By  on October 17, 2007

As the bridge department has undergone major flux in the last decade, one element hasn't changed: Eileen Fisher.

In the late Nineties, when bridge floors were dominated by the suits and structured career coordinates of Dana Buchman, Ellen Tracy and Anne Klein, Eileen Fisher's softer, more casual looks stood out. As the workplace became more casual and women's looks became younger, those classical brands lost space to the likes of Elie Tahari, Tory Burch and M Missoni, and the bridge floor today looks much like a luxe version of the contemporary floor — while Eileen Fisher continues to cater to its core Baby Boomer consumer.

Clearly it has a winning formula: As many of Eileen Fisher's competitors are now in flux, it is the one brand that, through it all, has stood as a pocket of prosperity, enjoying constant growth of 15 to 20 percent annually for the past five years. The firm estimates wholesale volume will hit $250 million in 2007 — up 75 percent from $143 million in 2002, and more than triple the $73 million it did a decade ago in 1997.

"In some way, we never fit the classic idea of the bridge department — it was just a place that carried our price point," Eileen Fisher said. "We are very much our own thing."

The brand is carried in about 484 specialty stores and about 580 department store doors, averaging about 1,000 square feet per door, and growth consistently outpaces that of the individual store, according to major department store accounts.

Retail sales, which have consistently made up a fifth of the brand's revenues, have doubled in the last five years. Eileen Fisher's first retail store opened in Manhattan at 53rd Street and Madison Avenue in 1991, and today the brand has about 40 of its own stores, between full price and outlets. The company aims to add three to five stores a year. The Web site has taken less time to double — between 2006 and 2007, it reached about $10 million in retail sales.

In a famously fickle industry, the question is why — or, more practically, how — has Eileen Fisher achieved such uninterrupted growth?

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