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Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen Give Elizabeth And James a Cool, Masculine Upgrade

The pre-fall and fall 2016 collections are the first to be designed in-house since they separated from their licensee last year.
A look from the Elizabeth and James pre-fall 2016 collection. Photo: Elizabeth and James

A look from the Elizabeth and James pre-fall 2016 collection. Photo: Elizabeth and James

Elizabeth and James has officially entered a new chapter.

In August, founders Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen announced they had reacquired the brand from licensee of eight years Jaya Apparel Group, with plans to bring design in-house to their New York City headquarters, where their luxury brand The Row is also based. And while the sisters told WWD in February that they were always heavily involved, their first two collections since the acquisition (pre-fall and fall) clearly mark a shift in the design direction. It's cooler, more masculine and of higher quality. 

Whereas the Elizabeth and James of the past relied on form-fitting dresses and feminine separates — somewhat "basic" basics — the newest collections designed by the Olsens are full of wardrobe builders in their signature effortless, luxe aesthetic. There are wide-leg crepe trousers, pleated satin skirts and many sleek maxi-skirts. Fans of The Row will be excited to find a hefty range of knitwear, from ribbed, form-fitting dresses to oversized turtlenecks. In that WWD interview, Mary-Kate Olsen said that they wanted to expand sweaters while still maintaining the strong dress, shirting and blazer categories that have been core parts of the business since the beginning. Denim has also expanded: for fall, they've designed a high-waisted "tomboy" style, cropped flares as well as a new denim and leather biker-style jackets. Overall, the fits are boxier and the pieces lend themselves to layering both within the collection and with the elegant, comfortable pieces the Elizabeth and James shopper probably already has in her closet. 

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The Elizabeth and James lifestyle extends far beyond apparel with jewelry, fragrances, sunglasses and handbags, which have been designed in-house since the category launched in 2013.  The designers told WWD that they've hired new sales and merchandising teams in addition to two designers and are planning to expand the fragrance line. The Olsens' upgraded vision for the brand will be on full display when they open a dedicated store in July at The Grove in Los Angeles — the first of several new brick-and-mortar locations. 

See the pre-fall and fall 2016 Elizabeth and James collections in the gallery below.