Maine as Fashion Muse
National clothing lines look to Maine for inspiration.
Fashion is nearly as fickle as the Maine weather, so we were surprised to learn that designers for national retail brands were in the state again this year, looking for inspiration for their clothing lines.
Last year, readers may recall J. Crew’s lead men’s designer, Frank Muytjens, created a menswear collection of weather-beaten (or so they appeared) jackets and two-tone jeans after visiting Winslow Homer’s Prouts Neck studio (“Winslow Homer Fashion Plate,” Down East, April 2011). And the year before, Tommy Hilfiger featured its models on the lobster buoy-decorated streets of Camden.
This year three big-name clothing brands came, saw, and sewed Maine-inspired clothing, though only one, the Gap, actually put the state’s name on a collection — a line of baby clothes that includes yellow slickers, gingham body suits, whale sweaters, and lobster onesies. The marketing teams at J. Crew and Levi’s took a different tack, playing up Maine as a well of creativity. J. Crew’s September catalog featured models posing on the rocky shore near Portland, while Levi’s published a Youtube video of the places its concept team visited — among them, Swans Island textile mill in Northport, which collaborated with the famous blue jean manufacturer on a line of blankets and scarves in 2011.
So how is it that a state whose biggest city made Travel & Leisure’s Worst Dressed List this year continues to attract the nation’s leading fashion makers? “Maine represents authenticity and craftsmanship,” offers Emma Grady, a New York-based fashion writer and editor specializing in classic and timeless fashion and the founder of the style Web site, PastFashionFuture.com. “I find that brands, especially the major ones, need to create a story behind the inspiration for each collection because it’s marketable and it relates well to the consumer. Maine, because of its beautiful coastline, is a good source for that.”
Grady, who grew up in Kennebunkport, suggests that the national brands also are tapping into a retail reputation established by Maine companies like L.L.Bean. “These are companies that are known for caring about the consumer and about the environment,” she says. “They create durable goods you can have for your lifetime.”
And while fashion designers’ fascination with Maine is likely to wax and wane, it will never disappear, Grady believes. “Maine has a charm that has always inspired artists as well as designers,” she says. “As long as Maine represents authenticity and quality, it will endure.” —Virginia M. Wright
Photograph by Jennifer Anderson