American Eagle had no idea the boon it had coming when Outer Banks arrived on Netflix in the summer of 2020. With its young, sunburned cast draped in muscle tanks, cropped camis, board shorts, and tattered denim as they sought treasure and true love along the North Carolina shore, the show epitomized the kind of beach-bum glow that’s long been a staple of AE’s spring and summer collections. Add in the serendipitous fact that all the real-life teens were locked indoors during a pandemic, longing for even a glimmer of that hazy summer laissez faire, and, well, the retailer was clever to catch on. Soon, American Eagle had claimed two of the show’s stars, Chase Stokes and Madison Bailey, as brand ambassadors. Now, for its spring 2022 campaign—and as Outer Banks gears up for another season—the brand added a third: actress Madelyn Cline.
Cline admits she was influenced by her co-stars’ involvement in prior American Eagle campaigns, some of which were filmed with the Outer Banks cast on-set in Charleston, South Carolina. But the partnership would have felt organic regardless: She’s been an AE denim wearer for most of the past decade. “I would always go to the mall with my friends, and we would always, always, always make a stop at American Eagle,” she says. “And I remember walking into the stores and seeing the campaign videos playing. I remember seeing the models. I remember looking at them and thinking how cool they were. I would see one piece in particular that they were wearing, and I would go on a mission throughout the store to find that one thing. If I put that on, I felt just as cool as the person in the video or the picture I was looking at.”
The brand has capitalized on that feeling with a slate of familiar but aspirational faces for its latest campaign, called “Members Always,” which features not only Cline but Never Have I Ever star Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, tennis wunderkind Coco Gauff, actor and musician Joshua Bassett, All American actor Michael Evans Behling, and musician mxmtoon. Sprinting past immaculately trimmed hedges on the bougie tennis-resort set, dressed in peasant blouses and bouncy white linen skirts, Cline radiates Gen-Z vitality, perhaps even more so than on the show that made her famous. Some of that likely has to do with the character she’s playing (herself) and the clothes she’s wearing: Her personal style isn’t much at all like her OBX character, Sarah Cameron, Cline says. Where Sarah favors tight-fitting bralettes, preppy pastel tops, and tie-waist denim, Cline often leans into looser, ’90s-inspired fits. (She cites the Hadid sisters as particular inspirations.)
“In the past two seasons, there’s not a lot from Sarah’s wardrobe that I would wear personally,” Cline says. “So, it is interesting. I do think Sarah’s style is so specific.” And it helps her get into character. “Sarah’s style gives me a bit more insight into her,” she adds.
Although Cline herself looks most at home in the baggy mom jeans of the new AE collection, there are myriad denim options to choose from, including festival-ready flares and low-rise skater bottoms. The spring ’22 set is characterized both by versatility—many of the items come in a range of single colors or simple, recognizable patterns like gingham or camouflage—and ease. Shoppers won’t find much here that colors outside the lines, but at least that makes finding staple pieces practically effortless; the square-neck tanks, frayed shorts, and oversized button-up “beach shirts” are sure to fill the vacation Instagrams of teens across the country this summer. Especially when Outer Banks is back on their screens.
As for Cline, she’s currently soaking in the Barbados sun, where she’s filming OBX season 3. And she promises, despite what you might have heard following her break-up with Stokes, that she has every intention to see Sarah’s story through. “Look, I love this job so much, and I will come back for as many seasons as they will have me,” she says. “I love my cast; I love this crew. And I love shooting the show. There’s absolutely nothing that could change my mind about that. I know rumors happen. But I saw that [people thought I didn’t want to come back], and I just really genuinely wanted to address it. Because it couldn’t be further from the truth.”
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