Seeing The Row in the middle of Paris Fashion Week schedule is like having an exquisite, delightful, and very expensive dessert – say, a Cedric Grolet pastry. The refinement and serenity of Ashley and Mary Kate Olsens’ clothes, and of their pre-fall 2023 show, was a visual balm to the soul. An ivory duchesse satin evening dress, with a gently inflated aeration of volume at the back, any hauteur swept away by how the fabric has been made to look frayed and creased, like it was just pulled out of a trunk and thrown on with a what-the-hell shrug. A timeless LBD with gently sculpted hips. A crochet slip worn over a gauzy longer slip. These garments are to die for. The Row’s latest take on serenity doesn’t equal perfection, and a good thing too, something that the Olsens played up with some styling touches, like the wrinkled hose, or a mesh tube dress squished over a white cotton shirt whose hems went floorwards. A little bit of mess to cut the precision is always good. Or you might register it as you see a loose cut black blazer walk by, with the surprise of the armholes cleverly opened so you can slide your arms out and wear it more like a vest, with a matching pair of natty Bermuda shorts. The use of sleeves was a recurring motif here; as a gestural flourish, holding a dress in place at the back, looking like an Obi sash, for instance. Much has been made of the Olsens’ propensity for beautiful fabrics for even more beautifully made clothes, and it’s true on both counts. But there’s something else going on here: A little bit of dissonance, a touch of playfulness, shading and toning their exquisite clothes. Showing in Paris definitely suits them – remember their last show? Pre-fall 2023 felt like a beautiful continuation of that story.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki. Don’t forget to follow Design & Culture by Ed on Instagram!
While we quickly forgot most of the valuable lessons we told ourselves the pandemic had taught us, it does seem to have affected one aspect of our lives: our approach to clothes shopping. Somehow our choices now feel less fussy, less complicated, more essential. Granted, essentialism has always coursed through the veins of The Row. This season, Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen took it to sublime heights. Shot in the streets of Paris and presented in the Galerie Seguin, their spring-summer 2023 collection portrayed the daily lives of their customers and the way we adapt to changing scenarios throughout the day. Whether it’s different levels of formality – office hours, lunch dates, evening events – or the inside-vs.-outside temperature differences we all increasingly have to deal with in a climate change reality, the clothes we actually wear now have to imbued with certain functions and assets to actually work in our everyday lives. That fact informed a collection of more-than-meets-the-eye garments founded in considered fabric choices and functional design. Putting lightness at the forefront, the Olsens structured suits and dresses in luxurious, breathable linens, while linen trench coats came with fabric coatings that made them feel outerwear-y without defeating the purpose. A number of pieces were instilled with day-to-night folding techniques, allowing the wearer to transform their level of formality. The train of a jute dress, for instance, could be folded into the dress itself and buttoned or let out for the full dramatic effect, the hoods of coats were detachable, and the sleeves of a black dress could be unhooked by way of tiny closures. As an ironic nod to the wardrobe issues we all deal with in the heat, a leather skirt was adorned with creases as a form of texture.
