Making Space isn’t like any existing Eileen Fisher store. Rather, the hybrid retail concept opening Wednesday integrates the brand’s latest ideas, innovations and experiments in nearly 5,000 square feet of space at 47 Bergen Street in the Boerum Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn.
“This location brought us here,” said Rebecca Perrin, creative officer of Eileen Fisher, who could be a stand-in for the designer with her shoulder-length gray hair and glasses. “This is Brooklyn and it has that DIY feeling. It feels different than anything we’ve ever done before.”
Fisher calls Making Space “a Brooklyn-based, community-centered retail experience.” Efforts to engage locals — and visitors — will take place on the lower level and include workshops, movie screenings, gallery shows and neighborhood events. Four product types will be highlighted at the store. A workshop for Renew designs will give consumers a look at how items from the company’s take-back program are given a second life.
At the front of the store, a dedicated area will feature a different artist-in-residence every two weeks. First up will be Cara Marie Piazza, demonstrating her technique for transforming cast-off Eileen Fisher clothing into limited-edition, one-of-a-kind pieces using plant and animal-based dyes.
“I work with florists and restaurant owners and use materials they would normally throw away, like this bucket of dried peonies,” Piazza said. “I use iron and add water to it so it becomes a rust color. I’ll be teaching workshops on how to dye with flowers and food byproducts.”
Besides artist-led workshops, Making Space, will offer Lifework, whose goal is to help consumers build a more mindful, embodied life, which is part of the brand’s mission. “To help customers feel confident from the inside out, we’ll offer classes and workshops with experts and teachers whose work we’re passionate about.”
Fisher wears her commitment to circularity on her recycled organic cotton sleeve at Making Space, as evident from wood chairs with seat-cushions made from recycled denim and other chairs created from recycled plastic eyeglasses to reclaimed wood that was used for work benches and pre-worn Eileen Fisher clothing used for rag rugs and fitting-room curtains. Wall hangings and felted pillows strewn about the store, and exclusive to the Brooklyn location, are products of DesignWork, Fisher’s latest creative endeavor with makers who felt and stitch clothing into home decor items and new garments.
Lest anyone manage to miss the point, Derick Melander’s seven-foot by six-foot soft sculpture, an ombre tower comprised of 2,000 reclaimed garments and weighing about 1,000 pounds, is a larger-than-life symbol of recycling. “It can be disassembled and the clothes can be washed and resold,” said Perrin. “It’s meant to be sustainable.”
Making Space’s merchandise groups include Remade, one-of-a-kind pieces redesigned and crafted from worn Eileen Fisher clothing; Renew, old styles consumers no longer need, cleaned, mended or modified; 111, a limited-edition samples collection named for the address of Fisher’s design studio, 111 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan; and of course, current collections. Color-coded rings on hangers identify the merchandise by collection.
“The Renew program started three years ago,” Perrin said. “So many clothes end up in landfills. Ours have so much history.”
It seems fitting that Making Space is taking up residence at 47 Bergen Street, since the location has always housed makers of some sort. At the turn of the century, the building was a carriage factory. It was also a belt factory and more recently, invisible dog leashes were produced there.
Fisher’s recycling centers receive about 800 items of the brand’s clothing every day. Garments are refurbished by designers at Fisher’s Tiny Factory in Irvington, N.Y., and Teeny Tiny Factory in Seattle using techniques such as over-dyeing with natural ingredients like pomegranate and eucalyptus or safflower to hide stains. Traditional mending methods such as boro, sashiko and embroidery celebrate flaws. Badly damaged items are salvaged by deconstructing and then engineering the pieces to minimize waste. As much of the recycled material is used as possible, with pieces stitched into Remade designs that preserve the value of the textiles.
Eileen Fisher has said she designs timeless pieces because “simple shapes are empowering.” One of Fisher’s favorite shapes is the kimono, which has been around for thousands of years. The designer stresses versatility — she believes the simpler the shape, the more ways there are to wear it.
The System epitomizes this approach with eight pieces that each have a purpose, but are designed to work with other items in a woman’s closet. A silk boxy shell, silk long shell, organic linen jersey tank, viscose jersey tank dress, straight cropped pants, washable stretch crepe pant, silk slouchy pant and viscose jersey easy pant range in price from $98 to $258.
“It consists of our simplest shapes that we love,” Perrin said. “We’ve scrutinized [every System piece] and perfected them. It’s grounded in black, bone and white. Seasonally, we may add a fashion neutral color to The System. We don’t put it on sale and we don’t promote it. We price it really well.”
Timeless designs hedge against items going out of style, but Fisher also wants them to be physically lasting as well.”Our clothes are designed to stay in your closet longer,” she said. “We design our clothes to stand the test of time using quality materials. But not even your favorite sweater lasts forever.” That’s where Renew and Remade come in.
Remade patchwork kimonos are made from worn jeans and priced at $298 for a long version, and $228 for a short Remade washed kimono; Remade denim jumpsuits, $218; denim-blocked shells, $138; organic cotton blocked tunics, $178, and crepe blocked T-shirts, $95.
A limited-edition collection themed, “The Future is Female,” features the phrase in Morse code on an organic cotton slub T-shirt, $88; Tencel Viscose box-top, $158; organic linen long tank, $98, and jacket, which is part of a future delivery, with 10 percent of proceeds earmarked for Girls Who Code.
For fall, seamless 100 percent Italian cashmere cardigans, $498, contain “no waste,” Perrin said. There’s also wide-leg pants, suede jackets, $898, and waxed cotton jackets, $298. “You can get the same kind of feel with the cotton jacket. Leather is a tough supply chain. We’re growing our footwear. We’re just starting. We’ve been working on our shoes with the Leather Working Group,” Perrin said, referring to the multi-stakeholder group that assesses the environmental compliance and performance capabilities of leather manufacturers and promotes sustainable environmental business practices.
A selection of samples includes a boiled wool coat in gray and oat versions. Perrin walks over to a Renew cape worn by a mannequin near the front of the store. “We started using undyed yarn when we went to Mongolia in 2002,” Perrin said, recognizing the item. “I remember almost everything. I was working on Ninth Street for 10 years when we made that.”
Making Space represents the next iteration of Eileen Fisher’s retail concept, and the company said it’s also designing a “Brooklyn Lite” prototype that it will test in two of its existing stores at University Village in Seattle and The Somerset Collection in Troy, Mich., before rolling it out to the rest of the 68-unit fleet.