The Triumphant Twins

4.5 min read

As the Olsen twins scoop their second CFDA award, we take a look back at MOJEH Issue 18 when we spoke with the design duo in 2014 about their luxury label, trend-setting ways and waving goodbye to being on-screen darlings. 

By Emma Bailey

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen at this year's CFDA Awards 2015.

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen at this year’s CFDA Awards 2015.

It’s late September in New York and we’re experiencing an Indian summer. With the sun beating down in persistent rays and the allure of shade too much to resist, The Row’s SS14 presentation couldn’t have been a more welcome distraction. With a nomadic vibe prevailing and a sense of belonging to a world beyond the confines of a concrete jungle – imagine a woman who travels the globe in search of eclectic wares and trophies for her Upper Eastside realm – the show was a million miles away from the media – scrutinised, celebrity driven runways of the house’s competitors. With every seat offering a front row view, and the models walking in a languorous fashion akin to the Parisian couture catwalks of yore, the feeling was one of exclusivity, old-school charm and a return to the heart of the industry where a story is narrated by the nuances and details of the garments that come down the runway. ‘We were inspired by the idea of a woman and her environment,’ The Row design duo muse. ‘The beautiful fabrics and the perfect cuts are what is essential to this collection.’ This was a grown-up affair and The Row (named after the illustrious London shopping street Savile Row) depicts perfectly the coming-of-age story of the brand’s ultimate protagonists, the Olsen twins, a dual-power that summarises what it is to be understated, constructed and effortless all at once. 

With a mere 27 years under their belts, the sisters first came onto our radar at just nine months old, cast in the role of Michelle Tanner in the US sitcom Full House. Becoming household favourites, thanks to their cute-as-a-button faces paired with an irresistible mischievous charm, they made their very first foray into the fashion industry at the tender age of 12. Heading up a collection for Walmart, their own sartorial choices of the time were mirrored and re-created for their peers, drawing on knowledge they’d garnered from hours spent in wardrobe watching high-end wares (everything from Marc Jacobs to Chanel) cut down to fit their tiny frames. Citing their fans as the drivers behind this decision became a pattern that can be found throughout their subsequent fashion career – ‘We create our collections around our clients and what they want to wear’ Mary-Kate confirms – and it is the girls’ own wardrobes that have played the most integral role over the years. 

The Row autumn/winter 2015.

Becoming members of the Forbes celebrity millionaires list at just 18 – they took control of their company Dualstar when they came of age – the twins decided to take a step back in their quest for fashion domination by going back to school, relocating from California to Manhattan and enrolling at NYU to learn the bare bones of the industry. With Ashley interning at Zac Posen and Mary-Kate doing the same with illustrious photographer Annie Leibovitz, the twins found their proverbial footing in the only way they knew – by becoming style stars of the street (this time favouring a layered, grunge, bag- lady look complete with bug-eyed glasses) and once again becoming an inspiration to the millions of Olsen wannabes the world over. But despite being high on any street style bloggers hit list, it is a continual quest for anonymity that initially sparked the flame that would be the Olsen twins’ ultimate calling. Cleaning up their act, the girls founded The Row, based around the ultimate t-shirt which was then gradually adapted to form the basis of a first collection – leggings, a tank top, a dress, a blazer- that also happened to be the very items any woman needs for day to day living but doesn’t necessarily have the time to worry about. ‘The original idea for The Row was to create timeless pieces in the most beautiful way possible,’ the duo divulges. ‘Today we offer a bigger selection but we still follow the same approach to designing. It’s all about effortless luxury.’ And those pieces that every woman yearns for to make her morning routine that little bit easier form the basis of a basics inspired brand ‘The Row woman is accomplished and knows what she wants,’ Ashley admits. ‘She is confident in her choices and comes back every season because The Row is there to make her life easier.’ Having always embodied the essence of their brands, creating, as they do, the very design aesthetic they themselves choose to wear, the Olsen twins’ fashion career showcases their own style transformation. 

The Row’s AW13 collection in particular highlighted their metamorphosis and was rife with subtle signifiers of girls turning into women, of style refined and priorities realised. As the last model disappeared, a gaggle of girls could be heard giggling, as if hailing the return of Mummy in a sartorially savvy tale. ‘The Fall collection was about an ideal wardrobe,’ the pair summarized at the time. ‘The woman it was designed for can be a dandy, with an Edwardian inspired piece, or more casual with an over-sized sweater worn with oriental shirts.’ Pyjama inspired separates in the most ornate of creamy silks were shown in tandem with heavy outerwear clad in leather and fur for the ultimate protection. Elegant cuts, draped like molten lava over the skin, were further enhanced by the twins’ own luxurious fabrics that looked and felt like the riches of Kings. Minimal, chic, effortless and easy, this was a collection to live in rather than live for. ‘We wanted the collection to feel easy in the sense of comfort and simplicity,’ the Olsens assert, ‘but most of the time simplicity requires a lot of work. It can’t be seen, but it can be felt when you put on the pieces.’ And SS14 only further supports this. Whereas the inspiration for Fall was one of a lady nesting in luxury the Summer is set to bring a sense of exploration and worldly influences. From Arabian inspired veils to subtly protect from the heat and African prints in light-weight, aerated fabrics for jaunts across the dunes to a dense woollen coat for colder climes, The Row SS14 is built for a woman who is a nomad of the most opulent kind. And behind it all a sense of purpose and responsibility can be found, as this is a woman who knows where she’s going and, like the designers themselves, is prepared for every eventuality. 

The Row spring/summer 2015.

With a career that started long before their first words were uttered, the Olsen sisters have come a long way. Admired by industry elites the world over – a 2012 CFDA win for Womenswear Designer of the Year need only be recalled – it is clear that they have tapped into something beyond the norm. Filling in the gaps, perfecting a look, offering women a solution to their basic needs in the most stylish way possible – it’s a tricky business and one that requires a couple of mavericks to achieve.