Saturday, May 29, 2010

What were you thinking, Eileen Fisher?

I remember reading in the press about the "updating" of the Eileen Fisher line of clothing. The New York Times gave the story a lot of space. It seems that the company determined that a freshening of the brand was necessary, that attracting a younger customer was necessary, that the clothing needed to reflect a hipper outlook.

I cringed when I read all this, able to imagine only too well what was going on inside corporate headquarters, as the sound of the story was one I have heard played out at company after company. I'm sure that Eileen Fisher hit the wall with the Great Recession, that their core group of affluent boomer women customers realized they could stop spending money on clothing and be just fine. When Nora Ephron described the brand publicly as one for women who had given up, it must have really hurt to hear that. And so, rather than merely coping and staying true to their brand, the company started flailing and reaching for new directions.

I had always been an admirer of the brand, even though I was only an occasional customer, as it was a brand with a very clear purpose, outlook, and promise: to provide mature women with a simple, pure, unadorned, modern wardrobe system in high quality fabrics. While I have found many of the clothes to be much too shapeless for my liking, I have understood the great appeal, and have, indeed, found pieces which have become indispensable to my wardrobe. I had never been that Zen woman on the beach in the advertising, but her sense of freedom and confidence really spoke to me

And now, look what they have done. Now, the assortment is a confusing mix of the old shapeless plus the new braless. Yes, braless. Summer tank dresses meant for willowy figures, flouncy silhouettes bowing to trends, jumping and scowling models marching to everyone else's beat - these are definitely not for the EF core customer. Nor is the company exhibiting the need stated by Ms. Fisher herself, to be modern and relevant. Instead, as with so many other brands, the company is just not getting it!

Some of us over 50 have gained weight and lost our waists entirely. Some of us have not, but know that the tighter fashions our daughters are wearing are all wrong for us. Some of us have changed from wearing size 34B bras to feeling like a new size should be invented called 34Long! But I am comfortable saying that all of us want to be treated as if our needs are understood. It is sad to watch this brand, this woman, this icon lose touch. Perhaps there actually is room in the world of business for 50/50...

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