"We’re Not Just Dressing 17-Year-Olds Who Go Nightclubbing In Russia."

No, Alber Elbaz, some of them are 18! Eileen Fisher made waves - and hurt Rosie - when she sniffed of the plus-sized market, "Well, it's just not the image that we're going for." What image are designers going for?

The slight came after Rosie O'Donnell told the designer, "On behalf of every plus-sized woman in the world, I just want to thank you." And Fisher's distancing, Rosie said on her radio show, "was like someone stabbed me in the heart." What was so weird about the whole thing was, it made us all wonder, Who does Eileen Fisher think her demographic is? After all, if she didn't know its perception, they wouldn't be trying so hard to change it. I think of it as a brand my mom feels good in - reliable, well-made, maybe overpriced, but in quiet good taste and modeled by "real women" - albeit of the ethereal, Joan Baez school. And there's nothing wrong with that; it's great, in fact. And why would any designer deny it? I get wanting to expand appeal (although in this case it seems even more Sisyphean than Ann Taylor's makeover), but biting the well-kept hand that feeds you seems...imprudent. (Also: I don't remember ever seeing Rosie in Eileen Fisher. But then, I don't hang out with her regularly. Anyone?)

The mini-fracas prompted WWD to run a very interesting piece on exactly who designers think is wearing their clothes. Obviously a high-fashion line - hell, each individual collection - has a perspective and maybe even a muse in mind, but Eileen Fisher? Surely she designs with her actual customer in mind, right? Says Kathy Griffin,

I know women who buy Eileen Fisher, and the reason they buy Eileen Fisher is the same thing Rosie was talking about, which is, the women I know who buy Eileen Fisher, they want comfort, they're soccer moms, so Eileen Fisher can act like she's playing to the size 2 woman, but the truth is, I think what makes her brand successful is that there are a lot of women that love to go to that store and feel like they can get seven pieces that go together that they never have to worry about again.

Here were a few of the most interesting quotes from designers in the piece on their ideal customer...versus their reality.

Angela Missoni: "I tell our sales staff not to sell an outfit just for the sake of selling it if it doesn't look right. Knitwear is tricky and can make you look much bigger, so when I see a woman squeezed into one of my outfits, I'm not thrilled." So, what, they're supposed to wrest sweaters from the grasp of larger women?

Tory Burch:

We recently added a size 14, because I felt we were not meeting all the needs of our customer. I love to dress all types of women and certainly all ages, so, for me, that's part of the success of our brand. When I see someone who's a larger size wearing my clothes, I'm completely flattered that they're making her feel good. That's why I'm designing, to make women feel good about what they're wearing."

"Feeling good," apparently translates to "being able to fit into clothes." They ask so little!

Stella McCartney: "When you meet a larger lady and she says, ‘Oh, I love your stuff, but there's nothing for me' - it breaks my heart. I feel like I haven't done my job properly when women say that to me." Well, it's too bad she's not in a position to do anything about that!

Andrew Gn: "Not everybody is Kate Moss. Everyone has the right to look great. I'd love to dress Beth Ditto. When I see someone wearing my clothes, I am proud, often. Puzzled, sometimes. Horrified, never." Okay, for the last time,"Beth Ditto" isn't a "get out of jail free" card.

Who Wears the Clothes? Balancing Branding And Customer Reality [WWD]
Eileen Fisher's Shifting Silhouette [NYT]
Rosie: Eileen Fisher "Stabbed Me in the Heart" [NBC]