senior vice president of creative and the general manager of Signature. “We’ll end this year above our sales target. We’ll do a little better on our profit margin.”

As a privately held company, L.L. Bean does not share actual sales or revenue figures.

L.L. Bean brought in Alex Carleton, founder of the popular Portland-based Rogues Gallery men’s clothing line, to provide the Signature collection with a fashion-forward design vision that would appeal to a younger demographic while remaining true to the company’s tried and true preppy aesthetic.

Carleton worked as an L.L. Bean designer for three years before leaving to start Rogues Gallery in 2003. He has since done design work for high-profile brands including Ralph Lauren and Abercrombie & Fitch, and was among a group of Maine men featured recently in a Men’s Journal fashion spread.

“I really think about L.L. Bean history and iconography,” Carleton said of his design approach. “Women seem to be really responding to our dressier pieces, and pieces they wouldn’t have been able to find in the core line. In men’s wear, people are really excited by classic items re-envisioned with a new idea.”

Oakes said the 2010 spring line had some issues with the fit, and the returns were higher than projected. Bean tweaked the fit before introducing the fall line, and the percentage of returns dropped.

Some pieces have sold out of the fall collection, including a men’s lambswool sweater with a flying duck motif (featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal) and a women’s wool dress.

“One of the things we’re really excited about is these products have introduced L.L. Bean to new customers and to existing customers who didn’t look to L.L. Bean for dressier wear,” Oakes said.

Bean’s Signature team reviews customers’ comments on the Signature website and uses the information to improve future collections.

“I spend evenings reading customer feedback online,” said Carleton, who is working on the spring 2012 collection. “We never settle when it comes to fit and styling and fabrication.”

The Signature website includes a limited number of pieces from the spring 2011 line. The full collection will be available in February.

Not only is the Signature line inspired by the company’s core products, the new clothing collection is influencing L.L. Bean’s traditional products.

For example, when the Signature line offered chamois shirts for men and women, Oakes said, the company wasn’t surprised that the men’s version sold well but was surprised when the women’s version was a hit.

“We talked with our colleagues in the women’s department and they decided they would bring back the chamois shirt for women,” Oakes said, and it has been years since L.L. Bean offered a chamois shirt for women.

When sales took off for the Signature duck boot with a black upper, the company decided to introduce a black-on-black boot in its regular line.

“Signature has permission to push things a little further,” Oakes said. “The company can in turn take some inspiration from the inspiration the Signature collection has borrowed from the (L.L. Bean) archives.”

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

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