Adulthood for the former child star is a notoriously tricky. The camp warnings of Bette Davis in ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane’ or even Paul Morrissey and Andy Warhol’s casting of Joe Dallesandro as former child star, turned hustler in ‘Heat’ are deliciously over the top. Yet these tales do seem based in a kind of truth given the frequent reports of self-destruction and oblivion for those hurtled into the limelight at a tender age only to struggle to maintain their star appeal during the difficult years of adolescence and beyond. Too mature too soon, practically no year passes in which the tabloids do not hound some former child star through the usual chicanery of addiction, criminality, broken relationships or feuding family war.
Similarly, save for a few notable exceptions in recent years, fashion enterprises fronted by actresses or former celebrities seldom gain the respect and endorsement of the elite fashion press. Though television shopping channels at least offer real financial benefit.
So the signs weren’t entirely favourable when American twin former television child stars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen decided to set up their Elizabeth & James fashion line. Granted, the twins were a shining example of the power of celebrity turned to commerce, having already amassed a great fortune through their mainstream fashion labels carried in decidedly middle-of-the-road outlets around the world. But, as everyone knows, the rarefied air of fashion heaven is another thing entirely.
However, when they made the transition from child stars to Hollywood icons, their response was entrepreneurial excellence rather than self-destruction. And they have always timed their moves excellently. Building on Mary-Kate’s reputation as a mascot for boho chic among New York’s fashion press and an association with cult brand Badgley Mischka that was very much part of their drive to move away from their Walmart connotations, they launched their own upmarket brand Elizabeth & James just under a decade ago.
Ever since then it’s been a story of a steady climb and now their cryptically named brand (it’s actually named after their siblings) is one that has a following among the trendy set and is sold in desirable boutiques and some of the world’s leading department stores.
Taking their SS16 collection as just one example, the secret to its success is self-evident. It essentially takes all of the looks tipped to be big this year and mixes them up with enough choices to cover all bases across that famously heterogeneous US market. The surf bunnies of L.A. do not dress like NYC trendies, nor do Southern Belles have the same take on style as Midwesterners. So, there’s enough hippie-inspired, flared silhouettes and maxi-length flounces for women who will toe the line and dive straight into to what the glossies insist is this summer’s look – though most would be well-advised to think first about what they plan to adopt from this style. There’s nothing more fatal than a big ruffle on the wrong figure to make you look like one of the hippopotamus ballerinas in Disney’s ‘Fantasia’.
But there are also lots of more clinging and cut-out pieces better suited to warmer climes or regions where sexiness is equated with figure-hugging cuts or more flesh. Helpfully – for both you and the brand– it’s a collection almost entirely devoid of textiles or patterns. This means that it appeals to all of that good sense that US television shows giving styling tips have been repeating for almost 30 years: black, white and solid blocks of colour, ladies. Since it’s not entirely bad advice, it means that even those who like a bit more adventure with pattern can find some very good basics here on which to build any number of summer looks.