I've noticed E&J has gone downhill. The clothes are run-of-the mill designs that are being sold everywhere else. The price is still just as high though. I don't get the sense the Olsens are heavily involved with this line.
Sisters Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen arrived stealthily in Dallas on Tuesday to promote their 4-year-old contemporary label, Elizabeth and James. Neiman Marcus Fashion Director Ken Downing helped them present the Fall collection — including both the core collection and the jeans wear spinoff, Textile — in an intimate, invitation-only setting at the NorthPark Neiman Marcus.
NMdaily: The last time I saw you together, we spoke a lot about the masculine/feminine balance of Elizabeth and James. Do you still see the brand that way?
Ashley Olsen: We definitely still see that, and we’ve expanded it. We also now have a balance of casualwear with more designer-trend-based fashion. That’s kind of why we started Textile—to have this great casual element so we could do the high/low and the casual with the more fashion-forward pieces.
NM: The Fall collection is quite boho and romantic, but those leather pieces toughen it up.
AO: Yeah, and we also had a lot of suitings that were inspired by men’s wear.
NM: The brand has a great element of the unexpected. It’s eclectic and intriguing. What do you view as consistent about the collection?
Mary-Kate Olsen: It’s always very playful. And we stick to the integrity of the brand. Each season we think about our girl, who’s wearing it. It’s definitely trend-based, but still has a life of its own.
NM: Do you see any design elements as your signatures?
AO: We’re definitely known for our suitings and also our kind of sexy dresses and blouses. So we constantly work with that formula of masculine and feminine elements. But especially for Fall we wanted to elevate every piece, whether with extra stitching or colored furs or crochet. We worked with a lot of different types of textiles to create this more prestigious attitude and look.
NM: Elizabeth and James now has apparel, shoes, jewelry, eyewear and Textile. What’s next?
AO: Handbags! Hopefully by Fall 2012 it will be available at Neiman Marcus. But right now, I think Textile has been the most fun to explore, with our colored jeans, and really bringing in an element of California, beachwear, laidback weekend wear.
NM: Which colors are you loving in the denim?
MKO: There’s a red that’s so great. And an orange. And a great yellow. And we did bright colors in sweaters and T-shirts also, so it’s a colorful and tonal but laidback look.
NM: The brand is four years old. What have you learned in these four years as designers and entrepreneurs?
Unison: We’re constantly learning.
[When the former child-actors turned 18 they acquired control of Dualstar Entertainment Group, the company that distributed their films and created extensive mass-market licenses off their names when they were minors.]
AO: We got to take a step back and figure out what we want to focus on: building brands, and not just around my sister and I. We were very successful with the Mary-Kate and Ashley brand. To basically take all the knowledge we learned from our childhood and all the businesses we’ve been in, and apply them to our own businesses and run them ourselves, and create a company environment that we love… we’re constantly learning about how to manage and how to keep looking forward. And having patience and sticking with what feels right.
NM: Learning to trust your own instincts?
MKO: That’s a lot of what the fashion industry is about.
NM: You’ve worked a long time and accomplished a great deal. What professional goals and dreams do you still have?
AO: To keep focused on the brands we’re building, and keep being innovative and true to ourselves. We just want to work hard and see the outcome.
NM: You’re obviously committed to fashion. Are you pursuing acting or anything outside of fashion?
AO: Not right now. We don’t have time.
MK: Disappearing for 3 months [for a role] isn’t really in the cards, in the fashion industry.
NM: Our Twitter followers wanted to know what your favorite pieces from the Fall collection are.
MKO: I really love the cheetah-print jacket with the removable collar.
AO: We did all these different colored furs, which I really love. And the colored jeans we did in Textile, and the really soft T-shirts.
NM: Where do you look for inspiration for a collection?
AO: Sometimes it starts with an era. For Fall it was definitely this Bianca Jagger, Seventies vibe with the prints and the bohemian aspects. We were really focused on Bianca Jagger.
NM: Do any of your contemporaries inspire you?
AO: Mary-Kate inspires me.
MKO: Yeah, I’d have to say Ashley too. We’re also inspired a lot by traveling.
AO: We just came back from Honduras, which was amazing. We did a collaboration [between The Row and Toms] so we got to go with Toms to give shoes to communities in need.
NM: Is there anyone else you’d love to collaborate with?
AO: We feel like every day is a collaboration. It truly is. We have four licensing partners for Elizabeth and James, and all those partners have design teams that we work with daily to make sure the product is what it needs to be.
MKO: And make sure that there’s brand consistency.