Hype. Demand. Legacy: The Paris Effect

Before bikini-clad Instagram influencers and the Kardashian-Jenners, there was Paris Hilton.

Let’s rewind to the early 2000s. The over-tanned, peroxide blonde heiress to the Hilton Hotel empire and fortune seemingly took over tabloids and gossip rags overnight. She wasn’t an actress in a new blockbuster movie. She wasn’t a singer with the latest catchy pop tune that blared out of the car radio (that would come later). So, who was Paris Hilton? Why was she famous, and more importantly, why did we care?

Paris Hilton iconic-ly created the tag ‘famous for being famous’. She single-handedly became the most recognised and photographed person overnight, to then becoming the epitome and face of 2000s pop-culture. So how exactly did a teenage socialite create hype, demand and legacy that would remain for two whole decades? Here’s a closer look at her impact.

REALITY TV

In August 2019, the FT reported that streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have beefed up their UK offerings of reality shows, and that they accounted for 5% of Amazon’s UK programmes in June 2019 (up from 1% in the summer of 2017). Meanwhile, Netflix, had increased its reality content by one percentage point to 4%.

In the early days of Paris finding mainstream fame, the socialite/model/hotel heiress wanted to add another title as a slashie: reality TV star.

People already knew who Paris was at that point, thanks to her name and image being splashed across global headlines daily – but many people still questioned why they cared. We knew what she looked like – but to be able to watch her on telly, and know what she was really like? This was one of the earliest examples of Paris creating hype for her brand, and today, the same concept can be done across many mediums and channels, all without having a TV network to sign you.

Paris Hilton teamed up with childhood bestie, Nicole Richie, daughter of legendary music artist, Lionel Richie for their own reality TV show, The Simple Life. In the upper-crust circle of celebrity children, Richie was known for being a wild child. As Paris’ fame started to rise, Richie’s did too, being Paris’ trusty BFF. With a TV show on the horizon that created hype for both of them as a brand together, both would find themselves to be household names in the perennial game of Hollywood.

The Simple Life is arguably one of the first reality TV shows for mass market. Yes, there was MTV’s ‘The Real World’ that began in the early 90s, and even ‘Laguna Beach’ that followed in 2004, but you would’ve had to have a paid-for subscription box, which not everyone had access to. The Simple Life was the platform that Paris used to propel hype to her new found fame and brand, adopting Clueless’ protagonist Elle Woods and her ‘ditzy’ nature to win over fans.

Jersey Shore’s Jenni and Snooki dressed as Paris and Nicole from The Simple Life’s promotional poster

“She was the first person to do what, in 2018, thousands are doing:
leveraging a public reality TV character into a profitable #PersonalBrand.”

– dazed.com

fashion

Louis Vuitton multi-colour monogrammed bags. Juicy Couture sweatpants. T-Shirts with tongue-in-cheeky slogans. Oversized sunglasses. These were all fashion of the 2000s, which all became in-demand items and trends, thanks to Paris, and her ability to be papped constantly.

In fact, almost two decades on, Vogue sat down with her to solely discuss the rage that was the ‘Juicy Suit’ Paris was always seen sporting, both on camera during episodes of The Simple Life, and off screen while grabbing Starbucks. In the article, Vogue writes:

Hilton had acquired hundreds of tracksuits in every colour-way possible. “I just fell in love with the brand and it basically became my uniform—I was not only wearing them to the airport, chilling at my house in them, but I was going out at night in them and I was rocking them with everything.” Hilton even started customizing them herself, gluing her own crystals onto them. Not long after, the rest of Hollywood took notice: celebrities like Madonna, Beyoncé, and Kim Kardashian, to name just a few, all stepped out in the iconic sets.

Paris wearing ‘sweatpants’ was the also earliest signs of athleisure being the uniform it is today, along with Sean John, Diddy’s former clothing brand, Jennifer Lopez and Beyoncé.

