Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen. Photograph by Rob Kim via Getty Images.

The Wild, Obsessive World of Mary-Kate and Ashley Instagram Fan Accounts

The notoriously private designers do not use Instagram, but their presence is all over the platform.

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Nov 6 2018, 7:15pm

Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen. Photograph by Rob Kim via Getty Images.

How do you know a true Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen fanatic?

She knows Mary-Kate’s folksy-chic braids and Ashley’s disarmingly casual waves are the work of Mark Townsend.

She knows the unofficial The Row menswear spokesmodel is Jonah Hill.

She can identify, say, Ashley’s brown and white fur coat in less than an hour (the Céline collection between Hedi’s first and Phoebe’s last; $37,000; in-store only).

She’s a first-name basis with their friends—or, well, their Instagram handles.

She knows where Mary-Kate’s engagement ring came from, and the sisters’ preferred brand of smokes (Marb Reds!), and has probably even furnished a party with the infamous “bowls of cigarettes.”

And the biggest tell of all: in her captions, she usually refers to them as “Ashley and Mary-Kate.”

Perhaps no fandom thrives more fervently on Instagram than that of Ashley and Mary-Kate. (Yes, I’m outing myself!) Famous since they were practically infants, the 32-year-old designers of The Row and Elizabeth and James have grown into admirably, even notoriously, private adults who don’t even use social media. But on Instagram, accounts like @olsensanonymous, @olsensdaily, @mkastyle, @lifestylemarykateandashley, and @olsenoracle detail their rare public appearances on the street and on the red carpet, their wardrobes, their outings with friends, their favorite artists, and the causes they support. They chronicle their dating lives, their vacations, Mary-Kate’s horseback riding, and Ashley’s T-shirt collection. In April, @olseninfluence, which no longer exists, posted a mind-boggling quiz, a veritable (if dubiously specific) treasure trove for fans that delved into obscure Olsen trivia, including their legendary affection for Starbucks, sharing “some of the first pap-pics of them carrying the golden cup” and adding their standard orders, according to “latest reports from baristas whom [sic] have served them.”

Olsen Instagram fan account
Image courtesy of the author.

The designers rarely, if ever, appear on The Row’s feed, which is a trove of works by artists from Alberto Giacometti to Alexander Calder, whose influence can be felt in the brand’s eccentrically minimalist designs. But the Olsen imprint is nonetheless all over the platform.

“If you were to look up the Kardashians, you would get lost for days in fan accounts,” Alyce Peeler of @olsenoracle told me. Peeler’s specialty is her encyclopedic knowledge of the women’s friends; she once re-posted an Instagram story of a friend of Mary-Kate’s, featuring the friend and the designer dancing at a Paul Simon concert, and recently shared a candid image of Ashley and Mary-Kate at dinner with friends—a regram from one of their best friends since childhood. “With Mary-Kate and Ashley, it’s not as saturated. There are a good amount of fan accounts, but you can hit every single on of them in just a little bit of time.”

If the Ashley and Mary-Kate have become tabloid fixtures for their unusual personal style and personal lives (Mary-Kate is married not to a fellow actor or designer but the French banker Olivier Sarkozy, for example), the Olsen accounts see the sisters almost as mystics, true individuals whose lives are aspirational even though they refuse to churn out the dictatorial “lifestyle content” inherent to modern celebrity. “We’ve been blessed with new photos of MK and Ash,” wrote @olsenmoodboard on October 23, when the two made a rare public appearance together. “Having my peers judge me for being a healthy, committed relationship with a mature man who gives me love, support and two stepchildren while they’re still waiting for that text back is where I see myself in ten years #knowyourworth,” wrote @olsensdaily under an image of Mary-Kate and Sarkozy. Others will post images of the women with inspirational words: “In a world of combusting hate, we need a lot more love,” @olsenoracle wrote over an image of Ashley and Mary-Kate in a story Monday afternoon.

Whether the women behind these accounts are actual patrons of The Row, which is priced at the uppermost echelons of luxury fashion, is unclear, though given that the brand’s core customers tend to be older than the sisters themselves, it seems unlikely. (Though this writer, who has an Instagram side hustle comparing the sisters’ ensembles to those of another offbeat icon-in-the-limelight, Princess Diana, will share that she owns a sweater and a pair of leggings.)

The obsessive nature of these accounts makes them a major time commitment. Like the glorious Mandarin duck in Central Park, the Olsens appear where the average tabloid junkie would least expect them. “I’m upset if there’s an hour that goes by where there’s a new photo and I haven’t posted it yet,” said Peeler (who also has a day job!). And she is methodical about following their inner circle: “If you don’t know who they spend their time around, the events that they actually do go to, and the companies that they are willing to actually work with and collaborate with, you’re going to have a really hard time finding these rare photos or videos or moments in time when they are just hanging out.” For example, it’s a known fact among the Olsen fan base that Mary-Kate will almost always attend the Take Home a Nude gala in the fall. She just will!

Indeed, the accounts have become something of a news resource, sharing information from sources that fans might not otherwise see, including their friends’ accounts and outlets like The Wall Street Journal or the blog of the horse show company HITS. “If there’s anything that comes out, whether it’s a new article on them or The Row, when they announced their menswear line—this is all information that my followers would love to know. And if I can give them that information and there’s not going to be a lag time, I think they really appreciate it when I’m quick with giving them good information,” said Peeler.

But if the people behind these accounts, as well as the ones following them, aren’t doing so out of a mad dash to acquire a wardrobe full of The Row, what’s behind the obsession? “What it really boils down to, for me, is authenticity,” Peeler told me. “In 2018, being authentic is just such a rare thing, and in fashion, especially. That industry is all about influence—it’s all about these ways of ‘what’s cool’ and ‘what’s in’ and a month later, something new takes over. It influences everyone to dress a certain way, or be a certain way. It’s so trend-driven, and with them, they do not care about any of these trends. Over all of these years, they’ve always dressed exactly how they want, regardless of what’s in or what the trend is, and the fact that they’re in the fashion industry and they do that—it’s what makes them trendsetters and what makes them authentic.” (In fact, Ashley and Mary-Kate released a book called Influence a decade ago—but it was about artists who had influenced them.) Indeed, while many celebrities appear maniacally put together, their “casual” clothing the result of careful styling, the Olsens appear much more confident in their instincts: Ashley paired that Céline coat with a pair of Nike sneakers, and Mary-Kate will throw on flip-flops with a perfectly tailored suit.

But more significantly, like the designers’ products themselves, the rarity or exclusivity of the sisters’ appearances drive this insatiable desire. If the average Olsen Instagram fan—whether one a running an account or just following them all—isn’t buying armfuls of The Row, these rare appearances, these images of them at dinner with friends, or at a concert, or riding horses, or getting coffee, are the Olsen products that are accessible.

Still: isn’t it, you know, creepy? “I really go back and forth with that question of what Ashley and Mary-Kate [would] think of my page,” Peeler said. “I have thought of that so many times, because I know how private they are.” But the fan support is what sways her: “I’ve had so many of their fans message me, or they tell me they think Ashley and Mary-Kate would be so proud…. I feel like I must be doing something right, because I don’t think [their fans] would support my page in the way they have if [the Olsens] did feel uncomfortable with it.”

She adds, “I think at the end of the day, I’m promoting them in a positive light, and I’m giving a space for a community that loves them. I don’t see how they couldn’t like that.”