The point of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s rare interview with the Wall Street Journal earlier this week was ostensibly to drum up attention around their luxury clothing brand, the Row. But other outlets seized on what the women have been known for since they were toddlers: sisterhood.
HuffPost’s piece recounting the interview was labeled as such: “Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen Give Rare Joint Interview About Sisterhood.” Bustle said: “Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen Talked About Their Close Bond In A Rare, New Interview.” And Entertainment Tonight reported: “Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen Describe Their Relationship as a Marriage.”
This was the brief excerpt that prompted those headlines:
“Now 32, the Olsens are still sensitive about references to their childhood career, and also to suggestions that as twins they are interchangeable. While they work together closely, their adult lives are emphatically independent. Ashley, who once expected to become an architect, is considering a move back to Los Angeles from New York. Mary-Kate, who in 2015 married Sarkozy, a French banker and the half brother of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, says she is firmly ensconced in New York.
Still, the sisters, who have two siblings and two half-siblings, often appear to think in unison, completing each other’s sentences. ‘It’s been 32 years of learning how to communicate,’ says Ashley, who says their relationship is ‘a marriage and a partnership. We have had ups and downs.’”
Such headlines reveal one reason for our culture’s mild obsession with the Olsen twins. The personal lives of celebrities are typically a point of fascination, but when their families are involved, it only increases the interest — particularly if there’s a bond between sisters, which can be wonderful yet often fraught. (Our theory: One reason the Kardashians work so well as a pop culture magnet is because of the many complicated sister relationships.) It’s an infinitely relatable topic.
The twin twist adds an unusual angle: Who hasn’t wondered about what it would be like to have a twin?
Mary-Kate and Ashley shot to fame as adorable 6-month-olds when they were cast as Michelle Tanner on ABC’s “Full House.” It’s rare for producers to keep the same babies in place as a show goes on, but the Olsens proved to be remarkably charismatic. Michelle soon became the breakout star of the show.
“Like much of the viewing public, my family and I are hopelessly infatuated with the Olsen twins,” Washington Post reporter Jay Mathews wrote in a 1991 profile of the sisters, noting their “mesmerizing” quality even as preschoolers. Mathews added that “it is difficult to stop watching them, and as the producers of ‘Full House’ began to realize the twins’ power over an audience, and to invent dialogue and bits of business for them, the program became a must.”
When “Full House” wrapped in 1995 after eight seasons, the twins were already millionaires, as they commanded $80,000 per episode and had a lucrative direct-to-video movie series, “The Adventures of Mary-Kate & Ashley.” For many young girls, the twins were their first celebrity idols — fans felt a powerful connection as they watched the twins grow up in the public eye. As quite a few millennial women can tell you, Olsen nostalgia has a powerful hold.
“We ran home from school every day to watch them on TV. We begged our parents to buy us every video. We, for some godforsaken reason, spent our allowance money on membership fees to their fan club,” reads an E! Online ode to the twins in honor of their 30th birthday. “So much of our collective youth is ingrained in our memories of them — make mention of any Olsen movie or milestone and we can bet there are thousands of women who can recite exactly what that moment meant to them.”
The Olsens starred in TV and movies for the next decade, although Ashley lost interest in acting around 2004. Mary-Kate continued to pop up in various roles for several more years, and eventually joined her sister in acting retirement. Their primary role became entrepreneurs, as they launched clothing lines that helped bump their company, Dualstar Entertainment Group, to $1 billion in annual sales.
In adulthood, aside from infrequent interviews when they want to promote products, the twins have largely shunned attention. Naturally, this only ramps up the curiosity about their lives, even from people who aren’t fans. These stars could have chosen any path they wanted, and they chose to go behind-the-scenes and step out of the Hollywood spotlight. The Wall Street Journal noted that even their fashion brand, the Row, has an unusually low-key social media presence.
“We’re not product pushers,” Ashley told the paper. “I don’t know if it’s because of the way we grew up — we just don’t like talking about ourselves or talking about what we’re doing. … It’s not really our approach.”