When on the hunt for a new bag, be it on retail or resale, do you ever find yourself aggressively scrolling through options without actually knowing what it is that you’re looking for?
It’s something I’ve been facing quite a bit as of late. As an exclusive buyer of the pre-loved market, I know that bargains don’t come easy. Neither do they wait for you to make up your mind. After all, immediacy is of the essence when there are, at the very least, ten other people weighing the pros and cons of the exact purse you’re looking at. Fashionphile, for instance, has a helpful (or terrible, if your wallet could opine) feature showing you how many carts the item you’re perusing is currently in; you know, just to speed up the process a bit.
And for especially covetable pieces, it might be gone even before you’ve had the chance to explore it! Despite knowing all of this and finding some pretty cool options over the resale market, I currently seem to be having a curious resistance to actually making a purchase.
Case in point: during my regular scrolling ritual, a Louis Vuitton Serviette – in pretty fair condition barring a scuffed corner – caught my eye. I carefully examined all the pictures, imagining myself using it out and about, noting its dimensions (finally something big enough for my ginormous old laptop!). Plus, the LV monogram is as classic as it gets, the Vachetta is evenly patinaed, and the price isn’t outrageous, either. In short, it checks all the boxes. And yet, rather shockingly, perhaps, I quickly get bored of it and decide to move on.
Not long after, a flashy-looking affair from the Gucci Not/Fake collection zooms past my screen. It has considerable shock value, no doubt, and is almost certain to be a conversation starter. At the same time, though, the monograms, the rather jarring fonts in orange and green, not to mention the price tag, which, though quite affordable, is just above my budget to make me flinch, all feel just.. a little too much.
You Need a Detox
And by you, I mean me.
This, however, is not to discredit my current beaten-up babies – the Bal Work and the PS1. They’re amazing workhorses, the trustiest of steeds, and honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a more dynamic duo as my first “grown-up” designer bags.
It’s simply that, having been subjected to a continuous barrage of blingy new designs, I’m craving something a little more polished this fall, and nothing I’m encountering in the secondary market seems to be filling that gap. I’ve even found a couple of Sac de Jours (SAC DE JOURS!) – that continue to be my holy grail – amid the numerous search results, only to find that they were the nano/baby/small (basically, every size except the one I need, and in hindsight, it’s probably my constant harping that’s driving up their demand).
Now, the term “polished,” of course, can mean different things to different people. Some love the quaint charm of a Gucci Ophidia, its monogram canvas is the perfect neutral shade. Others find “polished” to be of the stealth-wealth category – logo-less, fuss-less, and by extension, timeless.
In fact, the pieces I am gravitating toward right now all fall under the latter. Think, Phoebe Philo-era Céline, pre-Daniel Lee Bottega, and the amazing Coach glovetanned range: minimal, refined, and devoid of flashy branding, these let their impeccable quality quietly elevate all your outfits. And it is for this reason that I keep reverting to more understated items at the end of the day. Plus, having briefly stalked a Tomas Maier-era BV Intrecciato briefcase before it was hopelessly bid out of my budget, I can safely say that, despite the prevailing Y2K aesthetic, the ageless appeal of minimal pieces is seriously hard to beat, and their demand remains stronger than ever!
But come to think of it, there aren’t many brands out there that have banked upon minimalism in a big way. Most premier and mid-range designers have done it for a few seasons, only to move on to what’s trending again. Hermès could be an exception, but the general clamor around it has made even its lesser-known designs, like the Evelyne or the Lindy, recognizable to many.
Thus, true minimalism, where something is so simple it’s practically incognito, remains rare within the luxury fashion sphere. However, if you, like me, are overwhelmed by the constant throng of it-bags popping up in your feed and feel the need for a wardrobe detox, you’re in luck – there’s one brand that does exactly that!
How The Row Became the Ultimate Stealth Wealth Label
For much of the world, the name would elicit little more than a blank stare or perhaps a few wrong guesses. But for a select bunch of high-profile editors, celebrities, and extremely affluent New Yorkers, The Row embodies the best of the fashion world; its seamless garments are legendary, its founders shrouded in mystery. But how did this ultra-minimal label come to be, and how has it come to command its formidable status despite having very little that actually identifies it?
Curiously enough, The Row was conceived at the peak of the Y2K frenzy. The year was 2006: Philo fans were still plotting ways to get their hands on the Chloé Paddington, Fendi fans were busy collecting as many iterations of the Spy bag as they could, and when fashion’s It-girls weren’t shooting regular campaigns for one It-bag after another, their off-duty Balenciaga Motorcycle lewks were serving as tabloid-fodder.
Amidst the general hullabaloo, two individuals stood out conspicuously: the Olsen twins. When said tabloids weren’t preoccupied with distinguishing Mary Kate from Ashley, they were engaged in saying not-particularly-nice things about the sisters’ oversized garbs, gigantic bags, or their personal travails. In fact, few people have had their childhoods as widely-publicized as the Olsens (the girls were reportedly working since they were nine months old), and their movies, TV shows, books, and Walmart collections became household tween-staples. But 2006 was also the year the Olsens decided to grow up, and more as an experimental project than anything else, they partnered with their childhood friend and designer, Danielle Sherman, to work on developing “the perfect white t-shirt.”
The hunt for the perfect t-shirt led to the perfect cashmere, which then made way for leggings, and the girls realized what they had was unlike anything else in the market. It’s not like the things they made weren’t available elsewhere. Rather, their often-austere creations lacked almost all of the bells and whistles other designers loved. And yet, their original white t-shirt retailed for $280 – a decidedly large amount for something so simple even 16 years later, while their cashmere turtlenecks now sell for over $9,000! As the Washington Post describes here, “After more than a decade in business, the Olsen sisters have established themselves as designers for whom titanic shifts happen in millimeters.”
Often described as the very best money can buy, The Row’s ultra-luxe pieces – much of their womenswear still made by artisans in the US with the finest materials sourced from around the world – is the ultimate form of stealth wealth. Bearing no logo or identification save for a minuscule tag on the interior, even seasoned buyers of The Row take pause when trying to recognize a piece in the wild.
Now, of its exorbitant pricing, one might be led to believe that The Row’s customers are few. When compared to those of LVMH or Kering, it is so, with much of the Asian and European markets remaining completely untapped (the brand has only three stores in New York, Los Angeles, and London, though it does sell through select third-party retailers like Net-a-Porter and Bergdorf Goodman). But the loyalty of its fanbase is unwavering. Marina Larroudé, the fashion director of the late Barneys New York, recounts an anecdote about how the brand became the retailer’s bestseller:
“One day a client walked in, and bought 30 Row sweaters — three-zero. Of the same crewneck. She bought everything we had in the company in her size so she would never run out of them. $30,000 in crewnecks. If you’re a super-wealthy woman in New York? The way we go to Uniqlo — they go to The Row.”
Its founders have been extremely careful not to let their childhood hyper-branding affect the label; it’s exclusively for those in the know and remains such, even today. Lately, they, too, have somewhat receded from the public eye, choosing to focus on The Row.
So, if you must truly go minimal, go for The Row!
A Love-Affair with The Row Handbags
For as long as I’ve known them, I’ve been a shameless fan of the Olsens’ style. I’ve tried to replicate their outfits – oversized shirts, jackets, and pants that strike the perfect balance of weirdness, relaxation, and chic (despite the weather here not always being agreeable). And yes, the venti-latte is a fashion statement, and I’m not taking no for an answer.
But most of all, what always leaves me in a state of awe is the Olsens’ veritable armada of handbags. Their penchant for giant carryalls and beaten-up Balenciagas culminated in the form of my beloved Bal Work. Mary Kate’s decrepit Hermès Kelly is a crash course on cost-per-wear. And their vintage crocodile Fendi tote was snapped so many times by the paps Fendi ended up reissuing the design under the moniker the Twins Tote!
Now, while the early aughts saw them carrying different designer purses in various states of distress, since the inception of The Row, the sisters have been seen wearing their own brand’s handbags almost exclusively. And what a sight they are to behold, often having tens of thousands of dollars on themselves in the form of exotic carryalls!
The Row’s original alligator backpack, made using the Bombè technique and released in 2011 to gasps and eye-rolls, also were total sell-outs, despite its $39,000 price tag. And the brand (and its founders) continues to have a particular affinity for pricey materials, despite Mary-Kate having reassured The Wall Street Journal that the brand also has handbags in the $1,000 – $3,000 range (thanks, Ms. Olsen).
Alongside that, their Day Luxe Tote, drawing inspiration from the twins’ original Fendi, the croc-bucket bag, and a slew of other silhouettes available in alligator, crocodile, ostrich, and even eel skin, are all enough to make our collective eyes water, both at their exotic glory and at their price-tags.
More recently, the label’s less-outrageously-priced purses have gained considerable steam among fashionistas. The Margaux, for instance, is truly the perfect daily hauler and a favorite among New Yorkers, and so is the North/South Park Tote. Furthermore, just because the brand is timeless doesn’t mean it’s also not trendy – the Banana Shoulder Bag and the Half-Moon Bag will satisfy your Y2K purse cravings but will also serve as stylish statements once the trend has ebbed.
In short, The Row is tempting me with the much-needed breath of minimalism that I’m yearning for right now amidst a mass of logos and embellishments, and if I had around $40,000 simply lying around, I’d certainly like to get my hands on one of their oh-so-luxe croc options. But the truth is, despite being a refreshing break from everything else on the market, The Row is still prohibitively expensive, sometimes even more so than Hermès. And as unfortunate as it sounds, price is still one of the primary ways luxury brands now segment their target buyers – a quick glance at Chanel confirms it. At least The Row has the quality to justify it.
But if you are willing to take that plunge and invest in a piece from the brand, be it one of their extremely understated but superbly luxurious leather carryalls, or their effortlessly graceful clothing options, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. And judging by the loyalties of the brand’s most ardent fans, there’ll be no turning back either!