IN SEARCH OF L.L. BEAN by M.R. Montgomery


Email this review


Cranky reflections on L.L. Bean (1872-1967), the company image, and the Maine mystique: or, ""the triangle of Maine-Bean-[Eastern Establishment] Sport."" Montgomery developed these loosely linked, overlapping essays from a Sunday magazine article, and it's one of those cases where a likely idea turns into numerous variations on a single theme. From a chapter on Maine salmon, midway: ""A vice-president of L.L. Bean, Inc., recently remarked that even if the duck decoys in the catalog weren't paying their way, 'we have to keep them, we can't sell those ladies' dresses without them.' If duck decoys mean 'outdoors' to customers. . . it is salmon flies that mean outdoors to the upper classes of the Eastern megalopolis."" Early on, we hear how L.L. got his start, ca. 1912, with the rubber-bottom Maine Hunting Shoe, and thus launched the specialized direct-mail business (as against catalogue mail-order sales); but he didn't get his first customers from a list of hunting-license holders, says Montgomery, because such a list came into existence only in 1917--when ""Maine issued it's first hunting licenses--to nonresidents only."" I.e., Bean ""has never been a Maine business""; the whole rigamarole is hokum. As for L.L. himself: ""the boy who worked his way off the farm to the commercial academy wanted to be a sportsman, not a woodsman. . . In that he was like his customers--he was a sport at heart."" This is interesting only up to a point; then it becomes mere put-down. Montgomery, no admirer of the Maine Hunting Shoe, has a lengthy explication of is manufacture later on--showing the process to be archaic, distasteful, and unhealthful. There then follows a look at how the business has grown since L.L.'s death--combining marketing insights (and other in-house info) with additional swipes at the ""aw shucks"" pretenses. Actually, Montgomery is more understanding than often appears: behind the bosky quaintness, customers believe that ""Bean likes them."" (Who'd say that of Ralph Lauren?) Valid, irritating, and informing--in varying proportions.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1984
Publisher: Little, Brown