The idea of essentialism also informed the Olsens’ level of details and decoration, or rather lack thereof. Everything was made as minimal as possible but without compromising the sense of drama that made this collection a fashion proposition. They cut away necklines to create plunge shapes, disguised hems and pockets, and removed zips and buttons. In menswear, they gave super-light unlined suiting the structure you usually only get from lining through the kind of fabrication that makes The Row worth its price tag, and proposed the kind of luxe oversized shirts and loose-fitting knits that made you want to invest in a new wardrobe for a changed climate. Heavenly…
The latest The Row collection is so, so good. Even with office life curtailed and many industries extending their work-from-home policies well into the new year, the Olsen sisters are loyal to their impeccable tailoring. This season’s proportions are vaguely mannish: oversized and boxy or cut with a slouch, an attitude that’s accentuated by the sneakers that they pair with everything from a belted leather trench to a three-piece pantsuit. The big novelty this season is Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen‘s palette – the offering is awash with color. The look book opens with just a peek – their new trainers are green on the bottom – but come the end, that green turns up on a cardigan jacket and fine-gauge sweaters, and it mingles with equally vibrant shades of orange and purple. They use these brights like the minimalists they are, by avoiding prints and patterns in favor of big blocks of color, layering an orange turtleneck under a white button-down under a purple V-neck under a tan three-button coat, or assembling a long, lean silhouette from a gray ribbed tank on top of a red crewneck and white turtleneck, all of them paired with an ankle-length black skirt. There are also more muted shades of navy, bordeaux, and forest green, for clients not ready to embrace the more extroverted colors. A couple of other notable developments: picking up the gesture from their last collection that saw them swaddling a model’s head with a sweater, they twisted and wrapped fabric at the waist and hips and tossed extravagant scarves over the shoulders of coats, moves that added interest and personality to their looks. There was also a touch of embellishment: enamel discs decorate the hem of a duster coat, and a pair of skirts are naively tiled almost like a mosaic. But it’s colorful sportswear that is this collection’s key message: It’s the one that could make women rejigger their back-to-work wardrobes when offices finally reopen.
This is one of these The Row collections that are just… perfect. And extremely relevant. Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen have never been the type to discuss the deeper meaning of their collections, and they’re not about to start now, but the opening look of their pre-fall 2022 offering definitely meets the turbulence of our current moment. It’s a grain de poudre jacket worn backwards, its single button fastened mid-spine and its lapels framing the shoulder blades. “Adaptability” is definitely one of their running themes here. Other tailored jackets can be worn inside-out, and on the accessories front there are reversible tote bags and cotton voile “protectors” for leather styles. After a season of more oversized, relaxed shapes, the waist has come back into focus for the Olsens. Their elongated and slightly nipped jackets cut an elegant line, and many of the looks are accessorized with leather belts featuring useful add-ons for cell phones and ear buds. Elsewhere, there are generous, pillowing volumes, as in the red nylon cellophane top and skirt of look two, which are cut with bubble hems to accentuate their material’s airy lightness. Extending a newfound interest in color, they showed metallic viscose knit separates in bright lilac or red worn layered and even wrapped around the head like scarves, and a trench in a crimped aqua tulle, shown with a matching bag. They also embraced humor. A couple of shrunken T-shirts (paired with excellent boned-waist trousers) are scribbled with children’s drawings; officially they’re part of The Row’s kid’s line, but they’ll be sold in women’s sizes too. The final look is the other side of that reversed jacket. It’s a back-to-front world, but The Row can help you hold it together.
Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen are holding their course, even though most of the designers this season move towards a hedonist mode. Skimp is not in The Row’s vocabulary, and it isn’t likely to be in the future. None of us have been untouched by the pandemic, though, so how has the experience of lockdown changed the Olsens’ design POV and what does The Row’s take on re-emergence style look like? Something unexpected emerged most vividly midway through the lineup in the form of separates for women and men in shades of red and blue, the brightest colors ever to find their way into a collection from the Olsens, who prefer to work with neutrals and classic black and white. There were also the arty details here and there, like the delicate thread belt that accented the drawstring waist of a pair of casual pants or the fringed raw-edges of a fully knit skirt made with three different yarns. A few pieces were hand-painted, a nod, maybe, to the artists and art collectors that number among their clients. The accessories offering has expanded and there was a notable element of fun, as seen in the tiny card cases and coin purses suspended from belts and in the stretchy ankle boots that looked like a cross between scuba socks and wrestler shoes. Overall, the proportions are roomy and the silhouettes are layered – luxe comfort is the key. The Row fans will fall in love with a pair of pressed khakis whose low-slung, flared profile recalled the ’90s, and a jumpsuit with a tank top upper half that was the barest of all the looks assembled here. Pre- or post-pandemic, perfect essentials never go out of style.