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Olsen twins spread ‘Influence’ on Oprah

Two of the most influential stars in fashion, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen promote their new coffee table book, "Influence," a tribute to the artists, designers and other creative people who have inspired them.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The featherweight, filthy rich twin tycoons are known to teeter on city streets accessorized with oversized sunglasses, fur coats and Starbucks coffee cups.

They are among the most influential women in fashion.

At 22, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen co-own a global branding empire, and have separately dated movie stars, a Greek shipping heir and Lance Armstrong. Mary-Kate made headlines for her past rehab stint for an eating disorder and her involvement in the tragic death of close friend Heath Ledger. Inexplicably, the masseuse who found the actor's lifeless body phoned Mary-Kate three times before dialing 911.

Despite their uncommon lives, Mary-Kate insists, "We're like everyone else."

She delivered that colossal understatement while sitting next to fraternal twin Ashley on Oprah Winfrey's TV studio sofa, where the sisters — whose casually glamorous style has become iconic enough to mimic on Halloween — promoted their new coffee table book, "Influence," a tribute to the artists, designers and other creative people who have inspired them.

"I think we work hard every single day," said Mary-Kate, who complained that the paparazzi only seem to take street shots of her holding cups of coffee, inviting the notion of a trust fund and a leisure lifestyle.

Admired by designers
But it's that thrown-together yet carefully curated look that has established the twins as among the most daring women in fashion. Admired by designers from Michael Kors to Diane Von Furstenberg, the attention to their personal style has doubtless helped in expanding their brand into two rising fashion labels, The Row and Elizabeth and James.

And now there's "Influence." The book features their interviews with Von Furstenberg, Karl Lagerfeld, Francisco Costa, Richard Prince and Lauren Hutton. The sisters also devote pages to each other in a scrapbook-style photo spread and a Proust questionnaire, in which Mary-Kate reveals the thing she most dislikes: "THE MEDIA." Ashley, the more conservative of the two, considers social awkwardness to be her principal defect.

Chanel designer Lagerfeld, who is unintentionally hilarious, tells the 5-foot, 1-inch sisters in his Q&A that he thought they were shorter. "Not that it matters. What you need is a face. If you have a face you don't need height or a voice," he says.

Von Furstenberg, who started a fashion craze with her signature wrap dress, says she morphed into a brand before she knew it, aiming to be "a woman who didn't need for the man to decide." Joking about her early life in Manhattan, quirky former model and actress Hutton says, "One of my goddaughters says I invented online dating. It was like that, except it wasn't on a computer. You talk to someone for a few minutes and then blow 'em off."

The Olsens declined to be interviewed by The Associated Press about their book.

"I hope (the book) influences everyone, any age, to do something that you're passionate about," Ashley said on Winfrey's show.

Babies to businesswomen
Mary-Kate and Ashley have been working since they were babies, debuting at 9 months old in the dual role of Michelle Tanner on the ABC sitcom "Full House." They parlayed their celebrity into a reportedly billion-dollar international brand, marketing clothing, furniture and other merchandise to the tween set.

At 18, the twins — then freshmen at New York University — bought out the shareholders and seized control of their company, Dualstar Entertainment Group, crowning Diane Reichenberger as CEO. Meanwhile, they were setting off the bohemian-chic trend, swaddled in layers of ragtag clothing and accessories, winding up on "worst dressed" lists.

"Over time, their style has become a lot more refined," says Hope Greenberg, fashion director at Lucky magazine. Their look is "very chic, urban, street, expensive, but still cool. They're always cool. They're unfailingly cool."

Ashley, a serious businesswoman, launched The Row in 2006. It's an upscale line of neutral, tailored pieces sold at department stores including Barneys New York, which presents it beside collections by acclaimed designers Thakoon and Proenza Schouler. Sample price for a black T-shirt: $210.

The sisters co-design Elizabeth and James, named after their older brother and younger sister. Introduced in 2007, it echoes Mary-Kate's hipster aesthetic: tomboy blazers, plaid button-downs, an oversized sweat shirt.

"They are influencing fashion in a big way at the moment; they introduced kind of this masculine-feminine kind of way of dressing," says Stephanie Solomon, fashion director at Bloomingdale's, which carries Elizabeth and James.

Solomon says she was surprised by the quality and innovation of the designs, as well as the heavy involvement of the sisters, who insisted on helping to decorate their window display at the flagship store in Manhattan.

"It would sell even if they were unknown," she says of the line. "Selling pretty well is an understatement — it is one of our best-selling lines right now in our contemporary area."

They don't use their image on the brands' logos and various promotional materials.

But who needs to if you have influence?