Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Women We Love: Eileen Fisher

Eileen Fisher is no Betty Crocker*
*She's real

I don't wear Eileen Fisher clothes. I've tried— there is much about them to love— but I've never had the right bone structure or deep enough pockets. Who am I kidding? They scare me to death.

Besides what might happen if I actually eat something while wearing a silk charmeuse top in "ballet", I fear I am not woman enough for Eileen Fisher. I picture her clothes as being worn by the likes of Hillary or Martha Stewart— world leaders and serious movers-and-shakers. I suspect I would be hiding behind them, hoping such clothes will speak for me as my "head is full of cotton, hay and rags" (Henry Higgins via Lerner and Lowe). If you wear Eileen Fisher, you'd better know what you're talking about.

A thorough and thoughtful piece in the New Yorker of September 23, 2013, by Janet Malcom, profiles Eileen Fisher the woman, the brand and the business. I was right— the perception of the woman who wears her clothes is "women of a certain age and class— professors, educators, psychotherapists, lawyers, administrators— for whom the hiding of vanity is an inner necessity". Eileen, as it turns out, is not really like that. She's still on a journey of self discovery while her successful business revolves around her.

While not indispensable to the continuing growth of her brand, Eileen has the grace and wisdom to recognize what her business needs. And that's not necessarily her 24/7. She has a management style that encourages leaders who can lead from within (i.e. everyone is important) and commission-free store employees who nevertheless benefit from the company's success.

Pretty typical representation of Eileen Fisher

Eileen Fisher debuted a few pieces at a trade show in 1984. A Chicagoan transplanted to New York, she had worked not terribly successfully as an interior designer. The biggest stumbling blocks were not lack of talent but the inability to express her vision to clients. A professional (and later personal) connection with a Japanese graphic designer resulted in a trip to Japan where she was influenced by the simplicity and utility of the garments there— from those of the geishas to field workers. She was intrigued by the Japanese aesthetic, but it was some time before the pieces— literally— came together for her first mini collection.

Eileen could not sketch, pattern or sew but was able to explain what she wanted to an assistant. Her designs were not revolutionary. What made the difference was that she saw with an artist's eye. Long before J Crew ran off with the naming game, Eileen's color names were evocative. This fall we are seeing caper, peat, chicory, ash and raisonette along with the variations of black, white and grey that are the company's (and her own personal) favorites. The fabrics are real and not 100% made in China.

She makes it look effortless

I've spent a lifetime collecting (and discarding) without regret. As I write this I'm taking breaks from the semi-annual "closet switch". With no real certainty what the weather will bring here, it's still a ritual to tuck away what feels like summer. There may have been some less than successful outfits going into storage, but "I'll think about them tomorrow" (tomorrow being next April). It takes steely nerve to give away what hasn't made the cut for this winter. I wish I could wrap my head around a few beautiful garments swinging in the closet a la Eileen. Alas, I will use the only fashion equation that works for me: number of hangers divided by length of closet pole.


  1. I like the look of Eileen Fisher. it is now sold in London but is pretty pricey and is as bit drapey for me.

  2. Love your blog and follow it regularly. I am a fellow Houstonian and wonder if you can help me with the name of a good tailor. I have a gorgeous Chanel-esque jacket that I bought several years ago in Paris for way too much money and subsequently never wore. I think the jacket can be salvaged but needs some clever tailoring. Would be happy to give you more contact information for me. Thanks so much for any help!

    1. Thanks, Pam. I have had great success with Carol's Alterations on West Gray a few doors down from the TJ Maxx. They do an excellent job and are reasonably priced. Hope that helps.

    2. Thanks- Close to me so I will try them!

  3. I LOVE Eileen Fisher clothes and have several pieces that I wear often. They travel well and mix and match with just about everything. Yet, I am always given complements by complete strangers when I wear an entire E.F. outfit. I am a former educator, yet I cannot say I want to be "invisible." I am not a flashy dresser, but love the kimono jacket in lava red that came out this past season. I also love the Japanese esthetic as it suits my figure, or perhaps it is that I am a Chicagoan and have returned to my artist "roots" now that I have retired from teaching. I am not certain which of these attributes draws me to Eleen Fisher, but I am thankful a designer showed up that suits me so well. I do not find her clothing incredibly expensive. Actually, I find them reasonable and well into the affordable range. It is a wardrobe that is gradually built up as you cannot fling all a season's pieces in a cart and check out with the expectation that it will cost under 200.00. That is fast fashion.

    1. Sounds like Eileen Fisher suits you to a "T"! How lovely that you've found a look/designer/style that fits you so well. I may be too much of a gadfly, but I do think she puts out a great product and has such an interesting back story. Thanks for writing.

  4. It isn't just a woman of a "certain age" it is of a certain size! Oddly, EF, a very thin woman makes clothes that fit a round figure. Her clothes last forever, tho if you love clothes like you do and can buy normal sizes can see how its fun to have variety!