Celebrities

The Style Evolution of the Olsens: A Purse Retrospective

Then doubling up on the style, now bundling up in The Row

With the possible exception of Chloë Sevigny, there are few within the New York it-girl canon whose level of fame has managed to transcend the city’s boundaries across the country to Hollywood and, later, onto worldwide acclaim. 

There are even fewer among them who have since receded from the public eye, instead bringing us one of the most influential luxury brands of today that, at merely two decades into inception, has gone hand-in-hand with heavyweight heritage houses in almost singlehandedly fueling the quiet luxury onslaught of fashion. 

And clearly, it is only the Olsen twins – Mary-Kate and Ashley – that pertain to this highly specific category that I’ve made up exclusively for identification purposes. 

But it is for good reason; the Twins, after all, have managed to reach a level of social standing rarely heard of, not just within the fashion crowds but in New York’s social fixtures in general; Carrie, for instance, quips in an episode of And Just Like That how she once saw an Olsen twin walk into the Urgent Care on Fourteenth Street!

So, today, it is the enigmatic Olsens that we cast a retrospective glance towards, charting their stylistic evolution in terms of their (excellent, might I add) handbag game from way back in the early aughts to now.

2000: From Full House to Full Fashion

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Image via Business Insider

The duo got their big career break pretty early on in life – at nine months of age, to be exact – on ABC’s Full House, playing the dual role of the mischievous Michelle.

But while they weren’t exactly running around with trendy Prada nylon backpacks of the time as toddlers, and in fact, were not spotted carrying handbags until long after, they did find their first fashion calling in 2000, seen here at the launch party for a planner they designed, unbeknownst to them of the critical acclaim that awaits.

2005: On the Met Gala and Big Bags

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Hosting a Lucky Magazine event with a Bottega clutch and a Fendi Spy. Image via W Magazine

However, aside from their successful careers as child TV stars, the Twins rode on the highs of the sales of their countless books, essays, and even a Walmart clothing line aged 12. This subsequently got them a coveted Met Gala invitation in 2005 – the theme being celebrating Chanel. Soon after, they’d begun to be spotted across all major events, their big bags obsession, having initially begun in 2004, now in full force.

2006: That Derelicte Green Balenciaga

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Mary-Kate’s infamous mint green Balenciaga. Image via Never Worns

In an iconic profile by W Magazine, Mary-Kate’s Balenciaga Moto bag, “originally mint green, but so dingy, covered with stains, pen marks and even a chewed-up piece of gum that it looks almost gray,” was immortalized, reflecting upon her tumultuous NYU years amid a breakup with then-boyfriend and Greek shipping magnate, Stavros Niarchos III, and a very public feud with Paris Hilton. It was also the year the duo began experimenting with the idea of “the perfect white t-shirt” laying the original groundwork for The Row’s inception.

2007-2008: Fendi’s Twins Frenzy

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The Fendi Twins Tote versus The Row Alligator Day Luxe Tote.

It was around this time that a certain exotic vintage Fendi tote Ashley was carrying around everywhere that captured the attention of the style circles. Fendi, of course, immediately jumped onto the opportunity, relaunching the silhouette as the Twins Tote. But it was really the subsequent Alligator Day Luxe Tote by The Row that took off. The rest, as we know it, is history.

2009: *That* Decrepit Black Hermès Kelly

On a similar note to that Balenciaga Mary-Kate carries into gross-dom, 2009 was the year we saw her carry a black boxcalf Hermès Kelly, so worn the corners have gone grey, toted fittingly to The Museum Of Modern Art’s tribute to Tim Burton. This, too, has been a fixture of her closet ever since, continuing to serve as bag-spiration for messy-chic fashionistas all around. 

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The Kelly in question. Images via Harpers Bazaar, High Snobiety

2011-2015: Front and Center with The Row

It was finally in 2011 that the twins officially stepped out for the first time in full The Row coordinating outfits for CFDA Fashion Awards, the manifestation of a dream few had realized would ever come true. It was also around this time that they slowly started slipping out of the radar and away from their acting careers, their style too becoming almost uniformly monastic, in keeping with The Row’s aesthetic.

That didn’t mean that The Row didn’t turn heads. Marie Claire editor-in-chief Aya Kanai opines, “I would not have imagined on that day in 2006 when we were looking at her T-shirts that she was going to turn that into one of the top brands in the luxury fashion space and be taken very, very seriously by every single media professional and all of us very snobby, frankly, fashion people.”

What else did that mean? Why $39,000 alligator backpacks, of course, that in a period of dire economic crises, outsold the likes of Louboutin and champagne! 

