How The Row Became Fashion’s Most Enviable Brand

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The Row Fall Autumn Winter 2019 collection Mary Kate Ashley
The Row Autumn/Winter 2019Courtesy of The Row

“Like Alaïa, The Row stands in its own completeness,” writes Dean Mayo Davies of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s simple yet uncompromising brand

78 per cent cashmere, 14 per cent silk, three per cent wool, two per cent camel hair (and three per cent other, out of necessity). So reads the care tag on The Row’s Autumn/Winter 2019 ‘Mance’ coat. The colour is sand and it’s a pull-on turtleneck style in textured cashmere and silk bouclé, with a tunic silhouette. It has side-seam pockets and a back storm flap. It stops a flick short of the floor and costs the same as a small car. But, if you’re familiar with the Tracey Emin work Sometimes the Dress is Worth More Money than the Money, sometimes it is.

If you like clothes, you probably are romantic: you are here reading this, after all. Though perhaps ‘fanatic’ is the more tangible term. Being fanatical about details, visual language, the rush of wearing something created with love by a team of people who are just as inflicted. And, in the end, about the resulting joy that emanates from feeling good.

The Row, it’s safe to say, is nothing but fanatical. It has been ever since Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen rolled up the limo window on their acting career, launching one of the most sure-footed collections around, a long way from the child movie stars of It Takes Two who worked solidly from babies until the age of 18. Calling their brand after the most fastidious menswear strip in the world, Savile Row, they blew smoke rings around any dilettante chatter, establishing a business that has flourished by never having heard the word ‘compromise’. The Row’s Margaux 10 Bag in hunter-green alligator is priced on par with an exotic Hermès. Or a classic Bentley. Should you need to carry either your belongings or yourself.

“The Row was established in 2006 by Ashley Olsen and Mary-Kate Olsen,” declares the New York-based house on its website. “Focusing on exceptional fabrics, impeccable details, and precise tailoring, the house combines a timeless perspective with subtle attitudes which form an irreverent classic signature. The Row’s collections also explore the strength of simplistic shapes that speak to discretion and are based on uncompromising quality.” This is pretty much the extent of its communication. When you know you’ve got integrity, any elaboration is pollution.

Here, getting dressed is about personal pleasure, with just a piquant spike of otherness. The Row is classic in the same way a martini is: an entire glass of vodka, with just an atomiser-spritz of vermouth. As one fan, a London-based writer and editor in her thirties explained: “I wouldn’t say The Row is necessarily always easy, in the way that timelessly elegant things can sometimes be. It’s super polished, but it’s got teeth. It’s like this ascetic, monastic and Puritan wardrobe that’s also wildly indulgent and sensual at the same time.”

What began as Ashley’s pursuit of creating the perfect white T-shirt spiralled into a collection. It does its work interchangeably in navy, ivory, cream, grey and black, foreign from the shining ubiquity of a particular season. Like Alaïa – let that achievement sink in – The Row stands in its own completeness, with the brevity of a personal life trousseau. In its mind there are no other clothes.

In 2008, Lauren Hutton, legendary as an embodiment of understated style, modelled for the brand. “I saw the clothes, and they were wonderful, real simple, minimalist designs,” the American supermodel told the LA Times. “I think at that time I was 63.” A friend ever since, she enthused to American Vogue that “I live in it... It’s beautifully tailored in a modern way. It just fits, chicly.” Chicly means cutting jackets like Paris couture, to make your arms look thinner and longer.

Perhaps more than any other brand The Row is contextualised by what jewellery it is worn with. And you get the feeling this is where the Olsens really have fun.

A vintage, old European cut diamond Boucheron ring, 1.80 carats, is for sale as part of The Row’s Galerie, a hand-selected series of objects that elaborates on the sisters’ desires. (Their favoured diamonds tend to be old European.) Remarkably, despite all the investment in the clothing, there’s a sense real shopping is done at Paris’ Galerie Patrick Seguin or Jacques Lacoste, collecting legendary French design from the deco/modernist era. Sit down at The Row’s New York or (award-winning) LA store and it’ll be on a Pierre Jeanneret chair or Jean Prouvé bed. The Row’s forthcoming London shop, their first in Europe, will take over the old Timothy Taylor gallery at Carlos Place. So consistent is their vision, it’s like being asphyxiated by good taste. Flawless and never boring. 

Who wears a £10,000 polo neck, you might ask? That kind of privacy runs masterfully deep. Of course, it’s not all about that coat, but to someone out there, it will be. Until they’ve finally acquired that distinguished Jean-Michel Frank piece. Or Jean Dunand. Perhaps only then The Row truly becomes a life uniform: something beautiful you don’t have to think about, as your mind wanders elsewhere. Luxury, without the responsibility.