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Her ads feature striking women of a certain age, their silver hair flowing off their shoulders in the same way the loose trousers and cardigans flow off their bodies. Eileen Fisher’s consistent design mantra has attracted her a strong and devoted following among wealthy, middle-aged women and supported her success. Her eponymous clothing line earns profits even as other designers suffer 20 percent declines. So why change now?

Because even Eileen Fisher wants a portion of the youth market. For fashion-conscious shoppers, vested in the idea of body-hugging, revealing, and sexy images, the kimono-inspired shapes and flowing lines of Eileen Fisher clothing have little appeal. Therefore, the latest offerings include tighter tanks, close-knit leggings, and shortened cardigans. And that silver-maned woman on the beach in the old advertisements has been replaced by a naïf worthy of the catwalk.

Many of the changes in the line and marketing materials came from IDEO, the design firm that Eileen Fisher hired for $500,000 to update the brand last year. In the past, Fisher’s clothes have not changed significantly from year to year—which may have been one of the factors that attracted consumers. They knew what they would get, and they rewarded this mitigation of their risk by demanding her line in Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, and Saks, as well as supporting the opening of 7 new Eileen Fisher storefronts, increasing the total to 49.

Or perhaps the clothing designer isn’t really pursuing a new market at all. If 50 is the new 30, then women feel younger than their chronological age and may not want to look middle-aged in their clothing choices. The move away from a “dowdy” image may be the best bet for retaining existing customers, not just attracting new ones.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think Eileen Fisher decided to change its image? 
  2. Why did Eileen Fisher hire an outside consultant to “tweak” the brand rather than doing it all in-house?

Ruth La Ferla, “Eileen Fisher’s Shifting Silhouette,” The New York Time, October 9, 2009.