For a good twenty years, from the label's Japanese-monk debut to its present Asymmetrical Goddess incarnation, I've been lured to the murmuring, monochromatic balm of the ads.
|EF ballet-neck layering dress in merino|
I have trolled EF boutiques, admiring the lichenesque colours, the self-effacing elegance, the zen discretion. I have tried on countless wools, silks and fine cottons, petting the lovely hand. When I found racks of EF at a discount store, I phoned my friend Marlene, prompting her to nearly wreck her car speeding there.
But I don't buy.
My friends do, as do many readers and bloggers. A women in EF does not look like she's trying to be mistaken for her daughter, trying to get a promotion, trying to seduce... trying for anything. She does not need to try; she is.
But EF is like the older sister of your best friend, the one who comes home occasionally, wafts an indescribable cedary-lemony scent, has the perfect ponytail and is kind but decidedly remote, inhabiting her singular, more refined world. We just don't connect.
When I picked up The New Yorker's Style issue (Sept. 23, 2013) for a bedtime read and found a long piece by Janet Malcolm, "Nobody's Looking At You", I thought, All will be revealed.
And much is, about Fisher herself— inscrutable, beautiful, elusive. Malcolm about weeps trying to understand the leadership koans ("the concept of facilitating leaders", "delegation with transparency") that guide the company's culture.
Malcolm respects this complex woman who made the simplest of clothes (a design team now fills her shoes). She hints at Fisher's eccentricity in descriptions of her shyness, oddness and dislike of the business side of the company. Eileen Fisher reminded me of St. Laurent (minus the drug-fueled partying).
But I got no further in understanding why the clothes fail to incite gotta-have-it-lust.
Upon waking the next morning, the reason hit me smack in the face: boobs. EF is not about the lushly three-dimensional female form. Yes, there is a woman under there, but head to toe EF has a contained quality. A woman will look womanly, but not sexy.
It's not that I wear frilly chiffon dresses or hootchie-mama décolléte. But there is a good eight degrees of chill built into EF that keeps me just on the wrong side of the shop window. When I mentioned this to Le Duc, he said "Eileen Fisher makes women look like nuns."
So who floats my strict boat?
Ça va de soie, a Montréal-based knitwear designer. Below, a page from last winter's catalog; the high-quality knits, in wool and cotton, are uncontrived but more fitted than EF. That high armhole elongates the torso and there are some fairly deep necklines which you can cami-flage or not.
Vivienne Westwood, whose Anglomania cloud coat in cherry makes me thrum with ardent adoration; I'm a fool for tailoring.
There are other designers, both European and North American, at various price points, who know women have boobs and a butt, and will wrap a seam or place a dart to caress them.
EF's great advantage is that their collections are presented in easy-to-assemble seasonal collections, offering both longstanding best-sellers and new pieces that coordinate. There is an ease beyond the cut; the company positions the acquisition of an Eileen Fisher wardrobe as sensible indulgence.
Some women mix the pieces with other designers; my take is that this is not often chic and at worst, jarring.
Right now, I am thinking of my close friend Alice, in her teal silk EF ensemble, narrow pants, shell and sheer gazar coat, feminine and floaty. She looks fantastic in that, so there is definitely a woman for whom Eileen Fisher sings.
But she is not my designer, and now I am closer to knowing why.