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Keeping Up With Kim Kardashian

By Joie Goh

Wardrobe: Rick Owens coat.
 
Photograph by Dennis Leupold. Creative Direction by Jack Wang & Jumius Wong. Styling by Tok Wei Lun.
Wardrobe: Rick Owens coat.

Ten years ago, a family of minor celebrities made their collective debut on a Ryan Seacrest-produced E! reality TV show. Like so many other Seacrest productions, it could have slipped into oblivion — for one thing, the concept wasn’t unique. Five years prior, in 2002, “The Osbournes” had premiered on MTV, a reality series that followed the domestic antics of heavy metal musician Ozzy Osbourne and his family. 

The premise of Seacrest’s new show was no different, save for the fact that none of its cast had Osbourne’s level of fame. The only things they were known for, at the time, were their links to actually famous personalities. Unsurprisingly, when “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” was released in October 2007, the reviews were scathing, with critics denouncing it for its shallowness and calling its troupe “self-absorbed” and “desperate”. 

But if the Kardashians were desperate, it only bolstered their drive to make the show a success. “KUWTK” drilled on, adding season after season, spin-off after spin-off, until it became the second-most-popular reality series of all time — and its in-your-face lead, the world’s most famous-for-being-famous person (not to mention wife of the most famous rapper, Kanye West).

Photograph by Dennis Leupold. Creative Direction by Jack Wang & Jumius Wong. Styling by Tok Wei Lun.Wardrobe: Givenchy dress, trousers and heels. Cartier Juste un Clou ring.
Wardrobe: Givenchy dress, trousers and heels. Cartier Juste un Clou ring.

Despite the criticism and the mocking memes, Kim Kardashian West is today the highest-earning reality TV personality in the world. Leveraging her considerable social media presence, the unexpectedly prodigious entrepreneur built a personal brand with a sphere of influence that reached across multiple industries. In tech, she dominated with a virally popular trio of apps: Kimoji, Kim Kardashian West (which offers an even more intimate look into her life on a freemium model), and the mobile game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. In fashion, her close relationships with fashion designers like Balmain’s creative director Olivier Rousteing, Givenchy’s former creative director Riccardo Tisci and Valentino’s founder Valentino Garavani (and of course, her husband Kanye West) made her a front row fixture and a style icon so significant that every outfit worn and hairstyle changed would inevitably make headlines. 

According to Forbes, the savvy businesswoman and dedicated entertainer raked in US$51 million (approx. S$69 million) in 2016 alone — a fortune that until recently was no secret. Whether she was announcing her latest collaboration, or showing off her latest purchases, the 37-year-old had no qualms about sharing it all on social media. 

Then the 2016 Paris incident happened. Burglers, alerted to her whereabouts through her own Twitter updates, broke into Kardashian West’s hotel room and robbed her diamonds. That experience gave her a reality check. “I definitely get a lot more anxiety now, just with people knowing your every move,” she tells T Singapore in an interview conducted after our shoot in Los Angeles. Following the episode, the “queen of social media”, as she is known, disappeared from all her online platforms, posting nothing for a quarter of a year before resurfacing in January this year.

Photograph by Dennis Leupold. Creative Direction by Jack Wang & Jumius Wong. Styling by Tok Wei Lun.Wardrobe: Max Mara coat and trousers. Cartier Juste un Clou yellow gold bracelet with diamonds, and yellow gold ring with diamonds.
Wardrobe: Max Mara coat and trousers. Cartier Juste un Clou yellow gold bracelet with diamonds, and yellow gold ring with diamonds.

When she did, it was with a fresh perspective on life — and a sleek, pared-down new look. In an interview on “The Ellen Show” in April, she proclaimed herself to be “such a different person”, acknowledging her former love for flash but emphasising that she “[doesn’t] care about that stuff anymore”. 

