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A classic gets an update

Eileen Fisher reimagines her clothing line while thinking locally and globally

Clothing designer Eileen Fisher, 59, sometimes wears the same clothes as her 17-year-old daughter, Sasha. Clothing designer Eileen Fisher, 59, sometimes wears the same clothes as her 17-year-old daughter, Sasha.
By Christine Liu
April 8, 2010

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The sumptuous fabrics and fluid lines of the Eileen Fisher collection are unmistakable. Draping women with easy, casual elegance since 1984, Eileen Fisher currently has her signature on 51 stores (six of which are in New England). Recently, with the help of design consultancy firm IDEO, the brand repositioned itself with a more modern direction, a restyling that gave the collection a much-needed breath of intergenerational appeal. The 59-year-old Fisher, who resides in Irvington, N.Y., will be at the Chestnut Hill Mall Saturday, talking about her design and business philosophies. We caught up with her recently to chat about her new collection, the hipness of gray hair, and occasionally wearing the same clothes as her daughter, Sasha.

Q. What’s been the response to the rejuvenated image of Eileen Fisher?

A. It’s been interesting because, really, the essence of our clothing isn’t so different. What’s actually different is the way we’re showing these pieces that we see as timeless can be put together in ways that are really modern. I always talk about my 17-year-old daughter. We went to the company holiday party and we both wanted to wear the same dress. I’m almost 60 years old; that’s really funny. Sometimes we find ourselves wearing the same scarf and leggings (laughs). There’s mixing of wisdom in the company with fresh ideas. We have a lot of history. We understand the versatility of simplicity. We understand the kind of styling that really works, things you want to wear every day. Young people want to be more trendy, so we try to find a balance to which pieces belong to the moment, but we know from history what pieces will transcend this moment and last a long time.

Q. Your designs feel very inclusive, without boundaries.

A. We call it “global.’’ The original inspiration: I took trips to Japan for business. I was really inspired by the Japanese aesthetic, and watched the kimono. The kimono shape was the only shape used in Japan for like 1,100 years. There’s something very timeless about that concept. I took that concept and incorporated it into more modern knits. Pieces that use the line of the kimono, you can dress it up or dress it down; understated and easy to wear. Everything — jewelry, belts — go over it easily. Indian clothing has very much inspired us. Layering, and light fabrics, cotton, linen. A lot of scarves. We are preparing to go more global, and being more accessible to global customers.

Q. How do you dress for the day?

A. I’m passionate to make this simple for everybody else. I don’t give myself more than a few minutes to get dressed in the morning. If it’s not perfect, it’s perfect enough. I kind of create a system for myself every season. Once I get it down, I just change one thing. I change a scarf every day. A cardigan. I get the proportions down for the season, in my colors: gray and white and black and charcoal. I have gray hair, so it works. Also, The New York Times wrote a style article on gray hair — I’m in! I saw this girl with silver hair. I said “I like your hair!’’ She said, “I like yours, too!’’ That’s the perfect way to mix the generations: Make silver hair fashionable.

Q. Think the gray hair trend will surface soon here?

A. It doesn’t seem like a typical Boston thing, but it will appear with the young people. It’s even entering the local schools in Westchester (laughs). You will see it. Funny, very funny.

Q. What excites you about the new collection?

A. Colors. Details. Little sequins. Underpinning. Something that makes it special. That sort of grew out of the passions of designers in the company that wanted to preserve handicraft in India and Japan. They loved them and thought it would make the clothes special, and thought they would support the local craftspeople, and created this juxtaposition. We’re known for really simple clothes. They’re still simple shapes, but they’re adorned in some unique way that gives a personal quality, a unique sense, that combines with the simple things.

Q. Change must feel good.

A. The line is an evolution. But it doesn’t change so radically. We have fabrics that we know and we trust. We repeat certain colors. Because the line works sort of holistically, customers can add a few pieces and add it back to old pieces and they can feel modern. And that’s exciting.

Q. How do you see Boston’s style evolution?

A. A sense of keeping things, a timelessness. There’s just a freshness to it. It’s like architecture. A mix of old and new — I think that’s who we are right now.

A fashion show and presentation by Eileen Fisher will be held at Bloomingdale’s in the Chestnut Hill Mall Saturday at 1 p.m. The event will also highlight Casa Myrna’s Adolescent Transitional Living Program, which helps young mothers finish high school and get job training.