Was there ever a Time Before Kim? Can you remember a time when LA’s premier It girl didn’t have an opinion, or an appendage, pasted across the nearest TV, magazine or billboard? Neither can we. But that’s not the only reason we’re queueing up to celebrate the pop culture queen, on her 35th birthday. The fabulous Kim has risen from a daughter of controversy, to reality screen star, to wife, mother and a businesswoman with a glut of successful firms in her name. Love her or loathe her, there’s no denying that Kim’s got the smarts to make a mint.
She’s gone from being mocked for starring in that video to becoming a selfie queen who dethroned Beyonce on Instagram, and managed to win over stone cold Anna Wintour. No matter what you think about Kim Kardashian and her merry clan you have to admit she is a publicity machine who has worked her way to the top of social, celebrity and business ladders. As the reality star turns 35 today (October 21), we look at Kim Kardashian’s rise to fame.
Born on October 21, 1980, Kim Kardashian was the second of Robert and Kris Kardashian’s four kids, alongside older sister Kourtney, younger sister Khloé and little brother Rob. Her parents divorced when Kim was just enrolling in junior high, and her mother was married later that same year, 1991, to Bruce Jenner, an American athletics hero who’d broken records in decathlon at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
Kim lived out her teenage years rebelling among the millionaires of LA’s plush Beverly Hills hood. First there were a string of high-profile dates, from 3T’s TJ Jackson to R&B star Ray J, the latter of which came following a whirlwind three-year marriage to music producer Damon Thomas that ended in 2003. By then Kardashian had begun hanging out with Paris Hilton, the social scene’s enfant terrible, and her stock as celebrity skin rose quickly.
That’s not to say the Kardashians ever struggled for money. Their father, a lawyer who once defended the disgraced NFL star OJ Simpson, was reported to have left the family US$100 million upon his death from cancer in 2003. But money makes money, and the Kardashians can hardly be accused of having sat on their wealth. In 2007 they became international celebrities when E! aired Keeping Up With The Kardashians, a reality show that peered into the family’s home, and their often-dysfunctional relationships.
Eight years later the show is going stronger than ever, and was recently renewed for a reported US$100m. Kim is now a producer on the show. But it didn’t take that long for the Kardashians to reap the rewards of their Big Brother treatment. Kim rose quickly from a reality queen to business guru.
She and her two sisters opened boutique DASH in 2006, which now has three locations in the United States, in New York and California. Subscription style outlet Shoedazzle was founded in March 2009 alongside three fellow entrepreneurs, quickly raised US$60m in venture capital – then sold to a rival the following year.
“When the opportunity for our TV show came about, I wanted to do it to bring attention to our stores,” she told Variety. “I was thinking this might not last very long, but we’ll grow a great business and expand online. I thought it would be great press. I didn’t think it would turn into what it turned into.”
Kardashian has been keen to surround herself with a clique of good people – Shoedazzle was created by Brian Lee, creator of The Honest Company with Jessica Alba – and the results have often been lucrative. Product endorsements, a book of selfies and even energy drinks have had the ‘Kim treatment’, pushed along by a formidable social media presence that includes 49.6m Instagram followers and over 36.1 Twitter adorers (President Barack Obama, by comparison, has 4.9m and 4.75m respectively).
“I don’t think social media was that heavy when we started our show,” she once said. “But I think we really evolved with social media.”
By 2011 the Kim Machine was rumbling along nicely. But it wasn’t anywhere near the vast wealth she now sits upon – an estimated US$52.5m, that compliments that of her husband, pop star Kanye West, who is worth an estimated US$130m.
That kind of stratospheric success would come in later years when, after divorce from second husband, basketball player Kris Humphries in 2011 after just 72 days of married bliss, she became involved with West, already a rap giant. Further business tie-ups ensued, including several fragrances and store chains. Most unlikely, perhaps, was her app, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, a Sims-style fame-hunter RPG which within months of its 2014 release had become a US$200m product.
Time magazine even named Kim one of 2015’s 100 most influential people, proving that she had changed the face of celebrity culture for good. Her advice for a would-be superstar? Do what you love, of course: “If you find something you’re really passionate about, figure a way to make that your job. Then you’ll be happy.” Amen.
Words: Sean Williams
Images: Corbis and Instagram