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Casually running errands with the most eye-watering exotics imaginable. Images via Huff Post, Instagram.

2018 to Now: The Margaux Mania

Across the better part of the noughties and early 2010s, the Olsens have had different eras – boho-chic, y2k teen, and moto-grunge. But with their second CFDA Fashion Awards win as Womenswear Designers of the Year in 2015, they’d gone almost completely incognito, letting The Row speak for itself rather than rely on (and thus suffer from) the pitfalls of a celebrity label trap.

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The Margaux in crocodile and smooth leather as seen on the Olsens. Images via Instagram 1, 2

And perhaps the most eminent embodiment of its success – far surpassing the popularity of the Twins themselves – has been the Margaux bag. First launched in 2018, it brought the labors of their hard-built fashion empire to fruition, rising to become one of the hottest-selling items of 2024.

Present Day: Quiet Luxury Who?

But despite it becoming one of the most successful brands of 2024, thanks, in no small part, to the stealth wealth trend, in reality, The Row is just as secretive as its founders, with little advertising and sometimes even foregoing the physical runway presentation in favor of studio viewings (or banning phones from the show!)

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Never let them know your next move, that’s what the Olsens always say. Images via Instagram

And as eager as we’ve been to crown it the queen of quiet luxury, perhaps the objective of The Row really isn’t to dress us all in old money garbs but to actually make us inhabit it – to purchase it is a literal, long-term investment into one’s wardrobe, something few can afford en masse sans the insouciance of the monied. Plus, when you thought nobody did the trend better than the Olsens, Mary-Kate decided to vacation in Mexico with a monogrammed Louis Vuitton in tow. It’s like Town and Country Magazine writes of them, having been “like freaks on display, for the first 18 years of their life, nonstop. So, it’s just so fucking cool that once they turned 18, they just were like, ‘We’re going to do whatever the fuck we want.’ And they did. And they did it really well.”

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Terri
Terri
14 days ago

Margaux in dark chocolate is on my wishlist!

Antonia
Antonia
15 days ago

I would love to own a Margeaux someday! I just recently scored an Iowa duffle from TRR for a steal and last year I bought their original fisherman sandals also from TRR. I think I was definitely ‘influenced’!! Speaking of, I want to buy their coffee table book under the same name.

A Woman Of A Certain Age
A Woman Of A Certain Age
13 days ago

I’d love a Margeaux croc! So luxe.

Emem
Emem
13 days ago

Yup! I’m so anti-exotics and yet still WOULD LOVE!

Sandy
Sandy
15 days ago

I really like The Row clothing but yet to purchase bag or shoes. I have looked at the fisherman sandals on many occasions but opted to purchase elsewhere, not sure they are my style. Judging by the clothing I think everything would be impeccably made.

Pinksky777
Pinksky777
14 days ago

Do some basic research and you would know that her green Balenciaga was actually pistachio, not mint green. I actually even purchased the new Le City in the light green bc it’s practically identical to that shade. I had been wanting it for yearsss.

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Ess Are
Ess Are
13 days ago
Reply to  Pinksky777

When I Google “Olsen Balenciaga”, the 3rd hit is from Vogue.com:
a 12/2021 article titled “Relax—Take Pride in Your Beat-Up Bags”
(URL: https://www.vogue.com/article/in-defense-of-beat-up-bags).
The article says “I have also been looking at old photos of Mary-Kate Olsen and her beat-up bags, specifically her notorious Balenciaga mint green tote from the early ’00s, which remains in iconic fashion forum history.”

Also coming up: a 2005 W Magazine article: “The version she’s carrying today was originally mint green, but it’s so dingy, covered with stains, pen marks and even a chewed-up piece of gum, that it looks almost gray.”
https://www.wmagazine.com/story/mary-kate-olsen

Basic research!

Antonia
Antonia
13 days ago
Reply to  Ess Are

Exactly! @pinksky777 Not everyone knows all of the official colors of Balenciaga….for instance, they have TONS of different shades of red. Someone not ‘in the know’ would just call it a red Balenciaga. Would you shame them and say, no it’s not red, it’s Vermillion? I think not. I don’t know how anyone can keep them straight-lol.

Julie
Julie
14 days ago
Reply to  Pinksky777

No need to be so abrupt 🙂

Paris
Paris
14 days ago
Reply to  Julie

Pinksky777 always is; it seems to be her calling card.

Sandra Hohn
Sandra Hohn
13 days ago

I love all and everything Row, awesome quality and workmanship. The clothing is chic without being overly fussy and the handbags are great quality and improve with wear. Great brand and great style.