The book itself, titled “Guaranteed to Last L.L. Bean’s Century of Outfitting America” is artistically beautiful, boasting a canvas cover and stitching designed to mimic the company’s iconic boat and tote bag (Be sure to read the tote poem on p. 101).
Inside are hundreds of classic hunting and fishing pictures that depict L.L. Bean and his family and friends (Don’t miss the impressive haul of fish on page 95) in various outdoor adventures. I especially enjoyed the sections depicting and describing the L.L. Bean Corporation during its hunting and fishing heyday up till approximately the 1950s. This was obviously a time when the store was squarely centered on the specific needs of hunting and fishing enthusiasts.
As the years pass, we find that the classic pursuits of hunting and fishing, once the bread and butter of the L.L. Bean storefront become of lesser importance. Hunting and fishing are no longer the only games in town and must give way to a wide variety of outdoor pursuits including kayaking, backpacking, nature photography, ice/rock climbing, bungee jumping, paragliding, mountain biking, down hill skiing and advanced wine country tours. Society had evolved and L.L. Bean had to evolve as well to be able to maintain its bottom line.
To see this trend it is eye opening to look at the “Best Sellers 1962 vs 2012 on page 135. Note that almost all of the top sellers in the 1960s are purely focused on hunting. In 2012 almost every major seller has the word “Chino” in the description. Preppiness (p. 159) provides additional written details on this societal change and also pay special note to the comic on page 154 concerning “Bird-Shooting” pants, as I feel this very eloquently puts into perspective the shift that is grossly apparent in the American culture and climate.
Duck hunting enthusiasts will appreciate the brief write on George Soule (p. 53) and the photographs and description of the Maine Duck Hunting Coat (p. 76). It is amazing to see just how far waterfowl apparel has come in such a limited amount of time.
Maine Guides are provided a brief write up on page 83 and there are several quotes by L.L. Bean the Maine Guide (p. 29) including this one of mine that is now a favorite, “You may fish all day and not get a strike. Therefore, make up your mind to have a good time. Enjoy camp life and exercise in the open air and you will be well repaid for your trip.” As is certainly apparent, Mr. Bean understood that there is more to the sports of hunting and fishing then the taking of hair, fin and feather.
I enjoyed reading the “Going the Extra Mile” customer service stories (pg. 112-113). It is apparent that the L.L. Bean manufacturing machine has a vested interest in people and preserving our outdoor heritage. Near and dear to my heart is a full page quote that expressly centers on introducing kids to outdoor activities, “Kids who are exposed to outdoors activities will make outdoor escapes part of their life as they enter adulthood.” (P. 218)
The book closes with a few words from Chris McCormick that paint a picture on what we can expect to see from L.L. Bean during the next century and it is one we can all appreciate as outdoor enthusiasts, “one hundred years from now, our natural environment and the pleasure that comes from escapes to the outdoors will be no less important than they are today. L.L. Bean will continue to be there to help preserve and protect the precious places to escape, and will be there to inspire and enable successive generations to enjoy their outdoor experiences even as outdoor activities continue to evolve.” (p. 222)
Afterword: It is certainly no secret that I have had issue with the direction L.L. Bean has taken through the years in relation to their divergence from their roots in hunting and fishing and also my displeasure with their new signature series, however, after reading this book and being able to see specifically why they were “forced” to evolve, I am beginning to understand why they need to make certain concessions in order to not just survive but to grow and thrive. I will continue to be a valiant supporter of L.L. Bean and a certain selection of their products, however, that doesn’t mean I won’t give them a hard time when I see them doing something I don’t agree with . . . so please, please, please don’t make any more men’s pants with lil duckies on them or sweathers depicting polar bears having tickle fights!