Just before Labor Day weekend I spent an afternoon with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, the weirdly non-weird former child actresses and the current powerhouses behind a group of brands, including The Row. The Olsens have grown up in fashionâ€”when they were younger Marc Jacobs and Chanel frocks were altered to fit them; they sold a tween line at Wal-Mart. The far higher end Row is the real deal. In June the twins beat out stiff competitionâ€”including Marc Jacobs and Prouenza Schulerâ€”to win the CFDA award for best womenswear.
Inspired by the quality and collectability of Savile Row menswear pieces, the Olsens have created a must-have, timeless group of clothesâ€”the kind that every woman I know wants to wear, season after season. Everything from stretch leather leggings and simple cotton shirts to $39,000 (yes) alligator backpacks fly out of the stores, including Barney’s and Bergdorf Goodman. And it’s no wonderâ€”everything is brilliantly, rigorously designed, which is to say each piece is boiled down to its ineffably chic essence and then given a beautiful button here, a lovely ribbon stripe there. Current hits include a jacket from Fall 2012 that looks like the dinner jacket you wish your boyfriend/husband owned and lent you.
The nice news is that I was as crazy about the hard-working Olsens as I was about the clothes, but I’ll save those details for the WSJ magazine, for whom I am writing a piece that will appear next month. During the photo shoot I browsed through the racks of clothes, from the current fall and resort collections as well as from the gorgeous spring 2013 collection that was shown at the Carlyle yesterday. As I did so, I was reminded of my own favorite wardrobe, consisting of about seven piecesâ€”the same amount that were in the first Row collection four years ago.
The year was 1992. It was October just before the election; I was nursing a broken heart and couldn’t bear to see another image of Ross Perot’s face on my TV screen. I had generous friends with roomy apartments in both Paris and London so I decided to hit the road â€”and for once I traveled light. In London I saw old flames, dined at the Caprice, and danced at Annabel’s. In Paris I saw the Chanel show with my friend Andre Leon Talley, had countless cocktails at the Ritz bar, and lunched with John Galliano at Caviar Caspia. In between, there were lots of museum visits and suitably melancholy long walks, but no matter where I went or what I did, I wore some combination of the only pieces in my suitcase: a black double breasted Chanel jacket with gold buttons and a pencil skirt; a skinny Chanel ankle length skirt; a narrow pair of Dolce & Gabbana black flannel trousers; a black four-ply cashmere sweater so long it was almost a tunic, a black tank and a white tank; and, just in case, a pair of green chiffon wide-leg pants appliquÃ©d with black and white cut-velvet daisies. I know I packed a white cotton shirt and I may have had a black silk one. But other than a pair of black Prada flats and some black Manolo spikes, that was pretty much it.
Despite the heartbreak, most of the time I felt liberated, even a tiny bit glorious. The clothes, like those in The Row collections, were mostly well-made investment pieces and they felt like second skins to me. The Chanel jacket and the green pants tarted things up a bit when necessary, as did the Chanel pearls and oversized brooch that Andre snagged for me from backstage at the show. Some women I know cut their hair when they end a relationship. For me it was a wardrobe reductionâ€”not just in the amount of pieces, but in the kinds of pieces. Poufy party frocks or even a more decorated Chanel jacket would not have felt right. Ditto lots of color or pattern. Each piece I brought with me on that trip had been reduced down to its very best self and when I wore them they enabled me to try and do the same.
I would give my eyeteeth to have versions of those pieces now and the good news is that I don’t have to. There is The Row, after all, along with some terrific pieces from Taigan stores that we at Fetch pulled out for this week’s fashion feature. They too are perfect timeless basics. I may not be heartbroken but it’s an election year again and people’s nerves are shot. Investing in sexy, easy armor of a sort strikes me as the perfect way to dress again. It also strikes me as far more genuinely luxurious than donning a lot of fussy bells and whistles.