Women is...: Designer Eileen Fisher

Designer Eileen Fisher

profession: Fashion designer who hates fashion.

company's annual revenue: $47 million in sales in 1995.

the basic story: New York City, early '80s. Fisher was a struggling downtown graphic designer. She wanted simple, timeless, unstructured clothes but couldn't find any. So with $350 in the bank, she made her own, and unwittingly tapped a vein for all women who wanted comfortable yet sophisticated clothing. Seventh Avenue fashion slaves may sniff at her style, but Fisher's "anti-haute" philosophy has paid off. She currently has 12 retail stores spread over the East Coast, two outlet boutiques and innumerable department store shops.
born: June 1, 1950

educated: BA in home ec. from University of Illinois.

what she thought she would do: "I wanted to be a dancer. But I couldn't dance. I never really learned how to sew, either. I studied interior design."

what inspired her first line of clothes: "I had a Japanese boyfriend who gave me a minimalist aesthetic. I was deeply frustrated with the garments with all the stuff on them. I wanted something simple."

the big break: Came when a friend of hers had to bag out of a NYC international boutique show, where small retailers come to find new designers. She took his place and ended up with $3,000 worth of orders. Six months later, she returned to the show with some new designs -- and came away with $40,000 in orders.
her favorite piece: "I have this A-line dress that I made in knitted wool and velvet. It's a basic. I wear it all the time. I wear it like a uniform."

peeve: "That men can wear the same old suit for five years without ever feeling out of fashion."

who she would like to see wearing her clothes: "Hillary Clinton, Isabella Rossellini." (Barbra Streisand, Shirley MacLaine and Julie Andrews already do).

household members: Husband David Zwiebel, an exec at her company; Zachary, 6; Sasha, 2. No pets at all. "I've been stuck with too many boyfriends' dogs over the years, so I refuse to get one."on whether she has enough closet space: "No, but I love great closets."

on whether she owns anything by a name designer: "No. I think I bought a Calvin Klein sweater four or five years ago, but I don't remember."

favorite color: Not burgundy. "I had to wear a burgundy uniform for years (in Catholic school) and I have an aversion. My favorite color is black. Or maybe I should say that my favorite is charcoal, because I'm wearing a lot of that this season. Oh, and also oatmeal and taupe. I still have trouble with burgundy...but my design people fought me on this, so now we have burgundy, and it sells well. So I'm learning to get over my personal aversion."

what's next: Joining the global economy. "I always like to dabble first. Before I opened the (big) stores in New York, I dabbled in a small East Village shop. So that's what we're going to do. We're dabbling in the European market."