Adulthood for the former child star is a notoriously tricky endeavour. 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 to be based in a kind of reality for a culture in which we frequently encounter tales of self-destruction and oblivion for those who were 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 tabloid media does 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, hoping instead that television shopping channels will at least offer some financial benefit.
So the signs weren’t exactly entirely favourable for serious fashion credibility 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 the fashion cognoscenti is another thing entirely.
However, having shown that upon not making the transition from child stars to Hollywood icons their response was entrepreneurial excellence rather than self-destruction, they have timed their moves excellently. Building on Mary-Kate’s reputation as something of a mascot for Boho chic amongst New York’s hip fashion press and an association with cult brand Badgley Mischka that was very much part of their drive to move away from their Wal-Mart connotations, they launched their own upmarket brand Elizabeth & James some five years 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 cult following among the trendy young set and is sold in desirable boutiques and some of the world’s leading department stores.
Taking their current shoe collection as just one example, the secret to the success is fairly self-evident. Although the collection features a full range of looks ranging from spiky stiletto evening shoes to practical pumps, the wedge heel designs are right on the target for a sophisticated and cool summer. Harking back to the Golden Age of Hollywood when legends such as Salvatore Ferragamo knew that even something as low-key as going for a dip in the pool was no reason for Jane Russell or Marilyn Monroe to lack glamour, the current collection offers a number of designs that are big on cool comfort and old school style. The Harp model offers a high-contrast of black straps and a classic cork wedge that’s perfect for a quick segue from pool to restaurant. Or for those who fancy some slinky reptilian seduction, check out the Hazel model with its understated beige leather straps and metallic rose and brown lizard-effect wedge heel. Both are classic Hollywood pin-up girl material.