the rise of the Olsen twins’ luxury brand

On a recent trip to Paris, the thing I bought that inspired the most envy was not tuberose soap from Buly or linen duvet covers from Merci. In fact, the item was not French at all but American. It was a pair of mesh slippers in a dark shade of blue by The Row, purchased from the resale company Resee for about €200, a third of what they originally sold for. One friend in a group chat said that if she wore the same size shoes as me, she would murder me for them. I’m not entirely sure she was joking.

Welcome to the cult of The Row, a label established in 2006 by former child stars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen selling T-shirts for a couple of hundred dollars. Now? Their £3,000 coats are worn by Katie Holmes and the Duchess of Sussex, fashion editors will only carry their unbranded £2,000 handbags and they are the most sought-after American luxury fashion label in decades.

The Row’s spring/summer 2023 collection

The Row’s spring/summer 2023 collection

No celebrity is quite like the Olsens, who are 36 years old and have more in common with Greta Garbo than Kim Kardashian. After starring in the hit sitcom Full House (the twins took joint ownership of the role of Michelle Tanner when they were six months old), they made millions from a cottage industry of direct-to-video entertainment. In their teens they evolved into real fashion stars owing to their devotion to vintage Chanel couture, statement fine jewellery and lavish public smoking. Unapologetic smoking is a key part of their personal brand: Mary-Kate’s 2015 wedding to her now ex-husband Olivier Sarkozy included bowls of cigarettes for guests. (No word on whether Ashley’s recent small wedding to her longtime partner, Louis Eisner, included them. We, the public, will probably never know.)

The Olsens have never used their names to drive awareness of the brand. Quite the opposite. They are shrouded in anonymity, which has become key to their success. “By not making it about them, it’s all about them. If they were promoting it a lot, the value would be in how many items they could sell every time they posted on social media,” says Lauren Sherman, an American fashion journalist. “Instead, people buy it because it’s good, and the fact that these strange, mysterious women — who we were once so familiar with — are behind it makes it more intriguing.”

The Row’s London store

For fans, every glimpse into the quirky world they created is worth dissecting. At their fashion shows, held in New York and Paris, there are always parting gifts, such as a silver tray of tasteful figs or coffee served in artisanal mugs, that are certain to get guests in a tizz. The Row’s monthly playlists on Spotify, heavy on songs that are cool but not trendy (Aphex Twin, not Olivia Rodrigo), are also a source of inspiration. Their boutiques have unusual details such as a pool in the Los Angeles location. The New York store takes up an entire Upper East Side brownstone.

Lots of young celebrities embrace fashion and many, like the Olsens, start their own lines. But this isn’t some glorified hobby for them. The Olsens are said to be hands-on bosses who go to the office every day (they are often papped taking smoking breaks outside), perfectionists who aren’t monstrous — their small team of employees tend to stay for a long time and are a close bunch. “They must be pretty nice because people who have worked there, even if they complain, never have anything too terrible to say,” one fashion editor says.

And then there’s their press strategy, which is basically non-existent. They almost never grant interviews, never speak about their private lives, and the designers’ only social media is The Row’s official account, which mostly posts photos of famous works of art. The downside of all that anonymity is that “the product needed to stand on its own and warrant its own legitimacy”, says April Hennig, the chief merchandising officer at the luxury fashion retailer Moda Operandi. Over the years, she says, the brand developed a reputation among industry insiders for being the under-the-radar source for luxurious investment pieces that stand the test of time. “Nothing is unique any more, everything is commodified. The Row has managed to take commodities — T-shirts, jeans, sweaters, boots — and make them feel special through a mix of quality materials, exacting design and eye-popping prices,” Sherman says (the brand offers T-shirts for £300 and plain cashmere sweaters for upwards of £1,000). In marketing, she explains, there is the idea of the price-value equation: do consumers think your product is worth the price? “The Row has nailed that equation.”

