Wednesday 24 April 2019

Sarah Caden: 'Self-made billionaire Kylie Jenner has our children in her clutches'

Kylie Jenner is a social media billionaire whose influence on our children is the making of her, writes Sarah Caden

Kylie Jenner is a billionaire at the age of 21 — all thanks to her famous family and her canny way with her millions of young followers on Instagram. Picture: Getty
Kylie Jenner is a billionaire at the age of 21 — all thanks to her famous family and her canny way with her millions of young followers on Instagram. Picture: Getty

Sarah Caden

In 2015, Kylie Jenner, then 17, said: "I dream of being normal." By that time, she had lived through a lot. Keeping Up With the Kardashians, named for her then more famous step-siblings, had been running for eight years and Kylie had never been the most enthusiastic about the show.

She had threatened to quit and had not enjoyed being in the spotlight while going through the separation of her parents in 2013.

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Then, in 2015, her father revealed a lifelong struggle with gender identity and Caitlyn Jenner's very public journey became huge news and a turning point in terms of perceptions of gender identity.

None of which can have been easy for a teenage girl who seemed, in puberty and adolescence anyway, to be uncomfortable with all the no-holds-barred exposure.

Four years ago, 17-year-old Kylie wanted to be normal. Last week, 21-year-old Kylie was named the youngest self-made billionaire ever by Forbes magazine.

At some point in her teens, Kylie may have realised that normal wasn't going to happen. And if normal wasn't going to happen, then she was going to take the Kardashian/Jenner game to a whole new level.

Of course, it all comes back to momager Kris Jenner, who was the one who successfully pitched Keeping Up With The Kardashians in 2007, the same year that her second eldest daughter Kim had her sex tape scandal/breakthrough.

Kris, it cannot be denied, knows how to make a family business, and make business from family.

Having established the eldest three Kardashian girls through the TV show, she unleashed her pair of Jenner daughters, Kendall and Kylie, when they were in their early teens. Kendall and Kylie had been cute kids in the early KUWTK years, the latter a more reluctant player than her older sister.

Kendall and Kylie lent their names and images to clothing lines and fashion brands aimed at young girls. Time magazine named them the "Most Influential Teens of 2014".

In 2015, when Kylie was 17 and not long off wishing to be normal, she launched her cosmetics line - using $250,000 of her own money.

This is what Forbes sees as self-made. She didn't use inherited or family money. She had it herself. And she hit $1bn so fast because she didn't need investors who had to be paid back, and, thanks to her main marketing channel - social media - she has never had to pump money into staff, marketing, advertising or any of the usual overheads.

Kylie just has to be Kylie and her products sell out within minutes of "dropping" online. More canniness at work is the fact that there are only a limited amount of drops in one go and the products disappear quickly, but does your teen really care about that?

Kylie has a $9.5m house. She has a walk-in wardrobe for her handbags alone. She has so many cars you couldn't manage to take each one for a spin in a single week. She has more money than she can spend and she is the most viewed person in the world on Snapchat.

It's not normal. It's so not normal for a 21-year-old. But you'll have a job telling that to the kid in your life who wants a Kylie lip kit or, sorry, needs one.

Kylie Jenner's customer demographic is young, it was commented on CNN last week. "Millennials" they said, and, of course, millennials, who photograph themselves endlessly, are the market for a woman who photographs herself endlessly. The other huge portion of Kylie's customers are kids, however.

I know 10-year-olds who got her make-up for Christmas. Kids who asked Santa for it. Kylie and Santa, yes, they can co-exist.

Never mind that 10-year-olds have no business wearing make-up, what about the fact that they want this particular make-up?

They want the make-up of a girl-woman who has grown up too fast thanks to her family's full, no-holds-barred exposure of their lives for profit. They want the make-up because they admire her lifestyle, that of obscene consumerism and acquisitiveness.

They want the look of a young girl who has admitted to having her lips surgically filled because she thought her natural lips were so thin that no one would ever want to kiss her - and who, it is speculated, has also had surgery to other parts of her face and body.

Ten-year-olds and teens, who comprise a huge portion of the Kylie Cosmetics market, don't want her muddy-coloured lip kits because they are of such good quality and offer amazing value for money.

That is not the level at which these impressionable minds operate. They want them because they believe that with this kit, Santa, they can be more like Kylie. And who wouldn't want to be more like Kylie?

During a particularly nasty series of rants against Jenner after the Forbes listing last week, Piers Morgan said on Good Morning Britain that she was "not even good looking".

It wasn't just a mean thing to say, on the back of having written last week that Kylie was only successful thanks to her sister's sex tape, but it was both irrelevant and highly relevant.

Kylie's looks are irrelevant because good looks don't equate with ability, business acumen, worthiness of success or adulation.

They are highly relevant, though, because she was, for a time, the Kardashian/Jenner daughter that didn't have her own thing. She didn't fit the same mould as Kendall, who became a model young and was adopted by the big fashion houses quickly.

She was a kid who had lip fillers in her mid-teens, suggesting a sense of physical inadequacy that went beyond the teen norm. She could have just become the Kardashian/Jenner - along with the brother, Rob - who barely featured. Instead, however, Kylie pushed herself beyond the rest of the clan, struck out solo, and, significantly, turned overexposure to work for her.

She started Kylie Cosmetics fully aware that her social media followers and fanbase were her potential customers. She knew she was her biggest advertisement and she ramped up both her physical and lifestyle image to increase the desirability of her products. If you have this lip colour, you have a bit of Kylie.

She not only sells these products, she uses them too. She rams that home relentlessly to her followers, who number 128m on Instagram and 26m on Twitter.

Here's Kylie at such and such a fab event, and here's the Kylie Cosmetics kit she's wearing.

It's simplistic, but covetousness is simple. We gaze, we envy, we buy the idea that if we had what they had, maybe we'd be more like them. And this works especially well on a young audience, vulnerable, insecure and impressionable as they are.

In becoming the world's youngest self-made billionaire, Kyle Jenner has achieved something remarkable, but her success says something sad about what reaches out and touches our young people and children.

Interestingly, before Kylie's breakthrough last week, Forbes ranked Mark Zuckerberg its youngest self-made billionaire. The Facebook founder was 23 when he made the grade.

And never mind Kim's sex tape, without Zuck's innovation, the social media phenomenon that is Kylie could never have existed.

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