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.