Givhan: Child Stars With Old Souls, the Olsens Age Gracefully at The Row

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The Row presentation was a breath of calm amid Fashion Week's usual frenzy of fast-walking models, gut-punching music, and trend chasing. An old soul is usually a death knell in fashion — but in the case of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's latest collection, it is a strength.

 In our culture, getting older is synonymous with being out of touch, boring, and physically decrepit. There's a good reason why women, in particular, dread the moment when they are suddenly referred to as ma'am. (The fallout from this deep fear can be seen on any iteration of Real Housewives, in which women dress up in clothes that look like they came from the sale rack at Bebe and wear a Sephora section's worth of makeup. ) As they age, society has a way of pushing them aside or simply looking through them. Men become "distinguished," while women become ... what? They may become wiser, more confident, richer, more capable, but there isn't a word that describes — with positive connotations — that process of coming into one's own.

The Row gives women the fashion equivalent of that vocabulary. It is a graceful collection that looks rich and even regal. For spring, it was, as usual, supremely luxurious — filled with silk, washed python, perforated shearling, and crocodile. Ankle-grazing dresses were delicately embroidered. Caftans floated on air as the models walked. And head wraps — Bedouin style — were embellished with horsehair netting, giving everything a hint of the exotic. These are clothes for women who are not trying to look younger than they are; they're not even necessarily trying to look ageless. They want to look their age — 35, 40, 50 — because they think it's pretty great. And, in fact, it is.

Of all the designers who might counterprogram our fetish for youth, the Olsens would seem the least likely. After all, they were child stars — youth was incredibly lucrative for them. But perhaps that experience has also taught them that youth can be a trap, forcing one into a kind of stasis. Child stars long to grow up, to get older, because that signifies freedom rather than turning stodgy or dull. And now, at the ripe old age of 27, the Olsens are making a convincing argument that fashion can give voice to that transformation.

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