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Collectors' Edition: Wearing The Row Is Like Being in a Secret Club

"It's discreet. There's no branding that screams at you. There's no logos. It's very classy."
Neelam Gill Ahooja

It's no secret that the fashion industry has inspired many to build out impressive wardrobes of designer labels. But for some fashion fanatics, only one brand will do. In Collectors' Edition, we'll look into why certain designers inspire obsessive collections in its fans.

What does it mean to love a brand? To be a devotee of a fashion house's DNA, its inevitable shifts, ebbs and flows, its praises and its criticisms? For some, it's the clout that comes with toting a particularly recognizable logo. But what if said brand has no logo? What if it doesn't beg to be recognized by the untrained eye?

The Row operates on an "if you know, you know" incantation, and in today's market of fleeting trends that arrive and fade away faster than the Earth is currently rotating, that's a difficult melody to continuously sing. While it was established in 2006 by designers Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, the label hasn't been seen as a celebrity-founded brand since its first few appearances. Instead, it harbors the Olsens' quiet mystery — the same mystification that has inspired countless Olsen style blogs, candid photo Instagram pages, hashtags and think pieces documenting a candle-lit smile from Ashley or Mary-Kate in a perfectly undone, slightly-wrinkled cotton poplin blouse as she moves from car to dinner date. Once you move past the Olsen obsession (hell, even I had a Tumblr back in the day of the same name), you find women who could care less about celebrity.

The Row has provided a fail-safe choice for women who prefer personal style over trends, who want their wardrobes to serve them, rather than the other way around. For Neelam Ahooja, a stylist that has built her wardrobe around investment pieces, she fell in love with The Row's blend of form and function from the start, first beginning with her adoration for the timeless appeal of the '90s. One of her favorite style icons from that time is Lisa Bonet, and it’s ironic that her daughter, Zoë Kravitz, is now an advocate for the brand Ahooja can't quit.

"I think that my style during that time was a mix of the minimal aesthetic and Denise Huxtable," says Ahooja. "She was hugely influential to me. We were about the same age, the same height, and we both had curly hair. [Her style] wasn't all feminine, and it wasn't all masculine, and it wasn't loud; it was the perfect mix."

That persona, one could say, led Neelam to what her wardrobe consists of now.

"I wasn't obsessed with the Olsens — I was older than them — but as they got older and became adults, I started to pay more attention to their personal style," she says. "Now that they're young women, I do think of them as style icons. I appreciate all that they give to the fashion industry, and their personal uniqueness."

Ahooja mostly saves images of them when they're wearing The Row. "They've nailed what looks good on them, and that's why their line is so successful: They're perfectionists, and meticulous in detail."

Her first discovery of the "slow-burn brand" began at the start of launch. "I was appreciating them from a distance, and then the T-shirts dropped," Ahooja says. She began by collecting a few tees: a simple white scoop neck and an oversized three-quarter sleeve black tunic — all for prices she wouldn't normally go for. 

"No brand was really doing that at the time, but because the quality was there, I appreciated that it was coming from Mary-Kate and Ashley. I think that because they were behind it, I felt like this must be something noteworthy," she says. "They wouldn't produce just anything."

The craftsmanship is what sucked many in, despite the steep price point. The unpretentiously cultivated effortlessness and timelessness of each and every garment and accessory The Row creates will transcend a season, a moment. People understand now that they can put one of their pieces on, without too much thought, and feel comfortable, put together and luxurious.

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"What I love about The Row the most is that they embody all the elements of what I think is important to me in my personal style. Timelessness, unparalleled quality — it doesn't skimp on the details; a minimal aesthetic, which lends the brand and all the pieces it makes into a timeless category. If something is loud and garish, it's not timeless. If something falls apart, it's not timeless." 

Barneys and word-of-mouth (versus traditional) advertisements go to further prove the brand's dedicated following. Ahooja considers the brand to be the epitome of the hush emoji on an iPhone: "It's like a little secret, that's not so secret anymore."

Ahooja also loves that The Row uses a lot of black. "Black is a color. I feel like screaming that!" she laughs. "Somehow each and every year, the collection looks a little different. Just enough that you're willing to part with more money. It gets my heart pounding. When Spring 2023 was released, I was trembling with excitement Black isn't just black when The Row does it." 

Committing to her own personal style ideas and teaching others how to cultivate their own closets — with an emphasis on The Row — is what has lended Neelam her following. I noticed the power she had after a Tweet I posted garnered 1,500+ likes and copious commentary. "When you don't know what to do, a white T-shirt, a pair of well-worn jeans and some loafers will serve everybody right," she says. 

On her social media profiles, Ahooja tries to show a range of styling ideas with pieces from The Row, paired with tips on making each piece your own. Her favorite investment pieces to start out with? The Gaia sandals, the banana bag, and the Margaux top-handle bag.

"The Gaia sandals, when they first came out — love at first sight. Worth every penny, I love them so much," she says. "The Margaux is quintessentially The Row. It embodies everything I talk about: It's timeless, it's impeccable quality, it comes in black, it's discreet — and it's just beautiful, it's functional, it's elegant. You can see through the collections over the years that the brand keeps revamping it and refreshing it because it's such a great skeleton bag. It's got bones. It's here to stay."

If there was a fire, outside of her family, Ahooja would take the Margaux, the Gaias and her coats. Sometimes, she says, she goes into her closet to visit the coats, just to stare at them— a true sign of a person that appreciates the brand for all it is. "They're just forever wears. They're so beautiful, and they're very special."

Real collectors spend a lot of time scouring the internet for pieces they may want to revisit, secondhand retailers they trust and local businesses that sell the brand. But it's not enough to wait for the next drop: Many collectors — including Ahooja — are on a VIP list for new season goodies that aren’t available online just yet.

"I have such a strong relationship with the New York store now that they give access to a small group of clients. They give us access before a new season. I order directly from the runway because I know how it'll work with my wardrobe."

In the end, the effort and the expenses are worth it to a true ride or die fan. The Row is about so much more than clothes — it's a celebration of sartorial excellence and personal style with a penchant for sustainability. Real sustainability lies in wearability and utilitarianism. If you buy an expensive sweater, but wear it every season and own it for decades, what gets more sustainable than that?

"I didn't set out to be a collector — it was very organically evolving as a love for The Row," she says "What started off as let me get a few pieces that they have now by looking through their collections on the Vogue site, and now I don't hesitate to buy. I'm doing it as a hobby. I have so much of it that it must be a hobby, because I love it so much. A lot of people invest in art, but this is my art." 

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