The Art of Power: They’ve permanently transformed our cultural landscape and unapologetically impacted modern-day life. So what’s their magic formula? BAZAAR sits with Kris and Kylie Jenner to talk family, fame, feminism and how they became two of the most empowered women of all time.
Kris Jenner arrives on set first; bang on time and ready to play ball. Although she’s feeling quite ill and coming down with the flu – she explains to us as she pulls her sweater sleeve above her hand to shake ours – she still has an undeniably soothing aura that immediately assures the team that everything is going to turn out perfectly. She is, after all, a mum – and that’s what the best mums do.
Confident and calm, she takes her time to walk around the set, greeting everyone and introducing herself – as if she needs an introduction! Expertly reviewing the clothing racks, Kris picks out her favourites and quickly vanishes into the studio’s hair and make-up section, which by now shapeshifted into a private area hidden behind multiple layers of impenetrable black curtains.
It’s at least 60 minutes later (and late) before Kylie pulls up in a silver Lamborghini Urus. No handshakes, no eye contact, straight to hair and make-up.
You’d never guess that they were related.
But, as with most things in the crazy world of the Kardashian clan, Kris is armed with a flawless behavioural explanation: “I’ve always just been here to be a support system and to be able to guide her along a path business-wise, but she is one million per cent the creative.”
She can say that again. And by the look of her no-nonsense attitude, her daughter means serious business to boot. Just four years ago, a 17-year-old Kylie Jenner was starting out selling her lip kits for $29 (Dhs105) a pop. Last year, Kylie Cosmetics had racked up a staggering $360 million (Dhs1.3 billion) in sales – impressive enough for Forbes to rank her as the world’s youngest-ever self-made billionaire.
Not that her ‘momager’ Kris is missing out on the action. The mastermind behindKeeping Up With The Kardashians, the E!reality juggernaut that is now filming its 17th season, reportedly takes home close to $40 million (Dhs147 million) a year for appearing on the show, as well as for the small matter of managing the affairs of Kourtney, Kim, Khloé, Kendall and Kylie.
Oh, and in the world of social media, the numbers are even more impressive than that. Between them on Instagram, the Kardashians boast a staggering 595 million followers. But behind the wealth, behind the screen and behind the mobile apps, exactly what are the world’s most famous mother and daughter like in real life? It all becomes pretty apparent within minutes.
Kris is the first to step out of hair and make-up. She heads straight for the set and playfully starts striking a series of cheeky poses dressed in Dubai-based designer Arwa Al Banawi and a Gladys Tamez Millinery bolero hat. What a pro!
Background music blasts out as we progress through the shoot, with a mix that includes Kanye, Travis Scott and Ariana Grande. When the latter’s Thank u, next comes on, Kris is gleeful with excitement, announcing to everyone, “Hey, that’s my video!”
However, once the camera starts clicking, Kylie undoubtedly becomes the commander of the ship, steering it in exactly the direction that she sees fit. At one point – much to our delight – she spontaneously brings 1-year-old Stormi onto the set, whips out a tiny leopard-print Dolce & Gabanna dress from her bag (which, coincidentally, is a perfect match for what we’re about to shoot), and voilà – history in the making. For the first time ever, a three-generation image of Kris, Kylie and Stormi is captured by a magazine. “Let’s do this!” Kylie says excitedly, articulating our thoughts exactly.
Regardless of whoever’s really in charge, what is abundantly clear is the amazing bond between mother, daughter and even granddaughter. Kylie herself isn’t shy to say so.
“When I became a mother, my perspective on life completely changed, and so did how I look at my own mum and appreciate all the things that she’s done for me. Now I can understand the way that she feels about me, the way that she loves me, and how strong her love is for all her kids, because of how obsessed I am with Stormi,” she says with a smile. Kris quickly jumps in, “I’m obsessed with you, Kylie!”
At this point, I feel that maybe I should leave the room, as Kylie responds, “I know. I understand that now.” They both chuckle lovingly as the strength of their relationship – cameras or no cameras – becomes increasingly clear.
Kris explains, “We’ve always been very connected emotionally and spiritually and have this incredibly strong bond. But I think as we both get older, our relationship shifts a bit. And for me, I just want her to know that I’m always here to guide her and help her with whatever she needs, rather than it always being, you know, the way it used to be back in the day. Our relationship changes every few years.”
What is also constantly in flux is the enormous impact both Kris and Kylie have across the world on – quite literally – hundreds of millions of women. Put simply, that influence just gets bigger by the minute. They have revolutionised not just the fashion scene, but also global body-image norms and the relentless role of social media in our everyday lives. It’s quite the family CV.
As Kris tells us, “I think when the girls, Kourtney, Kimberly and Khloé, first started doing our show, people really responded to them because they offered an image of something that was different. It gave young women self-esteem. They started to feel better about themselves because they could embrace their bodies and didn’t have to have a certain look.” She adds, “Overall, I think the girls have been very influential in changing the way that women look at themselves.” ‘Very influential’ seems like rather a modest understatement.
Kris continues, “It was life-changing for a lot of people because they finally felt accepted, which was really wonderful for us, especially Kim, to be part of that movement. I think she really embraced that role of being sort-of a spokesperson for curvy women. And after that, when Kylie grew up and came onto the scene, she was really disruptive in the beauty industry and turned that on its head, too!”
Breaking moulds has also led to breaking records. Every single member of the family has earned so much from the TV show and its various spin-off ventures that they could collectively hang up their (no doubt branded) make-up bag up tomorrow and never have to do a day’s work again. But this is Planet Kardashian, so there’s zero chance of that happening any time soon.
