There’s something I didn’t tell you. The Olsen twins were in Seattle yesterday—at Via C in Nordstrom.
The thing is, I couldn’t tell you, otherwise I definitely would have. The Olsens appeared to launch Textile, a brand new branch of their line Elizabeth and James (they design and operate something like four fashion brands), and publicists involved with the event didn’t want a mob scene, so pre-press was forbidden.
Instead, what follows here is a blow-by-blow account of the conversation I had with them in a sort of ‘backstage’ room at Nordstrom before the event.
WWW: You guys are the Row girl; we see you photographed in your drapey, oversized designs for that line and it almost seems like you’re your own muses when it comes to that look. So who’s the girl — imaginary or otherwise — that you’re designing for the new line, Textile? What’s her look, what’s her style?
Mary-Kate: We definitely wanted to do denim in a big way. We’ve always been inspired by denim and our partner Jean Sisken used to work for Seven. With our love of vintage jeans, and the way we’ve always altered and changed them, it just sounded right. And you know we’re California girls. There’s a sense of ease to what we wear. We wanted to be able to create a sub-brand that nodded to that.
Ashley: It’s really just an extension of Elizabeth and James; this mix of uptown and downtown, masculine and feminine. Our clients are kind of ageless, so it’s about offering these classic pieces that you can do a lot with. It’s sort of like a Bridget Bardot thing.
WWW: Gotcha, yeah, denim as a day-to-night, dress up or down element is pretty much how we live anymore. Tell me more about how you’ve been altering and playing around with vintage denim.
Mary-Kate: I used to take old men’s Lee and Levi’s and from there, because they were so big, I could create a flair, I could create a skinny, I could do a high waisted or a low waisted. So I did that with as many jeans as I could find in as many different washes.
WWW: Wait. And you were sewing them yourself, or…
Mary-Kate: No, I was using a denim tailor. Denim gets tricky when you’re sewing. In high school we were making dresses ourselves for prom or whatever but denim is a different animal.
WWW: Yeah, totally. So, as with the Row, these new Textile styles are pieces that you guys wear? You’ve been wearing the denim?
Ashley: I wore the Iggy the other night. It’s like a slightly dropped crotch.
Mary-Kate [to publicist]: What’s my favorite style called? The red one…Joni?
Publicist: Oh the red, it’s for fall…
Ashley: It’s like this [points to the extremely well lived-in army/navy store fatigue pants I’m wearing] shape.
Mary-Kate: Right but what’s the name of it because I’m obsessed with it? They had to force me to give them back because I was wearing them and they needed them as a sample when they were doing sales. I will get them back, though.
Publicist [after looking the style name up on her phone]: It’s called the Crosby.
Ashley: So it’s not just denim. There are other casual elements as well. The cargo, the [here a message over Nordstrom’s PA system obscured her descriptions]…
WWW: Oh wait, did you say ‘a painter pant’?
Ashley: A painter pant?
WWW: Okay, no, you didn’t. Nevermind. I thought I heard that, sorry. I’m super into painter pants. I’ve been wearing the crisp white wines, kind of short and cuffed, for the last year.
Ashley: Oh yeah, I love painter pants, too. I’m obsessed. There’s a makeup artist who works for Vogue who always wears this all-white one-piece painter suit.
WWW: Nice. I love women who can do a strict uniform thing.
Mary-Kate: She’s amazing. She has like, Grace Coddington’s hair and she’s super tall and striking.
WWW: So, going into spring and summer, what’s the look? What are you feeling?
Ashley: What we’re designing right now?
WWW: No, like, what’s hitting floors and what do you see as the best trends for this current season? I know as designers you’re probably currently working on like 2012, but I’m just wondering what readers could think about for, you know, this weekend.
WWW: Hm. Tight, and then a flair, or a full flair?
Mary-Kate and Ashley [in unison]: Both.
WWW: And what about waists? I’m ready for a normal waist, again. What happened to the waist?
Ashley: Right. Just right above the hip, it’s a little short, and very classic. The Row is doing a shape like that but it’s a specific item—and edgier look, a very hard sell. What you want is the cool mom jean back.
WWW: Well, I guess so.
Ashley: We love cool mom jeans.
WWW: So, do you do this often—visit other cities, that is? A lot of what we hear about you is that you’re very private so I can’t image that you’re often out on the road doing these store-to-store tours.
Mary-Kate: We’ve been trying to set this one up for a long time. We just ordered all our fabrics for resort, so this was the week we had before jumping back into full design. We’ve been trying to get here forever. I think it’s really important to know the customer and understand what they’re liking. We also did a sales clinic here [with staff] this morning. It’s important because in order to translate it, people need to hear it from [the designer].
WWW: How does meeting with customers inform what you do?
Ashley: What’s helpful is that the customer talks about the things they love, and the things they loved in the past. If you get a couple of people talking about a piece or a fit from a past season, we’ll bring it back. But you don’t know until you’re in front of them and they’re telling you how much they loved it. That conversation is so important for us to keep having.
WWW: I’m curious too—whenever you travel, I’m sure you’re picking up on styles in different cities and different areas. You’re obviously tuned in. Seattle loves to question what its style is. We’re always asking ‘What is Seattle style’ and there is a Seattle style, but I also think we’re all reading the same blogs and magazines, and style, like everything else, is somewhat globalized. I’m curious what you pick up on in terms of different styles and different cities.
Ashley: Every city has its own thing, but it does feel more globalized. It’s the internet. That stuff travels.
Mary-Kate: But, like, for this launch, it’s been New York, LA, and Seattle, and the way people dress, yeah, there’s a difference. It’s the climate…
Ashley: Yeah, and whether they’re walking or driving.
WWW: I always say that our weather and our hills play a big role.
Ashley: Exactly. Do they layer there, why do they layer, how do they layer? That type of thing.
WWW: I know we’ve run over our allotted time but let me just ask: You mentioned you were just doing Seattle, New York and Los Angeles. I like that. Why here, though?
Mary-Kate: Mainly because Nordstrom’s hub is here, and they’ve been a huge supporter of the brand…
Ashley: They’ve been a huge supporter of the brand, but on top of that, Mary-Kate and I were like, yeah, we want to get to Seattle. We’ve always wanted to come here. We’re really excited to be here.
Post-script: After our conversation, the heavily-jeweled, leather legging-wearing ladies met with individual customers in dressing rooms and on the floor. They pulled looks and weighed in on fit and style. How could you ensure that next time a couple of really interesting cultural figures and designers are in town, you get to have them supervising your current season wardrobe buy? It’s all about frequent fliers. Nordstrom staff invite the shoppers they know will benefit from the personal visit. And vice-versa.