The enigmatic MARY-KATE and ASHLEY OLSEN have achieved so much and they’re not even 30 yet: TV stars at nine months old; actresses turned successful businesswomen; influential style setters; and the designers behind covetable brand The Row. KAY BARRON meets fashion’s new power players
There is something elegantly old fashioned about The Row’s show in New York. Old fashioned, and for that, completely contemporary. There is no scrum to get in; no photographers (runway shots are taken before anyone arrives); no A-listers; no brand encouragement to Tweet, Instagram or Vine; and every seat is a front-row seat. Models walk slowly, reminiscent of an old-school Parisian couture show, as the designer sisters Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen sit with their audience watching their work come to life. “If people are coming to see our collection,” Ashley says later, “we want them to actually seethe collection.” The civilized set-up makes everyone feel like they are part of the in-crowd; like they have spent intimate time in the world of
“ANONYMITY is a WORD we talk about all the time, in life and in CLOTHES”
the Olsens: icons, power players and yet, total enigmas.
At 27, the sisters have been famous since they were both cast to play Michelle Tanner in the US sitcom Full House at just nine months old – allegedly due to neither crying when being held by a television executive. They are TV veterans, movie stars, executives of production company Dualstar, and fashion designers with over six-million internet pages dedicated to them, and yet they have never really revealed much about themselves. We have the bare facts: they are fraternal twins, born and raised in California with older brother Trent, an artist, little sister Elizabeth, an actress, and two step-siblings; Ashley is a leftie, Mary-Kate a rightie (hands, not politics); Ashley is 5ft 1in, Mary-Kate is 5ft; and they are both fascinated with fashion. Beyond that, there has been much rumored, little substantiated. It is clothing – their own labels and their style – that reveals the most.
“Anonymity is a word we talk about all the time,” says Ashley
over a green salad in New York, “in life and in clothes.” It is strange to hear two of the most recognizable faces in the world talk about blending in, but it rings true when referring to their collections. The Row (named in homage to London’s famous bespoke tailoring street, Savile Row) was borne from the hunt for the perfect T-shirt in 2006, with both girls obsessed with great fabric and fit. That criteria was then applied to a tank top, then a dress, a blazer, leather leggings and shirting – the quiet foundations of any outfit.
“We saw a space in the market,” says Ashley. “We knew there wasn’t another brand offering basics in a luxurious and contemporary way. If I wear certain designer brands, or too much of something, I look crazy, and I need something to break it up. If you are wearing a Chanel jacket and you need an anonymous piece that will show just how special that jacket is, I hope that is what The Row gives you.” They are now 23 collections on from that initial T-shirt and employ 60 people in their
“We saw a space. There wasn’t another BRAND offering basics in a LUXURIOUS way”
Manhattan atelier. And while they still offer luxury basics, the irony is that now customers want to wear The Row from top to toe and nothing else.
Critically acclaimed by fashion’s toughest editors from the outset, the Olsens managed to dodge the merciless bullets so often fired at “celebrity designers” (although they claim that some people will never see them as “proper” designers). Originally the sisters wanted to have someone else pretend to be the designer, but friends reminded them that they needed to show the collection to US Vogue editor Anna Wintour. It is hard to imagine anyone selling the collection with more conviction than the twins. For they aren’t playing at fashion,
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