Not content to launch men’s with only their designer label, The Row, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are tackling men’s wear on a second front — their contemporary brand Elizabeth and James, which is also expanding in each of its existing categories.
This story first appeared in the February 26, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Elizabeth and James women’s wear launched for fall 2007 through a licensing partnership between L’Koral Industries, the former parent of Seven For All Mankind and the Olsens’ company Dualstar. It is now sold in more than 200 doors, including Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. The partners forecast revenue growth of at least 25 percent this year in just the women’s category. Elizabeth and James is also expanding the women’s shoe line it launched last season through a partnership with Steve Madden, and adding fine jewelry to its collaboration with jeweler Robert Lee Morris. (Think rose gold and diamonds.)
And now there’s men’s wear.
“We knew eventually there would be a guy, a James,” said Ashley Olsen. The label is loosely named after the twins’ other two siblings, reflecting a masculine-feminine balance always in play in the design of the women’s line. However, “in men’s it’s more about balancing uptown and downtown,” she said.
“That’s not literal, it’s just a reference to fabrics and the risks people are willing to take in the way they dress,” said Mary-Kate. For this first season, the duo said they took additional inspiration from “Oliver Twist” and Peter Pan’s Lost Boys.
The line has a rugged downtown flair, with mildly trendy silhouettes. As with The Row, the twins aimed to create unfussy, durable and solidly masculine clothes that are comforting on the body. There is visible softness in cashmere sweaters, frayed jersey tops and washed flannel pieces. Patterns include plaids and an American Indian intarsia, which covers a puffer vest.
A coat features a removable shearling lining “because dudes want options,” said Mary-Kate. “And if they buy a great coat, they want to wear it all the time, starting when they buy it.”
A pleated flannel trouser is expected to be a signature item and retails for $265. Prices for the line are at the high end of contemporary because the customer is “investment-oriented but not ready to jump to designer,” said Jane Siskin, chief executive officer of L’Koral.
Barneys New York will launch the men’s line in the U.S., even though the retailer doesn’t carry Elizabeth and James women’s wear.
“I think that speaks to the strength of the men’s line and the fact that it’s not leaning on the women’s business,” said Siskin. Furthermore, the sales plan is to target men’s specialty stores such as Odin, which will have no basis of comparison to the women’s.