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Attack of the Fashion Gremlins

As style icons, the Olsen twins are weird enough to cast a spell over the hautest of fashionista circles, yet they’ve mostly sold their clothes at Wal-Mart. With a new line葉he Row葉hey’re trying to bring their uncanny inspirations to the top of the market.


Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen graduate from their tween years.  

In the lobby of the Chateau Marmont, right on time, Mary-Kate Olsen is a kind of uncanny, elfin apparition. She’s wearing gobs of eyeliner, platform alligator stiletto heels, and a black wool coat buttoned up to her neck. She looks like a cross between J.T. Leroy, Wednesday Addams, and one of those big-eyed waifs from Margaret Keane paintings. She is fragile and goth, her tiny fingers covered in rings. She’s both glamorous and bohemian, eccentric and studied, and once she enters the room, it’s sort of impossible to look away. Her look傭oth an unmistakable signature and a kind of disguise揺as been so widely emulated that it’s stunning to see the original in action.

Mary-Kate Olsen and her twin sister, Ashley, have been famous their entire lives. They are the rarest of child stars in that they have not grown up ugly, angry, or (it seems) insane. They’ve maintained their preadolescent adorability, with round eyes and faces and little button noses, and they’ve also maintained their mind-boggling fortune. When they were infants, they were cast in the single role of Michelle Tanner, the wisecracking baby of the Full House family. Little girls went mad for Michelle, madder still when it was discovered there were two of them, and their parents eventually figured out that this was a gold mine. With their then-manager, Robert Thorne, they co-founded Dualstar Entertainment, a business with the singular goal of leveraging the popularity of these two live Kewpie dolls. Before long, the Olsens were doing megabusiness in straight-to-video movies, and TV shows with names like Mary-Kate and Ashley in Action! Puppy Love, and licensing their names to cheap and cheerful lines of furniture and clothing for tweens葉hat is, girls age 5 to 12. Dualstar is now America’s number-one-selling brand in a number of categories: It’s the top fashion and lifestyle brand for girls and the number-one girls’ video franchise of all time. Books about the Olsens’ adventures have sold 40 million copies. In 2005, on the girls’ 18th birthday, they assumed decision-making, leadership roles at Dualstar; at that point, the company was doing $1.2 billion in sales a year. It sold the Olsens as wholesome and bright, accessible and mainstream. But their lives have become so much more sophisticated and complicated than their products. They have been selling Formica bedroom sets in pastel colors, but they worship Ghesquière.

This season, their contradictions resolve. They have just launched the Row, a line far more about who they’re becoming as adults than who they’ve been, in the eyes of the world, for such a long time.

It’s not the usual thing for celebrities of any age to actually have style, personal style, that is unique and individual and achieved on their own. But the Olsens, love it or hate it, do have style; they have it in buckets. While they have stopped with the corny matching outfits, their looks have developed as jarring mirror images of one another; they still exist in a little world of two. But there are subtle differences: Mary-Kate might wear ten kooky rings, Ashley just two or three. But, as Mary-Kate puts it: 的f I sleep over at my sister’s, I can definitely get dressed from her closet in the morning. Their signature look mixes Edie Beale with Balenciaga, Johnny Depp, and John Galliano. They don’t wear clothes that are conspicuously slutty or sexy or easy to predict. Even though supermarket tabloids condemn them to worst-dressed lists, fashion people are obsessed with their arms-open embrace of the industry’s avant-garde. They experiment with proportion and silhouette. They mix vintage and new, labels and non. They’ve raised accessorizing to a form of high, glamorous art. If the Olsens’ style resembles anyone at all, it’s not Lindsay Lohan or Mandy Moore or any of their other presumptive peers葉hey dress like sittings editors at French Vogue.

Mary-Kate and Ashley prefer to do their interviews separately these days. It’s part of a protracted maturation that really began during the two years they spent in New York as students at NYU. 展e got this huge apartment and designed it, Ashley says, 殿nd then we never moved into it because we decided to live apart, and it was the best decision we ever made. They explored separate interests: architecture for Ashley, photography for Mary-Kate. But where they met then, and still meet now, is at fashion, and that’s what they’re here to discuss.

The Row consists mainly of expensive knit T-shirts with fancy French seams, and a few minimalist separates, like a well-cut blazer and a tight, banded miniskirt in the style of Hervé Léger. Conspicuous flash is in the fur coats, which are oversize, luscious, but still somewhat plain. Unlike with their licensed collections, Mary-Kate and Ashley are hugely involved with the Row’s design process from start to finish, working in close tandem with a designer. The palette is as minimal as the collection: black, white, cream, gray, the occasional shot of red, and the label itself, a small, easy-to-miss gold chain embossed THE ROW. It’s like the Olsens themselves in its simultaneous desire to be both noticed and hidden.

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