Book Review: Influence

When I heard last year that the Olsen twins would be releasing a book chronicling their fashion influences, my mind immediately flashed towards the Paris Hilton-penned Confessions of an Heiress – after all, it seemed like another set of tabloid darlings were trying to add “author” to their resumés. But, to their credit, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s coffee table book, Influence, is not another collection of gaudy images depicting Chihuahuas in pink tutus. True, neither one of the Olsen twins is a particularly innovative writer, but the content of the book is mostly made up with of the words of others, composed largely of in-depth interviews with a total of twenty fashion designers, models, photographers, artists and editors.

What Mary-Kate and Ashley lack in writing skill, they more than make up for with their eye for talent and knack for asking intelligent interview questions that other publications seem to gloss over. Granted, the artists they talk to are interesting enough on their own, including the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Terry Richardson and Peter Beard, but the interviews cut to the core of their work, focusing on the entire span of each career from their origins to the struggles faced along the way. They are accompanied by richly detailed visuals, including a 1976 Newsweek cover featuring Diane Von Furstenburg and a letter Diana Vreeland wrote to journalist Bob Colacello concerning a magazine article about Josephine Baker.

Considering that the Olsen twins are probably more used to giving interviews than conducting them, they manage to keep the focus on the subjects at hand. Oftentimes, their own gushing admiration shines through, but the effect is more endearing than anything else. The twins’ enthusiasm for and knowledge about those that they interview create a casual tone, making each interview seem like a conversation between good friends. Model Lauren Hutton shares advice about relationships and men, and Proenza Schouler recounts jokes about Jack McCollough’s hippie phase, in which he had “dreadlocks down to [his] nipples.”

Of course, Mary-Kate and Ashley haven’t totally omitted themselves from the text. There is a solid 36 page chunk in the middle of the book that serving serves as a scrapbook for of the twins’ more material influences -childhood images, vintage book covers, LPs, mementos from famous friends. While the accompanying text can get a little self-indulgent, especially when each girl takes a turn answering the Proust questionnaire (really, Mary-Kate? Your favourite heroine of fiction is Cleopatra?), there is no denying that the Olsen twins have access to some beautiful, one-of-a-kind stuff; you aren’t very likely to find an signed Ghesquière sketch in just any scrapbook.

Unlike other starlets who try to convince the public that they’re “normal, typical girls,” Mary-Kate and Ashley make no such attempt to relate to their audience, for better or for worse. While it might be hard to identify with a couple of twenty-somethings who can easily spend a grand on a Balenciaga frock, it’s easy enough to get caught up in the Olsen twins’ blatant passion for art and fashion. Ultimately, they reached the goal they set out for – in allowing yourself to get sucked into the detailed images and insightful interviews in this book, you can’t help but feel a little bit inspired.

By Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Penguin Publishing, 2008
Reviewed by Anna Fitz

12 thoughts on “Book Review: Influence

  1. The book looks good, and I’ve been intending to buy it used on the cheap at some point…but oh my god, the bit about Cleopatra being a favorite fictional heroine made me snort water out my nose.

  2. Oh you make this book seem really great. I bet however annoying the twins must come off and however poorly written and possibly pretentious their bits can be they have a great amount of awesome pictures and totally induce inspiration. Sigh, want.

    Also random: want your necklace! Saw a purple dress with orange parrots today that reminds me of this. Want want want.

  3. Anna, I was super distracted by your outfit the entire time I was reading your review..but I still managed to find it insightful, informative and clever. I’m more inclined to invest in this book. Thanks darling! xoxo

  4. Great review, lady. To be honest, though I was vaguely appalled by the Olsen Twins throughout the 90s (and into the new millennium), I find I have to admit their fashion sense is worthy of note. Also, after having recently seen them in a tandem interview, I find they are (or at least seem to be) intelligent, thoughtful women – Cleopatra comment notwithstanding – who are not content to sit on their fortunes but rather strive to take advantage of the massive opportunities at their fingertips. Yes, I have decided to like them.

    Besides, no one should have to live in the shadow of the Tanner Family forever. ha.

  5. Well played, Anna!
    I’ve flipped through this book, but I have yet to sit down and read it. I’d be interested to see the Vreeland letter and other “fashion artefacts,” but I doubt, after reading the review, I would buy this. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Olsen twins are a savvy pair (and I know we share a Swedish fish obsession), but I don’t have the desire to partake in their clique-y adoration-frenzy. Does anyone else find it boring?

  6. When I first saw this book I assumed it would be some sort of guide book to the Olsen’s life in the spotlight, however your description of the interviews and the images actually have me excited to read it. Despite the fact that every time I see Mary Kate and Ashley I think back to the ill-fitting tie dye top my grandma bought me from their Walmart clothing line, I admire their recent efforts to withdraw their names and faces from their business ventures. They tend to make good clothing choices too.

  7. I really dig this review, it seriously makes me want to both read this book and rethink my dislike for the sisters Olsen.

    Awesome job, Anna!
    : )

  8. Yes Forsyth, somebody else finds it boring. Remember when just one of them was anorexic? Im pretty sure they were both the same size…
    nice review though!

  9. Great review, Anna! This book always catches my eye at bookstores – hmm, probably because it’s HUGE – but I’ve never taken the initiative to actually buy or read it. Maybe one day I will. I’m a sucker for scrapbook pages.

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