Over its 30 years in business, Eileen Fisher has stayed true to its mandate of producing clean yet simple designs for real women.
This story first appeared in the November 18, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
That vision has also remained a constant theme in the brand’s marketing and advertising campaigns, running through its design philosophy as well as its choice of models and photographers.
“Since we began, our vision has been pared down to two messages,” said director of visual advertising Ellie Thoren. “One: focusing on the design and the depiction of really simple shapes, and two: the important value of supporting women to be themselves.”
The brand waited a full decade before it launched its first advertising campaign, in WWD, in 1994. The ads reflected Fisher’s use of five simple shapes, and it didn’t even include a model — just the clothes on a white background.
It wasn’t until 1996 that the firm began using models to communicate how the clothes moved and felt, Thoren said.
Through the years, the company has tapped photographers, including Dick Nystrom, Patrick Demarchelier, Peter Lindbergh and Gentl and Hyers, to depict the clothes in a simplistic way through portraiture. The singular focus of the clothing on a model has represented the importance of female empowerment.
That idea led Fisher to work with Isabella Rossellini, who had been released as Lancôme’s face in 1996. At the time, Rossellini, who was in her mid-40s, had been replaced by a younger model. That story resonated with Fisher and the brand.
“She embodied so many of the things we embodied,” said Thoren, adding that she thought Rossellini was actually at the height of her beauty.
For the campaign, which ran in 1998, Stewart Shining shot the actress in black-and-white. She was posed on a chair, wearing a black shift dress, partially covering her face; another ad was a portrait of Rossellini in a simple black knit V-neck.
The brand hasn’t used a celebrity since, vice president of communications, Hilary Old, said, explaining that the company isn’t actually averse to the idea.
“Coming off working with someone like Isabella, it’s like, Where do you go next?” Old offered. “We started thinking about how we’re rooted in authenticity.”
According to Old, Fisher had seen a portrait of the late Harper’s Bazaar editor in chief Liz Tilberis, shot by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, that struck a chord with her, as it captured the editor in a real way. That photo not only inspired Fisher to work with Greenfield-Sanders, but it also gave her the idea to create a campaign featuring real women.
As a result, the brand tapped its own employees — at the time, a novel concept. Using images of its employees with captions that told the story of the people behind the brand, the real-women campaign became a leading factor in the company’s art direction until the mid-2000s.
The company worked with Jill Glover of the Glover Group on several campaigns, including “Women Change the World Every Day,” “Every Body is Beautiful” and “Alive in the World.”
These shoots showcased the clothing’s shapes in a variety of ways on groups of models, underscoring the brand’s Aristotelian philosophy that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
In recent years, Fisher’s message shifted again to focus on the thinking behind the collection. This translated to the introduction of the ampersand logo on advertising, which reflected the brand’s attention to sustainability.
“Sustainability is a huge priority for Eileen and the company,” said Old, who noted that the brand now works with Martin Bone’s agency, Bone & Black. That agency has helped Fisher hone its message and launch its current fall campaign “First Love, New Love,” celebrating the brand’s 30th anniversary.
As the apparel brand has evolved, so too has its media spend. According to the company, it spends $4.5 million a year nationally on advertising, 50 percent of which is devoted to print, and about 50 percent of which is split nearly equally for digital and outdoor ads.
“We’re still spending more on print than digital,” said creative director Thoren. “Print feels just as relevant, but digital is very important as well.”