Hello from Peaks Island, Me., where I’m spending this weekend in the company of only cats, chickens and the ocean. This week marks the publication of my first cover story for Portland Magazine; the subject is Maine’s ten most intriguing people, and I covered L.L. Bean and Rogues Gallery designer Alex Carleton, NASCAR driver Katie Hagar, Portland Ballet star Arianna Lawson, local singer/songwriter Emilia Dahlin, and Iraqi-born art sensation Ahmed Alsoudani, who went from showing up at MECA in Portland knowing almost no English to selling his paintings for hundreds of thousands of dollars each.
Over the next week I’ll be posting the five profiles here on Beautiful Buzz. Here’s my piece on Alex Carleton – stay tuned for the rest.
Alex Carleton: “Game Changer”
By Adam Perry for Portland Magazine
“I’m not looking to revolutionize L.L. Bean,” says designer Alex Carleton, 41, “but it’s interesting to consider how it can evolve. We’re reshaping and reforming classics like The Blue Rock Sweater, The Bean Boot, The Norwegian, The Field Coat…I love the challenge; it’s highly personal. This job was made for me.”
So is life in Maine. After working in Manhattan for Ralph Lauren and Abercrombie & Fitch, Carleton moved here twelve years ago. Beyond pumping up his trend-setting Rogues Gallery line, he also serves as creative director of L.L. Bean’s new youth-centric Signature Series.
Not that Manhattan doesn’t come calling. According to GQ, after signing him to design their “beautifully beaten-down,” snuggly-yet-still-iconoclastic T-shirt line, J. Crew “sent its fit blocks up to Portland just to make sure” Carleton approved of the garments’ edgy dimensions.
Now that’s more like it, Yankees fans!
“I moved here because it felt like the New England I was familiar with as a kid. In New York, I spent most of my time getting out of the city,” he says. Not that everybody ‘gets’ his ‘woodsy’ presence up here.
“People [who call or text me] think I’m constantly out hiking, sailing, or camping. You actually have to work harder here than anywhere else. I can’t just hop in a cab to JFK if I’m going to Paris or need to meet a fabric vendor in Mid-town. Living here means I need to worry about firewood, snow tires, storm windows, and my dog getting quilled by porcupines. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
He even gets amusement from the parade of urban fashion denizens rubbing up against his outdoorsy world here. “I once hosted a certain editor from the Vogue family at my [oceanfront] home [on Smugglers Cove Road] in Cape Elizabeth. There was a minor ‘footwear challenge’ when we went to take my dog out for a run in the woods. On another work-related winter visit, my heater died, pipes froze, and I ended up conducting a production meeting with folks from overseas huddled in front of the fireplace, sipping Earl Grey tea to keep our hands warm.”
Not that his fellow New Englanders have let him off the hook: “The hunting jackets look more appropriate for hunting down a good bottle of prosecco in Back Bay than tracking moose,” wrote the Boston Globe while covering the release party for the new line. “Oh, look over there, it’s Anderson Cooper.” [For our eyewitness coverage, visit Online Extras at portlandmagazine.com.]
Ever the tastemaker, Carlton is thoughtful on Portland’s animadversions about itself: “Portland is ironically a much easier sell to people who are from away from here than people who are here. Especially in Europe and Asia, there’s a lot of romance around the idea of what Maine represents and what it is. People think when you live in Maine you’re enveloped in Christina’s World. You’re living this idyllic lifestyle where you fell trees and build log cabins and sail on wooden boats and eat blueberry pancakes.”
Maple syrup aside, you can find this affable neighbor enjoying lobster at Street and Company, sitting at the bar at Fore Street, and chowing down on his favorite burger at Caiola’s. “It’s basically my Cheers–everyone knows my name.”