After two years off the runway, Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen brought their resort 2023 collection for The Row to Paris. They weren’t doing interviews and the brand didn’t release a statement, but when American designers have swapped New York for Paris in the past they’ve typically talked about the city’s more international audience and elevated playing field. The Olsens need little help with their profiles, so let’s assume they thought they had something new to say about their fashion. As it turned out, they did, and it speaks volumes. The line-up finds them in a more playful frame of mind than we’ve come to associate with The Row. The elegance and sophistication remain, but they also dabbled in hyperbole, in the form of extra-long sleeves and neck grazing, exaggerated 1970s collars, and explored surprising retro flourishes like pillbox hats, muffs, and top handle bags in the crooks of arms. If Jackie Kennedy and Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy joined wardrobes, this The Row collection would be it. Some looks, including an evening dress made with a chartreuse-colored wool blanket wrapped and draped from the torso, reminded you of the Japanese designers who made their own transitions to Paris in the 1980s. Is the Olsens’ minimalist phase over? Not exactly. Most of these looks were head-to-toe monochrome or black-and-white, and there were no prints or much in the way of other distractions. The silhouette was still rooted in tailoring and the shoes were low-heeled and grounding. The difference was this collection’s looseness. Not in terms of volumes, but in terms of the fun it was willing to have. See the fine cashmere sweaters that twisted in back to reveal the white poplin shirts below them, the jabots as oversize as the pointy collars they accessorized, the back-to-front coats, and those long sleeves. Graceful fashion that makes you smile feels like the right instinct for the current moment.
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.
The Row‘s autumn-winter 2020 collection is a line-up you want to return to once in a while. Especially, when it’s getting colder outside. As the models skimmed quickly by in flat slippers and boots, the thrill behind Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen’s line-up was in the finesse of the cuts, precise but relaxed, especially with the addition of turtlenecks layered under silk button-downs or worn solo under jackets. The tailoring is refined and subtle in shilhouette, and the outerwear is a sure winner of the season. It’s quite clear that the designers looked at Martin Margiela’s Hermès years for inspiration – especially the layered knits and long, grey gloves that seemed to blur with the clothes. But I’m fine with that.