For Eileen, timelessness is the embodiment of simplicity. Over the past 30 years, the collection has been built on this conviction. In 1984, she began with four easy and elemental pieces and a concept of getting dressed. Where, then, does trend fit in?
One of Eileen's first designs, which appeared so clearly in her mind, was the box-top, a square-cut, free-flowing style. "Draw a box," instructs Rebecca Perrin, Co-Creative Officer. "Extend the top line—those are the arms. Make a little cutout in front for a neck. And that's it. The simplicity is very graphic, and it's extremely beautiful as a shape."
The box-top hasn't left the line since that first year. Both timeless and timely, it's highly adaptable to whatever aesthetic excitement may be in the air.
Among its dozens of permutations, the enduring box-top has been cropped, dropped to dress-length, dolman-sleeved, graced with pockets, given a little stretch, striped, asymmetrically hemmed, back-pleated, embellished with tiny crystals, bateau-necked, V-necked, funnel-necked and cowled. It's been sliced down the front to become a jacket, and made into a tunic. It's been fashioned from alpaca, velvet, lace and linen.
At the heart of EILEEN FISHER's reach for timelessness—ageless, dateless, perennial—lies The System, created by Eileen as both a principle and the crux of a wardrobe.
As a principle, it's her personal commitment to making it easy for a woman to get dressed. As a core group of garments, The System is abiding. It does not hew to fast-paced fashion. It does not come in colors, only neutrals. It is a foundation of shapes at their purest: tops, skirts, pants that become building blocks for outfit after outfit.
"The System is the key that unlocks everything else," says Candice Reffe, Co-Creative Officer. A woman who slips into pieces from The System can then layer on other elements of the collection.
"We build on our fabrics," says Eileen. "We even use colors, especially our neutral colors, over and over again, so people can really create wardrobes that work over the years." That's why Rebecca can still wear her beloved ten-year- old Stretch Silk Jersey top with the slightly belled sleeve with pieces made today.
The line as a whole shifts gradually. "We don't have a completely different concept every season," says Kira Denison-Cole, Facilitating Manager, Core Concept Team. "We're slower-moving than that. We probably move faster now in terms of trends than we ever have, but it has to be rooted in the classic way that we got dressed in 1984. We thread things through from past seasons. It's never out with the old and in with the new: it's layered."
Timelessness is reinterpreted as each team steps into the design process. The company's archives are a rich source of inspiration for the design team.
"A designer's role is to challenge, to come up with new things," says Helen Oji. "But a lot of times I reference an earlier style, because I know that it works—it has a classic simplicity." A shape from the past might reappear in a new fabric and color, perhaps slightly slimmed from the company's early one-size-fits-all days.
Even before a garment is conceived, color designer Chris Costan thinks about a spectrum, balancing what feels fresh and modern with palettes that came before. "If the design is simple enough, the color may reflect a trend, but the style will remain relevant," says Chris.
The fabric team looks for materials that will endure, that are sustainable, that will befriend those the company uses nearly every season—and that the hand and eye cannot resist. "There's some way in which materials speak," says Candice. "They have their own voice. And we're trying to listen for the fabric that feels like it's part of a song we're already singing, or part of a new harmony."
When a new collection launches, key teams spend two intensive days test- driving the clothes. They think carefully about how the clothes work together, as well as how each piece works. Fit matters because a woman only keeps a piece of clothing that fits and makes her feel the way she wants to look.
"What's timeless about our clothes is how they feel on," says Rebecca. "They're always functional. You can move in them. You're so much more able to be in the moment, be with whomever you're talking to, or do what you're doing."
It’s a long view on fashion that guides the company in everything it does.