Missing Mary-Kate and Ashley: Inside the Super-Private Yet Wildly Successful World of the Olsen Twins

It shouldn't come as any surprise that the 29-year-old sisters declined the opportunity to reprise the role of Michelle Tanner on Fuller House

By Natalie Finn, Melanie Bromley Feb 25, 2016 1:00 PMTags
Ashley Olsen, Mary-Kate Olsen, NYFWNeil Rasmus/BFA/REX Shutterstock

Mary-Kate Olsen and Ashley Olsen are arguably the most famous twins in the world, with a combined fortune of $300 million, but the sisters have done everything they can to separate themselves from the reason they became household names in the first place.

We've known for months that the now 29-year-old Mary-Kate and Ashley wouldn't be reprising the role of baby of the family Michelle Tanner on Fuller House—Netflix's wildly anticipated sequel series to 1980s-and-90s-era TGIF favorite Full House—but it was still such a disappointment when cameras started to roll without them.

But really, no one should've been surprised that the Olsen twins weren't into the idea. While other stars from the show have also separated themselves from the Tanner family in a variety of ways, none of them have been so successful at distancing themselves from Full House as the Olsens.


The petite blond sisters, who started acting when they were 9 months old and then grew up right in front of our eyes into mini media and fashion moguls, have since opted for feigned anonymity, posing for the occasional red carpet photograph but otherwise choosing to keep their lives as private as possible.

Moreover, they had to learn how to do so early on because privacy has been an issue they've been grappling with, literally, since childhood.

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"Everyone's looking for a good story—we don't read the good, we don't read the bad," a then 17-year-old Mary-Kate, who would quietly enter treatment for an eating disorder two months later, told E! News back in April 2004. "We just can't let things like that affect us. As long as we're happy and we're making decisions for ourselves [that] we don't feel bad about or guilty, and even if it was, it would be for me to decide, or Ash to decide."

"It kind of just comes with the territory and I guess you just kind of have to accept it," added Ashley during the joint sit-down. "A lot of the time I get flustered if I see someone taking my picture or being followed—yeah, it's scary sometimes, but you just kind of have to know what's going to happen, and that's not going to really change."

Ashley was right about the nature of the media not changing, so she and Mary-Kate had to buck the system themselves.

Not only did they persist in leading private lives on their own terms, they did so while amassing a fortune, building multiple brands and becoming forces to be reckoned with in the fashion industry.

In doing so they've epitomized how not to be a modern-day celebrity. They have shunned social media, they don't slap their image on the products they sell and when they launched The Row, in 2006, they actually tried to play down their association with the luxurious brand—which famously sprang from the twins' quest to create the perfect T-shirt.

Ultimately it was the clothes that did the talking, with the twins sharing the honor for top womenswear designers of the year at the 2012 Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards.

"I'd like to thank you...you!" Mary-Kate said, turning to Ashley.

The Row

"Listen, I used to be in the entertainment industry. I decided at 18 that I don't really want to do this anymore. I wanted to explore other things, and with that came The Row," Ashley, who is two minutes older than Mary-Kate and has been described as the more Alpha of the two, told The New York Times in 2009.

"Our lives have been kind of backward. We never got that opportunity in high school to figure out what you want to do. We never had the time to discover, 'Oh, I love doing this...' So for us this experience in fashion has been amazing."

The twins did not put "the entertainment industry" behind them at quite the same time, however. Their last big-screen movie together was 2004's A New York Minute, but Mary-Kate continued to act, scoring a role as Hunter Parrish's Christian pot-dealer girlfriend Tara on Weeds, famously kissing Ben Kingsley in The Wackness and appearing in 2011's Beastly, an updated take on Beauty and the Beast.

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"I've never really been challenged before. I've never done something with depth," Mary-Kate told E! News in 2007 about her role on Weeds. "I've been going on auditions and this was something I connected with."

Parrish also noted how, the first day she was on set, Mary-Kate "couldn't even get to hair and makeup," there were so many paparazzi.

Referring to the mixed blessing that comes with that level of fame, she added, "I hope [people] can look at me as acting and playing a different character, and respect me for trying hard at something. We'll see what happens."

What happened was, she did her job and went about her business—as she always did and would continue to do.

Nearly nine years later, despite having more cash than they will ever need and still shy of 30, Mary-Kate and Ashley work as hard as they ever did when they were making Full House, shooting multiple videos a year, writing books, lending their faces to video games, makeup, kids clothes and more, and still making the time to go on celebrity fan cruises.

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Happily, the sisters are as close as ever, choosing to live a relatively low-key life. They've kept their feet firmly on the ground, despite being co-CEOs of an estimated $1 billion retail empire.

Ashley and Mary-Kate continue to make most decisions as a pair, balancing the creative side (everything from picking fabrics to pattern-making) with the business side (marketing, brand strategizing and balancing budgets)—and they even still dress alike, too!

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"They are very involved and hands-on with their companies," says an insider. "They work every day. They have an office in New York that they both go to and they attend meetings and conferences all the time."

And when it's time to leave the office, the girls often opt for intimate soirees with their pals (many of whom are not in the entertainment business). Says the insider, "At night they have a lot of dinner parties at home, or they go out to eat. They both love music and will go to concerts or to Knicks basketball games, but mostly its dinner parties with friends at home.

"They are heavily involved in the fashion world. They like to attend shows or events and stay on top of everything that's going on. They are both very passionate about what they do."

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Mary-Kate recently married her longtime love, French banker Olivier Sarkozy, whom she met in 2012 and managed to not say a word about in public for four years. The lovebirds had a top-secret wedding reception in Manhattan in November.

Her union with the half-brother of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who's married to model Carla Bruni, has meant that Mary-Kate is becoming a bigger presence in the glamorous Parisian social scene.

"Mary-Kate has a fabulous life with Olivier and they spend a lot of time in Paris where they are both very happy," says the source. "She has become immersed in his world."


And that actually suits both sisters, as Ashley too has spent significant time in the fashion capital and feels at home whenever she's there.

"Mary Kate and Ashley go back and forth between New York and Paris a lot," the source adds. "They spend most of their time in New York where they have separate apartments. Mary-Kate just bought a new place with Olivier and Ashley lives by herself. They see each other every day and, if not, they talk multiple times a day."

Ashley is currently single (she previously dated Justin Bartha and was romantically linked to Lance Armstrong in 2007), and when Mary-Kate is busy with her husband, the fashion mogul spends time with friends, enjoys taking good care of herself and is otherwise always busy with work.


Says a source, "Ashley works out a lot. Recently she has been going to a boxing gym and will often take yoga classes. She makes exercise a part of her daily routine."

She leads a shockingly normal existence, basically.

Because despite the incredible apartments, jet-set lifestyles and two wardrobes to die for, neither Olsen twin has forgotten her roots—even if they're not interested in revisiting them.

As Ashley told Net-a-Porter's The Edit in 2013, they credit Michelle Tanner with their love of fashion today. "[On Full House] we'd be in six-hour fittings three times a week, because we had to wear 12 different outfits," she recalled. "The majority of the wardrobe was made up of adult pieces, including Chanel and Marc Jacobs, cut to fit."

Mary-Kate added, "We were designing clothes for ourselves as we were so petite, so I think that is when we became obsessed with fit, and now the obsession has become a profession."

Which is why, when Fuller House premieres on Netflix tomorrow, Michelle Tanner will be busy with her fashion line in New York. She sends her regards to the family.