“Both within the family and without, our sisters hold up our mirrors:
our images of who we are and who we can dare to be.”
~ Elizabeth Fishel, Author
Every year, on the first Sunday in August, we celebrate National Sisters Day and while researching celebrity sisters I became swept up in the intriguing tales of their lives and backgrounds. Each famous set of sisters we spotlighted, be they actresses, tennis stars or fashion designers, has a unique way of reflecting and reinforcing a sense of their shared history. Even though each sister may have a different perspective on this history, it nevertheless is instrumental in forging an intimate, enduring relationship and a bond that is often the strongest relationship in their lives. Sisters keep the family faith, motivate each other to excel and support each other in ways that only their sisters can truly understand.
The Arquette Sisters: A Thespian Legacy
Life in the spotlight has been a family affair for the Arquettes. With vaudevillian grandparents and a father on “The Waltons”, it’s not particularly surprising that at least one of the Arquette sisters would become an actress. But not only have both Rosanna and Patricia forged successful acting careers but each of their three other siblings is also well placed in the movie biz. Rosanna, the older sister (1959), is best known for her role opposite Madonna in the hit film “Desperately Seeking Susan” (1985) along with her appearance in over 70 feature films. Rosanna was widely considered a sexpot in the 80’s and is rumored to have inspired the 1982 eponymous hit song by Toto. Patricia (1968), was a relatively late bloomer with early roles in the cult classic “True Romance” (1993) and a string of art house films. Patricia recently won the family’s first Oscar for the movie “Boyhood” and also received an Emmy for the tv show “Medium“.
Despite what may appear as a rivalry, the Arquette sisters have a relationship that is far more supportive than competitive. In an interview in Entertainment Weekly, Patricia exasperatedly stated, “People want to judge us against each other. It’s such shit. We’re close. There’s no competition.” And Rosanna feels the same, “When we were younger, the eight-year age difference made it difficult, but as we got older, we became very close. Their personal relationship has also linked them professionally. The sisters have been on screen together in the 2002 film, “Searching for Debra Winger” and recently when Rosanna made a guest appearance as a villain in season four on “Medium”. Patricia said, “It was hard for me to work with Rosanna because I could not stop smiling. I was so fascinated watching her work that I kept messing up my takes. It was fun to see her as this carnivorous character, but I was enjoying her acting a little too much!” Their brother David has also been involved, directing two episodes of Medium.
Patricia summed it up, “My siblings and I all know each other so well, so we are open to exploring as actors, and there is a collaborative exchange of ideas between us.” In Hollywood parlance, the Arquettes are “A Sister Act” that proves that it’s “All in the Family”.
The Williams Sisters: On and Off the Court
Raising and training two female athletes from the same family to become champions, and to have them compete against one another is unprecedented. This is a scenario which has been described as being “as improbable as one set of parents raising Picasso and Monet.” But witness Venus and Serena Williams, the Picasso and Monet of women’s tennis. Each of them has been ranked number one in the world, and they are the only two women in modern tennis history to have faced each other in the finals of four consecutive Grand Slam finals. They have faced-off 27 times in professional tournaments and as of 2016, the record is 16-11 in favor of Serena.
Imagine creating a loving relationship with your sister who is also one of your fiercest competitors. Their games against each other are intense and emotionally charged, as they both play to win. It has been speculated that they probably don’t think about being sisters on the court nor really look at each other. But despite this fierce rivalry, they remain personally very close, often watching each other’s matches in support, even after one of them has been knocked out of a tournament. “They continue to be each other’s biggest fans and a beacon of support for each other. There is no change in their very close and special relationship,” said Serena’s rep. But they aren’t just rivals that happen to be sisters, they are also partners. They play doubles together and have won 21 titles. Perhaps their ability to switch from competitors, to partners, to loving sisters can best be understood by knowing that they were trained by their father and completely supported by their parents.
Over the 20 years the Williams sisters have been on the court, the family has always been in the stands. The uniqueness of the sisters’ relationship has increased both viewership of the game and increased representation of African Americans among tennis professionals. The Williams sisters continue to push each other to be everything they can be.
The Mulleavy Sisters: A Creative Collaboration
You may not have heard of the fashion line Rodarte, or of the sisters who founded it, but the story of the Mulleavy sisters is truly fantastic. They burst upon the fashion scene in 2006, launching their first collection and their company with $20K that they earned by waitressing and selling their 25 milk cartons of vintage records. Kate and her sister Laura cold-pitched their debut collection of 10 pieces to fashion editors in New York City through a set of paper dolls outfitted with miniature versions of their garments. Within a few days, Women’s Wear Daily put them on its cover and the rest, as they say, is history. Rodarte is named after their mother, an artist in Navajo weavings who taught Kate to sew and who still inspires her. They are now celebrating the 10 year anniversary of their unique and exquisite handmade designs whose description seems to defy the fashion critics. As independents, they won’t rush and respond to the demands of commercialism. Their designs are imaginative using different fabrics, trimmings and beaded embroidery in asymmetrical fashions. Their target customer is clearly upscale. “There’s a client for luxury,” says Kate. “In a world where there are so many options, we want to make something someone’s going to have for 15, 20 years.”
They grew up in a small rural town in Northern California, hung out together, played together and obsessed over vampires together. They did everything together including college at UC Berkeley. Kate is usually the spokesperson for them, maybe being the elder. She describes herself and her sister as “casual and laidback, jeans and T-shirts”. She has often said that “they are ‘like one’ and they sit across from each other at a wide work table when designing.” Along with working together, they travel together and share common friends including the actress Kirsten Dunst, who is the star of an upcoming movie that the sisters are directing. “One of the things that distinguishes Rodarte”, says Kate, “is the romantic, conceptual way we approach inspiration and storytelling and how we see the world, landscape, art, movies, poetry, music.”
Something tells us that the most important aspect of Kate’s description is the word “WE”. That one word colors everything they have achieved and become. When in need of inspiration, they only have to look across the design table.
Each of the sister pairs we have profiled demonstrate something unique about sisterhood. The Arquettes’ relationship maintains an ongoing family showbiz dynasty. The Williams sisters both challenge and inspire each other to achievements beyond what either could have attained alone and the Mulleavy sisters show us the awesome power of simpatico.
How has your relationship with a sister influenced you?
*Cover image sources: Damon Winter, NY Times/ Helmut Newton/ Mario Testino, Vogue, February 2012.