The brand taps into the idea of wealth. More specifically, of a woman of means who doesn’t want loud logos or streetwear or recognisable catwalk pieces but, rather, quiet luxury. It’s something steeped in ideas of class (which is a Gen Z obsession — look up “old money aesthetic” on TikTok). “So much fashion doesn’t feel exclusive any more but The Row does. I see a lot of wealthy women in Los Angeles wearing The Row sweaters with Danielle Sherman necklaces and High Sport pants. That’s the current look of an in-the-know lady from Brentwood,” says Sherman, who owns a couple of the brand’s sweaters, a skirt, blazer, coat, jeans, one bag and trainers, all bought on sale. People who want The Row but lack the funds can keep an eye on resale sites or brave the annual sample sale in New York, with its queues of hundreds to get in.

From left: Sienna Miller wore The Row in Netflix’s Anatomy of a Scandal; Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár

From left: Sienna Miller wore The Row in Netflix’s Anatomy of a Scandal; Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár

NETFLIX/FOCUS FEATURES

The Row’s clothes look like those someone intelligent and powerful would wear. In the film Tár, Cate Blanchett’s monstrously elegant character Lydia Tár, wears (of course) The Row. “I think a new type of customer has come around, one with equally deep pockets. They just previously bought Hervé Léger bandage dresses and YSL Tribute heels,” says Lauren Garroni, who co-hosts the fashion podcast Every Outfit. “The Row has become a sartorial shortcut for It girls to convey a mature glow-up. I’m thinking of Zoë Kravitz, Kendall Jenner and Morgan Stewart McGraw’s recent style pivots.”

The Toronto-based Neelam Ahooja is something of an influencer for The Row. She started her collection with an oversized dolman-sleeve tee in two colours. Of how many items she owns now, she will only say: “I dare not count.” She describes the brand as “sophisticated, classic but edgy, effortless and luxurious, masculine and feminine … neutral palettes, fluid draping, rich fabrics and classic styles with a pinch of eccentricity draw in a wide range of clients — those with a penchant for quirky and those who are head-to-toe classic,” she says. “And the absence of loud logos and bright colours are a draw for those seeking subtle sophistication.”

Ahooja is one of the lucky few who get invitations to the Olsens’ shows, which are always intimate. More than 170,000 people follow the influencer on Instagram to experience vicariously her trips to The Row’s showroom and New York boutique, where she might try on white gowns, long black coats and quilted floor-length jackets fresh off the catwalk. She describes the experience as “usually pretty giddy” and “a dream”. If money wasn’t an object, she says, she’d buy one of the black alligator backpacks, which, while costing in excess of £33,000, are often sold out.

From left: the <a href=brand’s fans include Jennifer Lawrence, TyLynn Nguyen, Claire Rose Cliteur, the New York editor Lindsay Peoples and Margot Robbie” src=”https://www.thetimes.co.uk/imageserver/image/%2Fmethode%2Ftimes%2Fprod%2Fweb%2Fbin%2F70ec1a42-7e17-426a-bf4d-93707cec3eba.jpg?crop=1500%2C1000%2C0%2C0&resize=400&quality=3″ class=”responsive-sc-1nnon4d-0 fwlcWP”/>

From left: the brand’s fans include Jennifer Lawrence, TyLynn Nguyen, Claire Rose Cliteur, the New York editor Lindsay Peoples and Margot Robbie

GETTY IMAGES/BACKGRID

As a private company, The Row does not release sales figures, but Hennig says: “A client who shops at The Row has almost a 50 per cent higher spend than those who do not purchase the brand. In terms of brand affinities, customers who shop at The Row also gravitate towards brands like Khaite, Prada, Bottega Veneta and Toteme.”

Maybe as millennials age they are exhausted by fast fashion and Y2K trends, or less than enthusiastic about the idea of embracing Barbiecore. Or maybe tailoring and timeless classics feel like a good investment in uncertain economic times.

“That could be partly a subconscious reaction to the looming recession, but let’s be honest, none of this is exactly thrifty,” Garroni says. She owns one single item by The Row. “It’s a blazer that I purchased using a hodgepodge of gift cards. It was a size too big and I had to get it tailored to fit me.” Was it worth it? “I have zero regrets.”

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