Whether you see them as Starbucks-toting snobs or pint-sized phenoms, you can't deny that the indomitable duo of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen have exerted a powerful force on the city in the years since their arrival in 2004 to attend NYU. Like anyone who nestles within the boroughs, the two had a rocky start—rehab, tabloids, very bad boyfriends—but doesn't that sound like everyone's first year? Since 2005, however, the duo seem to have made a seamless transition away from the entertainment limelight and into fashion. What started off as an punch line slowly became a citywide phenomenon: boho chic—a trend marked by its skinny girls, long scraggly hair, and oversize accessories (from sunglasses to boots to handbags). Make fun of the look all you will, it was a sensation, and a creative one that really tapped into a generation's confusion over what to be: privileged and directionless children of baby boomers or raggedy-looking hipsters? Like it or not, the twins in many ways the twins became emblems of a new kind of youth: One with every avenue open to them and yet still making mistakes and seemingly unsure of their next steps.
Once the two found their rudder in the fashion world, they have really continued to confound their detractors. Despite an aloof air, the two took their new project quite seriously, launching their upscale line the Row (after Savile Row) in 2007 to the kind of acclaim that won them a rack at none other than Barneys. Smart enough to know their audience, the two quickly launched another hipster-inspired line (all skinny jeans and plaid shirts) called Elizabeth and James at more midrange price point.
So while some people may find the idea of 22-year-old girls writing an autobiography called Influence a bit, well, presumptuous, the fact is they have the skills and experience to back it up. If you can, take a lunch break right now and head downtown to their reading at Barnes & Noble today. You know it won't start on time. If you can't, give The New York Times' recent profile of the twins a read. You might find there's more to them than oversize sunglasses and vacant expressions: In fact, perhaps that's been their best disguise.