Left to Right: Diddy, Jennifer Lopez and Beyoncé in the early 2000s

In 2003, you couldn’t turn a magazine page without seeing Paris and celebrities alike, donning ruffle skirts, halter tops and mini handbags. During designer Marc Jacobs’ tenure as Louis Vuitton’s creative director, he redefined the brand’s design for a younger audience – the same audience that was reading cover to cover of ‘teen mags’ that the likes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Jessica Simpson were gracing. He was responsible for collaborations, specifically with Japanese pop artist, Takashi Murakami, and produced the famous multi-colour monogram and cherry blossom print that would become the ‘it-bag’ accessory that everybody wanted. These would go on to become part of Paris’ fashion legacy, paired with the aforementioned Juicy Suit, coloured shades and trucker cap.

The rainbow monogram and cherry blossom LV bags would go on to appear in other films that became classics of the 2000s, namely Mean Girls and White Chicks (incidentally, the leading characters of the ‘Wilson’ sisters were based on Paris and Nicky Hilton).

Left to Right: Regina George, Cady Herron, both from Mean Girls and ‘Tiffany Wilson’ in White Chicks

Paris Hilton’s fashion was so impactful to popular culture, she was even immortalised for her advice in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations back in 2009 – the quote reads, “Dress cute wherever you go. Life is too short to blend in.

the sidekick

“Camera phones are the autographs of the 21st century”, Paris’ character said in an episode of another Y2K TV phenomenon, The OC. Gen-Zers, buckle up – before the iPhone, there was holy grail of all mobile phones – The Sidekick.

Even though The Sidekick was never available outside of America, Paris Hilton managed to drive global hype and desire for a mobile phone, by the simple act of being photographed using it. There was no Instagram or #sponsored posts back then – only the amount of times a celebrity was photographed with an item. For my 13 year old self in 2004, the ‘cool’ was wearing a denim mini skirt, sporting a Von Dutch trucker cap, drinking creamy frappacinos from Starbucks and texting my friends on my Sidekick. I could achieve everything else, except owning a Sidekick – but that didn’t stop me from wanting one – a diamanté encrusted one, like Paris, nonetheless. The Sidekick became part of Brand Paris, so much so, that when reports of hers got hacked in 2005, sales soared for T-Mobile and Danger, the company that builds the handset.

Left to Right: Nicky and Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan, all pictured with The Sidekick

And just to add to that, in an episode of Laguna Beach, Kristin Cavallari meets up with her friend, and announces “We just got Sidekicks”. Although to the average viewer, this might seem just a filler scene, this is actually pivotal piece of messaging from MTV to push the portrayal of teenagers living in the small, luxurious beachside town of Orange County. Sidekicks were aspirational, and MTV was shaping the Laguna Beach teenagers to be the most aspirational kids outside of the TV show, The OC. If you had a Sidekick, you were cool, wealthy and popular, which is why it was so in-demand.

THE ORIGINAL CATCH-PHRASE

Before the world started working in Cardi B’s “Okurrr” and DJ Khaled’s “Another one!” into their everyday vocabulary, we must take a second to bow down to the original celebrity catch-phrase that went on to be part of everyone’s language. Regardless of whether you liked Paris Hilton or not, you were saying it. Cue, “that’s hot!”

Paris eventually admitted years later, in the same Vogue ‘Juicy Suit’ interview, that she lifted the phrase from her younger sister, Nicky Hilton – the younger hotel heiress chose to be the lesser-seen Hilton, instead, opting for a career in fashion design.

In the end, Paris trademarked the phrase, and now owns it. “Sorry Nicky! she says gleefully.

HYPE. DEMAND. LEGACY.

Today, Paris Hilton has taken a backseat to the fame-machine, notably handing over to her successor, Kim Kardashian and the rest of the Kardashian-Jenner clan. “She literally gave me a career, and I totally acknowledge that,” Kim says in an episode of Keeping Up.

Paris Hilton’s empire to date, is a well-oiled machine, comprising of over 40 worldwide stores selling her perfumes, handbags and shoes. She’s also got a skincare line, performs at festivals and nightclubs as a DJ and owns a beach club in the Philippines.

Paris notably created hype with The Simple Life, drove demand for a legion of brands that became part of her identity as ‘Brand Paris’ and created a legacy of 2000s culture that shaped an entire generation of today’s Millennials. Whether you are a fan of hers or not, if you were a teen in the 2000s, you most probably know the movies she’s appeared in, the songs she released and personally felt the impact of her influence.

Words by Bonnie – Head of Legacy

1 year ago