Lands' End, LL Bean Betting Slim Silhouettes Will Fatten Profits

Last Updated Jan 7, 2010 11:01 AM EST

Lands End vestLands' End has been around for over 45 years, operating independently until 2002 when they were drawn into the Sears/Kmart family. Famous for (ahem) sensible clothing for both men and women and their seemingly indestructible luggage, you wouldn't expect Lands' End to set the hearts of young fashionistas aflutter with the anticipation of a new spring collection.

Until now.

"Love my 'boyfriend cardigans'! Plus, the bag is awesome!!" crows just one of the 2909 (and counting) Facebook fans of Canvas 1963, a new Lands' End line that made its debut in November. Others are equally enthusiastic, touting the cuts, fabrics, and the old-fashioned courtesy of hand-written notes included in the shipments.

Though company spokeswoman, Michele Caspar, would not reveal sales figures, she does say that the reinvention is cause for optimism. "We are very excited about the collection and its potential," Caspar writes in an email to BNET.

In an era where everything moves at the speed of a tweet -- roughly 140 characters a minute -- brand loyalty is often hard to capture and equally difficult to maintain. Tradition is nice, but doesn't always inspire new customers. So venerable brands such as Lands' End have kept their old stand-bys for one set, while reinventing themselves for another.

Models for the Canvas 1963 line sport low-slung khakis and fitted plaid shirts, bold accessories and skinny jeans. The attractive (and young) men and women strolling across their Web pages in flip-flops have the same casual/preppy chic that J. Crew has successfully cultivated over the past two decades. They've even adopted some of the same terms, such as "matchstick," a slim fit J. Crew carries in denim and twill.

Ninety-eight-year old LL Bean is up next. Lead designer Alex Carleton, who has worked with Ralph Lauren and Abercrombie & Fitch, is set to deliver a "Signature" line in March, in hopes that a mix of madras shirtwaist dresses and narrow-waisted buffalo plaid shirts will resonate with the younger consumer.

But will it be enough to reinvigorate sales? The problem with trends is just that -- they're trendy. The fashion-minded are often fickle, as Ray Smith reported in the WSJ, and their passion for Americana is becoming passé.

As for J. Crew, they may have a tougher time convincing their customers to buy in the coming months. Their twist on the traditional for spring is an odd mix of revamped golden oldies such as Sperry Top-siders -- literally crafted in gold leather -- alongside ripstop cargo pants and elastic-gathered ankles for women. Cargo pockets and cinched ankles are unflattering on a range of body-types, and last I checked, the Sperry craze had come and gone a couple of years ago with the younger set. In fashion time, that is still too "out" to be back "in."