Kylie, however, insists it’s not about the cash. “I don’t really do it to make money or think that far into the future if this is going to be super-successful. I just knew my talents and was passionate about make-up and lips and lipsticks. It’s been a real love of mine for as long as I can remember. I never even knew that you can really turn your passion into a business, you know. I just followed my heart and went with how I felt. Now I just feel so blessed every day to wake up, have fun doing what I love and make a career out of it. It’s amazing!”
Of course, with enormous fortune comes enormous fame. Being the stars of the world’s most popular TV show and having 166 million Instagram followers between the two of them means there is little hope of any real privacy. But out of them all, is that the hardest for Kylie, who can barely recall a period when she wasn’t famous? “Honestly, I don’t remember a time when I did have privacy because we started our show when I was 9 years old. I feel like I just grew up in it and so I figured out a way of living that is comfortable for me. Of course, there are times when you feel like your privacy is invaded. But I feel like I’ve learned how to pull back when I need to. I love my fans and we have such a strong relationship. I do love sharing and inspiring and bringing people into my life. I feel like I was definitely made to do what I do,” Kylie explains, before adding, “But there are definitely moments when I get stressed out. I’ll take the week off and spend more time with Stormi, or I like to go on trips when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I just have my little message in life. I feel that we all do, even if you’re not famous. As human beings we get stressed out and we all have our little way of coming back together.”
Of course, it wasn’t always like this – especially for Kris, who is 63 going on 23. Her parents divorced when she was just seven and after graduating in 1973, three years later she began working as a flight attendant. Business success came much later. She reveals, “When I first went into the business world it was probably 1990. I was working with Bruce and helping him with his speaking career and it really just opened a lot of doors for me out of necessity. I needed to work and I needed to do something that was good for the family, so that’s exactly what I did. As the years went on and my kids started getting older it just seemed like a natural next step to work with my kids. It started with the older girls and, as Kylie grew up and discovered her true gift in the beauty world, it was such a joy to work side-by-side doing something really fun.”
Kris continues, “You have to remember that when Kylie started this journey she was still a teenager. She came to me and said, ‘Hey, I finally feel like this is what I want to do as a career. I just love what I’m thinking in my mind and I really want to make it a reality.’ So we did it together and I helped her.”
Much as they like to have fun, the duo are also fully aware that their every word and action is watched and analysed by millions around the world – no more so than in this region, where their stories have given a new lift to female empowerment. Whether they like it or not, they are both now huge role models to Arab women.
Their advice to them? “The message is about love,” Kris responds. “Kylie and I have a bond that we are very blessed with and we really make the best out of every single day. We’re also lucky enough to work in the beauty business, and I think so many women in the Middle East who have written to us and are fans of the show, they always have such wonderful things to say. But the message is very clear that women there are extremely interested in beauty. That’s really exciting to me! Something that I learnt from my mother is that it’s really about how you present yourself to the world. Loving yourself and your family makes for an ageless experience. Sometimes I simply don’t feel 63 years old. And I think it’s all about who I surround myself with and how I put myself together. You feel good from the inside out.” “I thought that was beautiful!” comments Kylie.
She then adds her own spin on it, “I really believe in female empowerment, but I want to inspire all people – no matter what age or gender – that you can succeed. I love inspiring people to start working a lot harder at a young age. Follow your dreams, you’re never too young.” A suitably millennial motto.
“Mentally, for me, I try not to focus so much on being a role model and still be myself. But I do understand how many young women look up to me and that I have to think about everything that I put on the internet, or what example I want to set for my daughter. Especially now that I’ve had her, I think about that a lot more.”
It seems they’ve both given a lot of thought to their fan base in the region. When asked about their expansion plans into the Middle East, it felt as though they were sitting on quite a big secret. “Mum, for the Middle East expansion what do you want to say?” asks Kylie. Perhaps she’s not the boss, after all. Kris switches into gear: “We’re working on growth and expansion as we speak. We really want to bring it to that region sooner than later.” Sounds promising. “It will be amazing!” adds Kylie.
What was truly amazing, though, was the purity of the connection that these two shared. Their commitment, admiration and mutual respect of eachother was more than just undeniable – it was moving to be in the presence of. “I think Kylie is a shining example of a young, working mum who wants to do it all, fit it all in and at the same time, be in a business where she is really empowering other women to feel good, look great and always try to stay ahead of the next fabulous thing. I really admire her for that,” beams Kris, highlighting the strength of their familial bond even further.
“I want to be a mum first, that’s always my first priority, and then the manager of all of the girls. A friend of mine made me this plaque that said ‘Momager’, and it kind-of stuck, she laughs. “One of my biggest aspirations is just to be able to spend more time with my grandchildren. That’s truly where my heart is. I have 10 now and they all live right around me. We work a lot… but that’s my love, just to spend more time with my family.” Kylie explains their unique dynamic by adding, “I respect my mother as my mother. I definitely don’t treat her as a sister or a best friend. I feel super-blessed that we’re so close and I can talk to her about anything like a sister, or like a best friend. But she definitely is a huge mother figure in my life.”
After spending six hours in the company of Kris and Kylie, it’s pretty clear how this relationship works. The mum is the boss. And the child is the star. But what really makes it a success is the combination of the two together. As Kylie says, “I credit my mum a lot for where Kylie Cosmetics is now. With my creativity and her business mind, together we’re just the dream team.”
Nobody can argue with that.