Monday 21 August 2017

Hilton's been left behind by trend she created

The heiress began our modern culture of being famous for being famous but she's behind the game, writes Sophie Donaldson

Fame: Paris Hilton was one of the first models to join Donald Trump’s modelling agency in 1999.
Fame: Paris Hilton was one of the first models to join Donald Trump’s modelling agency in 1999.
Bella Hadid and Gigi Hadid prepare backstage before the H&M Studio show as part of the Paris Fashion Week on March 1, 2017 in Paris, France. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)
Donald Trump with Paris and Nicky Hilton during rehearsals for the 2001 VH1 Vogue Fashion Awards at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City
Kendall Jenner and Kylie Jenner attend Winter Bumbleland - Day 1 on April 15, 2017 in Rancho Mirage, California. (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for FVA Productions)
Sophie Donaldson

Sophie Donaldson

Famesque. Celebutante. Insta-fame. Influencer. Whichever way you want to spin it, Paris Hilton thinks she did it first.

She rose to fame in a bubble of new-millennia celebrity, where she seemed destined to remain forever suspended in a circa-2003 glow - but along came 2017 and all of a sudden she's enjoying something of a resurgence.

She was the It girl of the early aughts - and despite her apparent lack of vocation (apart from being famous for being famous), she managed to avoid a nosedive into obscurity. Instead, she has spent the past decade quietly building an empire and re-branding herself as a DJ playing in superclubs in Ibiza and Las Vegas - and charging $350,000 for a set.

In the fashion world she's become an unlikely icon as the catwalk pillages the early 2000s trends - Juicy Couture tracksuits, trucker hats, hip-slinging denim flares and branded hoodies - that Hilton personified.

Bella Hadid and Gigi Hadid prepare backstage before the H&M Studio show as part of the Paris Fashion Week on March 1, 2017 in Paris, France. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)
Bella Hadid and Gigi Hadid prepare backstage before the H&M Studio show as part of the Paris Fashion Week on March 1, 2017 in Paris, France. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

Then Kendall Jenner, model of the moment, wore an unapologetic recreation of Hilton's 21st birthday outfit to celebrate her own landmark birthday. Jenner gushed that Hilton was her inspiration.

And W Magazine has just given the heiress an in-depth feature, in which Hilton suggests that she created the celebrity culture we are now immersed in.

Donald Trump with Paris and Nicky Hilton during rehearsals for the 2001 VH1 Vogue Fashion Awards at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City
Donald Trump with Paris and Nicky Hilton during rehearsals for the 2001 VH1 Vogue Fashion Awards at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City

You can see where she's coming from; a prolific selfie taker before the age of the smartphone, Hilton was also the first celebrity offspring to find fame for simply being herself, branding everything from beach clubs to perfumes with her famous name.

In 2016, she released her 20th fragrance (Paris Hilton fragrances have grossed more than $2bn in sales globally), a business model recreated by Kylie Jenner and her sell-out Kylie Cosmetics range. Paris and her lookalike sister Nicky were the original Gigi and Bella or Kylie and Kendall.

Kendall Jenner and Kylie Jenner attend Winter Bumbleland - Day 1 on April 15, 2017 in Rancho Mirage, California. (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for FVA Productions)
Kendall Jenner and Kylie Jenner attend Winter Bumbleland - Day 1 on April 15, 2017 in Rancho Mirage, California. (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for FVA Productions)

Most importantly, she latched on to the concurrent rise of reality TV to bolster her fame, becoming a household name in the process. Hilton did it all without the aid of social media, but she was no means the first self-made celebrity.

Hotels might be the family business, but go back three generations and you'll see that making a career out of being yourself also runs in the family. Paris has never credited her great aunt Zsa Zsa Gabor as a role model but the similarities are uncanny. There were the surely-not-their-real-name monikers, and the irresistibly quote-able one liners. Gabor's trademark "Dah-link" and witty quips about love and marriage were matched by Hilton's lazy LA drawl proclaiming "that's hot" about everything and anything.

Their private lives were also fodder for tabloid inches, Hilton's in the form of a leaked sex tape and Gabor's predilection for wealthy husbands, of which she had nine in total.

And there was a healthy dose of scandal to keep them in the headlines. Gabor got a career boost after her arrest for slapping a police officer while being pulled over for a driving offence, while Hilton was convicted for drink-driving in 2006, producing one of the most recognisable mug shots in the world.

Just as Gabor was getting famous for being famous, Andy Warhol was predicting that this was the future, with everybody wanting their own 15 minutes.

Hilton might think she was ahead of the game but, actually, I think she was the last of her ilk. It's been only 10 years since Hilton's celebrity peaked - but so much has changed since then. She managed to sagely sum up this brave new world of Insta-fame, zealous "followers", influencing and vlogging in her W interview.

"Nowadays, I feel like it's so easy becoming famous," she told the magazine. "Anybody with a phone can do it."

Where stars used to court their celebrity, now they curate it. A socialite with a reality show and flip phone seem like the Dark Ages, and Hilton's meagre seven million Instagram followers look like a small family gathering compared to Kim Kardashian's 100 million. In a GQ interview last year, Kardashian gave a startling glimpse at what it takes to be an Insta-celeb. The interviewer described her flipping through a ring binder of images of herself - wedding shots, selfies, baby photos of her children - and choosing which images would be uploaded on to her app. A black "X" was scrawled across photos that didn't make the cut.

Hilton's show The Simple Life seems like a candid documentary by comparison and it certainly harks back to simpler times.

Hilton may have made a brand out of her name and a celebrity out of her very existence but compared to her contemporaries, maybe she is destined to stay in circa-2003 after all.

Sunday Independent

Editors Choice

Also in this section