|Eileen Fisher is no Betty Crocker*|
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.