It sounds pretty thick for someone who had, just a couple of years ago, published a coffee-table book of her own selfies entitled “Selfish”, but when we met Kardashian West at our photo shoot, there was nothing to suggest she isn’t the born-again minimalist she now pronounces herself to be. At Los Angeles creative beehive (and Kanye West’s one-time workspace) Milk Studios along North Cahuenga Boulevard, she shows up in a simple white tank top paired with olive green joggers, with her hair styled in a straight, unfussy shoulder-grazing bob. 

Perhaps her experience in the past year has also led her to better define her list of priorities, at the top of which sits four-year-old daughter North and two-year-old son Saint. When asked what she’s focused on now, she’s quick to answer: “My whole world is my kids, it’s all I care about... from literally every last thing that they do to what they wear, to all their activities. I love being their mom. I definitely don’t hang out with my friends as much just because I have to be with my kids.”

Photograph by Dennis Leupold. Creative Direction by Jack Wang & Jumius Wong. Styling by Tok Wei Lun.Wardrobe: Prada coat. Cartier Juste un Clou ring.
Wardrobe: Prada coat. Cartier Juste un Clou ring.

It makes sense then, that her latest enterprise revolves around children: An online-only kidswear label called The Kids Supply, with pieces released monthly in limited numbers. Featuring bomber jackets, silk slips and tiny chokers, the collection is peppered with mini versions of the kind of outfits you might see on Kim and Kanye. “It’s been such a fun journey to figure out how our kids like to dress and how to make cool clothes for kids,” enthuses Kardashian West. It helps that she’s got plenty of informal experience in that department: “We’ve always been tailoring things and cutting things up, or taking dresses of mine and cutting them down to North’s size.” 

A re-entry into the beauty market is also playing out for the multi-hyphenate, following a short-lived cosmetics and skincare venture that she introduced in 2012 with her siblings and a drugstore line of fragrances that she had between 2009 and 2014. In April, she released a lip kit in collaboration with younger half-sister Kylie Jenner; June marked the launch of her KKW Beauty line, a quartet of highlight and contour kits. (Her temporary disappearance on social media has clearly done nothing to dampen her influence — according to her Twitter updates, the kits sold out in less than three hours.) 

Next: A collection of three perfumes based on her favourite scent, gardenia, whose packaging will be informed by Kardashian West v2.0. The glass flacons are inspired by a conversation she had with a friend about crystals and their energy, which sparked a visit to a crystal warehouse. “I just felt this energy... that’s exactly what I want my perfume energy to be like,” she says. “So the bottle is this gorgeous crystal that looks like a piece of art just sitting on your countertop, that matches with anyone’s room.”

Photograph by Dennis Leupold. Creative Direction by Jack Wang & Jumius Wong. Styling by Tok Wei Lun.Wardrobe: Off-white lace jacket, dress (worn underneath) and boots. Coach coat. Cartier Juste un Clou yellow gold ring and bracelet with diamonds.
Wardrobe: Off-white lace jacket, dress (worn underneath) and boots. Coach coat. Cartier Juste un Clou yellow gold ring and bracelet with diamonds.

Sure, she’s still emblazoning her name on “stuff” and yes, the occasional designer bag and private plane ride still feature on her social media. But for a person who once embodied the social media age of conspicuous materialism — nay, helped craft it — Kardashian West has inarguably come a long way in a short time. You only have to look at her Instagram account (now 103 million followers and counting) to tell. In place of her usual selfies and images flaunting her possessions, her gallery is now populated with photos of her relationships with family and friends. 

As with her life, her social media feeds have also taken on a new direction. She’s more careful about what she posts — no more real-time updates on where she is — and how she handles her audience. “It’s funny — so much can go on at home but if you don’t post about it, people think it never happened,” Kardashian West says thoughtfully. “So they’ll say, ‘She hasn’t posted with her sisters, she must be in a huge fight.’ But it’s not what consumes me anymore, like how it used to...” 

“When you realise you can put a message out there and there’s so many people listening, you look at life differently.”

 

For the full spread, check out the October issue of T: The New York Times Style Singapore, out on newsstands now, or click here to sign up for a digital subscription to the magazine.