The L.L. Bean boot has been popular for more than a century. It’s simple, rugged, versatile and, with a liner, warm.
But few have considered the leather-and-rubber creation a fashion statement.
That could be changing.
Jaime Barr, editor of footwear and accessories for WGSN, the world’s largest trend forecasting company, said cold-weather boots – especially L.L. Bean’s – are showing up at Fashion Week, a twice-annual event going on now in New York City.
“There are a lot of designers that are using the weather circumstances to make cold-weather items fashionable but also practical,” she said. “Fashion Week is all about fashion, but people still need to get around without breaking their legs.”
Even the godfather of women’s footwear, Manolo Blahnik, made note of Bean boots this week. According to a blog post on the website Fashionista, Blahnik – whose pricey slingbacks became a Holy Grail for metropolitan women, thanks in large part to the former HBO series “Sex and the City” – thinks the Maine-made boots are stylish.
Blahnik was asked how people can stay fashionable while walking in the snow and slush that has covered city streets throughout the Northeast. He responded by pointing to a man near him who was wearing Bean boots and said, “Honey, you wear this. This is chic.”
The fashion blogger pointed out that she was wearing the same boots.
Blahnik then told an associate: “Tell someone to go and get me one pair of L.L. Beans, because I cannot walk in the street.”
Interest in the boots has been growing for the past few years, said Mary Rose McKinnon, public relations manager for L.L. Bean.
Pictures of Bean boots have trended on social media sites such as Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest this winter. A tweet from Bon Appetit magazine this week featured a photo of eight employees wearing Bean boots, with the words: “It turns out our staff has a thing for @LLbean duck boots.”
“We don’t really chase trends, but they find us, and this is certainly one,” McKinnon said. “And to have (Blahnik’s) blessing, people should feel even better wearing them.”
Michelle Starin does. The 34-year-old Portland resident got her Bean boots four years ago for her birthday, when she was living in New York. She wore them only with certain outfits, but has begun wearing them almost every day since she moved to Maine recently.
“I like the way they look,” Starin said.
L.L. Bean isn’t the only designer or retailer seizing on the expanding market for winter shoes and boots. In the last decade, Ugg cornered a significant market with its fur-lined, short boots that were especially popular among teenage girls. Barr with WGSN said Burberry and Gucci, two high-profile companies not known for winter wear, also have begun making winter boots.
L.L. Bean also has begun treating its trademark footwear not just as reliable boots but as fun accessories.
The company’s founder and namesake, Leon Leonwood Bean, created the boot in 1912 to keep his feet warm and dry during hunting trips. That original shoe is still available, but now customers can get various linings and, more recently, different colors, including bright blue, pink, canvas and plaid. All told, there are 55 options, McKinnon said.
In 2008, 150,000 pairs of Bean boots were sold. That grew to nearly 400,000 in 2012.
“They seem to be the boot of choice in high schools and on college campuses,” McKinnon said.
Starin, who has the traditional, two-tone-brown laced boots, said she doesn’t understand all the varieties.
“I’ve seen a lot more people wearing them since I got mine four years ago,” she said. “Even in New York. I think they’re everywhere.”
Demand has been so strong, McKinnon said, that some styles are on back order for two months or more. All of the boots are made at L.L. Bean’s factories in Lewiston and Brunswick.
“Everything is still made by hand,” she said. “We tell people it’s worth the wait.”
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: