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Sister Act: Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen Reinvent Elizabeth and James

The famous twins create their own circus of the stars with a big-top-inspired fine jewelry collection

Designer Showcase
By Nancy Sidewater
This story appears in the September 2010 issue of JCK magazine
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Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen were first introduced to American households at the age of 1 on family sitcom Full House. By 15, the pint-size twins had built a mega-empire rife with books, made-for-TV movies, videos, and assorted clothing lines. Flash forward nine years and the girls, now 24, show no sign of slowing down. With the 2008 launch of their contemporary sportswear label Elizabeth and James (named for their siblings), the stylish pair established themselves as a force in fashion and soon added a jewelry line under the direction of Robert Lee Morris. Now, having reclaimed the reins, the duo have designed a collection for fall 2010 that infuses materials like smoky quartz, lapis, and diamonds with the wit of P.T. Barnum. (Think bejeweled elephant pendants, flying monkey earrings, and snarling lion rings.) JCK e-mailed the sisters to talk about what we talk about best…jewelry.

JCK: How does the new line express your design philosophy?

MARY-KATE OLSEN: The fall 2010 collection is inspired by the 1920s traveling circus, allowing us to design playful pieces with a sense of humor.

Two-tone tusk pendant on 30-inch chain in sterling silver and 14k gold; $275; Elizabeth and James, New York City; 212-633-4900; elizabethandjames.us

JCK: What new materials or techniques did you use for your creations?

ASHLEY OLSEN: We mixed organic materials and accented them with precious stones. Diamonds add a fine jewelry element at a contemporary price. [Prices range from $55 to $595; specialty pieces, $895 to $2,995.]

JCK: What are your favorite pieces?

MKO: The two-tone tusk pendant for its ­simplicity of design and mixing of materials makes a subtle yet strong statement.

AO: The single tusk link bracelet for its mix of natural elements with refined materials.

JCK: Who do you imagine to be your ideal consumer?

AO: The Elizabeth and James customer is a woman who loves accessorizing and layering. She’s building her jewelry collection with modern pieces she will wear for years to come. We’re conscious to use ­materials and designs we can offer at accessible price points. We want every woman to be able to afford diamonds.

JCK: How did you get into creating jewelry? Do you remember the first piece you ever made?

AO: Growing up, my friend’s mom was a jewelry designer. She would let us explore and create in her studio. The first piece I made was a black pearl ring.

MKO: I’ve been interested in accessories and design for as long as I can remember. I have a sketchbook of ideas I’ve added to over the past 15 years.

JCK: Are there specific designers who have influenced you?

Large Big Top ring in sterling silver with diamonds; $950; Elizabeth and James, New York City; 212-633-4900; elizabethandjames.us

MKO: David Webb’s vintage pieces. Inspiration can be found anywhere. It’s a matter of interpreting what you see and relating it to your design.

JCK: How do you two work together to form one vision?

MKO: Each season begins with an overall theme for the brand. The theme is interpreted within each product category (i.e., apparel, shoes, jewelry). We expanded on fall’s traveling circus theme by translating design elements of the big-top tent, circus props, and animals.

JCK: So what’s next in jewelry for ­Elizabeth and James?

AO: The spring 2011 collection is inspired by the sea. In addition to fine metals and stones, we’re designing with a mix of natural, organic materials like sponge coral, lava stone, pearl, and wood—and sapphires for ­texture and color.

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