When I go to meet Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen to discuss the grand opening of their London flagship for The Row, I’m not allowed inside. The front door has just been varnished, they explain, and the precisely curated atmosphere of the two-storey space has been momentarily disrupted (“We were like, bag the clothes!” laughs Mary Kate). They don’t, they say, want my first impression of it to be tainted – and such a sentiment speaks to the approach that they have taken with every element of their brand. Everything must be perfect; it doesn’t matter how long it might take, or how difficult it might be.
The brand has been running for over a decade and they only launched e-commerce a few months ago, so intent were they on working out how to translate the meticulous nuances of their vision into the digital realm. For spring/summer 2019, they skipped staging a fashion show; they were busy trying to navigate the combination of the womens- and menswear calendars after launching the latter for the label. And so, “it just made the most sense to do a presentation.”
“We have a very particular vision and we’re very specific,” Ashley once told me, explaining how fortunate the sisters feel to own their business, to have it as a family-run enterprise that can afford to make the sorts of decisions entirely alien to other brands. “It’s been a slow build,” she smiles. “I feel very fortunate, because that’s a rarity in our field.”
So this space has been years in the making; it took two to find the Carlos Place location – and that was before they started working alongside architect Annabelle Selldorf to turn it into what it is now. It is their first international outpost (their first was in New York, the next in Los Angeles) and – I’m not sure if I’m biased because I’m British – is the best of the bunch: an enormous, artfully-decorated space that was once a bank and then an art gallery, with fabulously high ceilings and a mind-blowing array of furnishings. As soon as you step through that problematic but nicely-varnished door, you are confronted by the soothing neon of a James Turrell set into a wall; next, a series of 1930s furniture first commissioned by the Maharaja of Indore; an Isamu Noguchi sculpture; a giant, 1925 Jean Lurçat rug; John Chamberlain’s Funny installed aside a handbag display. “We wanted to keep the same elements of art in the space [as we have in New York and LA],” says Mary-Kate. “But furniture-wise it feels unique – it balances out the coldness that could happen in a gallery space, creates some warmth.” Despite the faintly terrifying elegance of these pieces, all together they make for something rather inviting and you actually want to sit on the Michel Buffet chairs. Now that the varnish has aired out, the space is even scented with a custom blend by L'Oeil du Vert (it will soon be available to purchase): a gentle, expensive-smelling sandalwood creation.
It’s all pretty staggering – and the clothes, hung in a pleasing gradient around the walls, come almost secondary to the impact (incidentally, everything in here is available to buy, from the Le Corbusier chairs to the Frank Lloyd-Wright side tables and vintage Tiffany lamps in the dressing room). Such a spirit bears parity to the brand they have built: a unique type of discreet chic, clothing more pleasurable to wear than to observe on a rail. It isn’t until you’re right up close that you might discover a hand-embroidered sequin affixed to the collar of a silk crepe shirt, or the spongiest cashmere you’ve ever felt; until you’re wearing some of their tailoring that you realise the consideration that has gone into its construction.
“How we’ve always worn The Row is as these really beautiful, minimal pieces that can highlight a spectacular, handmade, one of a kind piece,” explains Ashley of that understatement. Over the course, and various iterations, of their careers, the duo has become renowned for their personal dress sense: like pairing extraordinary vintage Chanel leathers with their own, clean and simple envelope clutches at this year’s Met Gala (incidentally, they are planning a vintage couture capsule for this space later in the year – fashion fans will surely be beside themselves with excitement for such an occasion). Their designs are the most elevated sort of staples, designed for their wearer rather than the world around them. The most flamboyant they get? The minute hand beading on a pure white shift dress, or the bright graphics on a S.T. Dupont lighter collaboration (they are still flying the flag for smokers everywhere; these are exclusive to London, and brilliantly beautiful). This space is the same: quiet luxury at its most, well, luxurious.
There are plenty of spectacular pieces to highlight here, too – and not just from The Row: vintage jewellery, a carefully-chosen product edit from some of their favourite brands. “We’ve always seen The Row as being able to offer more than just what we do… And I think the more time that goes by and the more we’re able to gain clients that trust us, and the story we can tell. It makes you want to try brave things and try new things.” Ana Khouri and vintage Bulgari diamonds are suspended in Perspex boxes. Their sunglasses collaboration with Oliver Peoples comes gold plated. A site-specific handbag, a tiny vintage pouch formed of sterling silver net, drips hand-dipped enamel beads. Walls filled with glossy exotic handbags; crocodile business card holders resting on George Switzer trays; beaded sock shoes. Gosh, to be the woman who will come into one of these enormous fitting rooms and have it merchandised to your specific taste (personal shopping is, of course, of paramount importance here) before leaving with enormous bags of it all.
Many of those women, it turns out, are in London – which is why this is the first international outpost for the brand. They are gallerists or curators, businesswomen and architects: tasteful, rich and looking for low-key elegance. “It’s our second largest city,” says Mary-Kate. “And London is super international,” says Ashley. “You can connect and have people touch the brand who don’t have as much access to it. Plus, it’s nice to have an excuse to be here, to be in Europe… to be outside of LA or New York.” It is, of course, a slightly curious time to be launching hyper-luxury in this country: our economy is set to crash (further) any moment now; our politics an absolute minefield of mystery. “I think we’re always aware of the political climate everywhere – but I also don’t think that that necessarily needs to dictate what ends up happening in three or five or 10 years from now,” reflects Mary-Kate. “You have to be aware, but we’ve been through a few of these political-economic changes; we started our business in 2008, the year before the crash, and if we’d let that stop us…” Certainly it doesn’t matter the climate: there is always a type of customer seeking the ultimate luxury. And they’ll find it here, in droves.