I've interviewed lots of famous people, but getting an offer to interview Kim Kardashian West was a big deal. It was also daunting because in the age of reality TV and social media, she may be both the most loved and most hated celebrity in the world. She polarizes people because she's a reflection of our culture in a lot of ways — particularly when it comes to the way we share our lives with the world. But no one can deny she is damn good at it.
A couple of weeks ago, she launched her new makeup line, KKW Beauty, with a pop-up shop at the Westfield Century City mall, and she granted select media brief chats to promote it. I actually was surprised L.A. Weekly made the cut, though not surprised when her PR team asked to see my questions in advance. They needed to be focused on what she was there to promote, obviously (pretty standard when interviewing celebs touting products) but I strived to probe a little deeper, to explore her influence, her perceptions of what is beautiful, and to see if she had concerns about social media's hold on society, and especially on kids. I wanted to know if she felt a responsibility to be a role model; mostly I wanted to get a sense of who she really was. Keeping Up With the Kardashians is the equivalent of fast food for many. You watch and even enjoy it, but you kind of hate yourself for it. For others, watching Kim and her family in simple, usually contrived situations is beside the point — it's aspirational TV because of their glamorous lifestyles. Creating products that represent this has proven to be smart business.
I didn't ask her all the questions that popped into my mind initially (stuff about Kanye, Trump, her mom, her dad, cosmetic procedures, how she became famous, etc.) but the funny thing is, once we sat down and started chatting, she was so open and just … chill that I'm pretty sure I could have asked about all these things and more if we'd had the time. I'm sure she would have given me really good answers, too. This lady is a pro; she may say “like” a lot, but she's articulate and forthcoming, maybe more than anyone I've ever interviewed. She'll be speaking at BeautyCon this weekend and I'm sure she'll kill it.
Our short meeting was surreal because of who she is, but the conversation was very real and relaxed. As other journos awaited their turn with her — perusing the KKW pop-up shop and looking at her neutral shade–heavy line of lipsticks, concealers and shadows — and her makeup artist, Mario Dedivanovic (with whom she created it), swirled around her between interviews for touch-ups, she seemed focused and ready for anything, even (and maybe especially) the slew of selfies that everyone had to have with her. And yeah, I got one, too.
L.A. WEEKLY: So what made you decide to get into the cosmetic business?
KIM KARDASHIAN WEST: I've always been obsessed with makeup, and my makeup artist Mario and I always experimented with so many different looks over the years, so it was just in my soul to do it.
It almost seems like it's something you might have done sooner. Had you thought about it before now?
Well, I did it with my sisters a little bit, but like when you do it on your own, you have full control over the products, the color, everything. So doing it on your own is definitely a different experience that I love. I've learned so much along the way that it was a perfect time.
You probably know more now because you've been made up so many times, so that makes sense. So since this interview is in advance of BeautyCon, where you'll be the featured speaker, I've been thinking a lot about beauty and society's perception of beauty and what people think is beautiful. I think you've changed that perception a lot.
Well, for me, when I was growing up, I didn't see a lot of women that I thought looked like me,that I felt like I could connect to — until I saw like Salma Hayek. I was like, “Whoa, OK, like we're not the same nationality but I feel her and I get her.” And I remember I was going to my prom and was like, “What glam look do I want for prom?” So I looked up Salma Hayek's looks.
I hope I've contributed maybe to a more ethnic look, so that other people that maybe look a little bit more like me can see that we're out there. I mean, I never saw anyone with my body type in magazines, so seeing people like Jennifer Lopez and Salma really inspired me, and made me feel more comfortable and confident.
I love that you're bringing up us Latinas, and I can relate to that. So would you say that Latin women and darker beauties in media and entertainment were influential?
Well, you never saw any Armenians at the time, so yeah, absolutely.
So what do you think that you've contributed now to perceptions of beauty?
Um, you know, I meet so many Persian women and Armenian women and Middle Eastern women that have a very similar look to me. We always connect on that, you know. Just, even the way that I would do my makeup and shaping the eye and the lashes and all of that, is a very specific look. I think that, well I have heard that they have the same feeling that I felt when I saw people like Salma Hayek and Jennifer Lopez. Like, oh wait, there's someone that kinda looks like me, even though we're different nationalities. I hope that people can just get confident in whatever they feel confident in, no matter what the look is, and just find themselves.
But a lot of girls try to look like you and emulate your lash style and your lip style. Do you wish that they would go out of the box more and not just copy what you do, or do you like that?
I think it's just very subjective. It's whatever you want. I'm obviously very flattered when I see people re-create our makeup looks, and we love that. Mario and I are always posting and asking people to tag us, and saying, “We want to see your interpretation.” To see people really nail it and really get it — I love that. With my looks and now especially with my makeup brand, it's about the nudes. That's what I like and that's what I wear. Yes today I'm wearing like kind of a purple burgundy eye, but it's not a crazy purple, it's my version of what a purple eye would be. So I try to bring the products that I would wear, that we would do looks with, to the consumer.
How would you define the “Kardashian look?”
I think the Kardashian look is exotic. Curvy. Definitely sexual. And um, playful.
What about the L.A. look? How have you influenced that as an L.A. woman?
I think of the Calabasas easy look: very neutral and cool girl and chill. I used to only wear heels, and only be dressed up, and now it's like, I love it that I can wear sneakers and you know, just dress down or like sweats with heels. That to me is what I've added to the L.A. look.
“You can do it all. Don't ever let anyone limit you. As long as you are authentic to you
So let me ask you a little bit about social media. You're obviously the queen of it, and I always wonder — you're a mom. I'm a mom, too. On the one hand, as a journalist I get that it's part of what we do and how we promote what we do. But I almost look at it like a necessary evil. I wonder, do you look at it that way or do you actually enjoy it and think it's great? What are your feelings on social media and the next generation being obsessed with it?
Yeah, so I'm freaked out about the next generation. However, I was freaked out about my younger sisters using it when they were growing up. We were really worried and we all had their passwords and it was like, we were all going to be checking in. And they were fine and they got through it. I think that it obviously can be a very scary place, especially with online bullying.
Which you've dealt with a lot of, obviously.
Yeah, and that brings our kids into the conversation, when they have no idea what they're getting themselves into. So we get that. We understand that. We're definitely really cautious and aware of that. But I also think it can be a great thing, too. I mean, I found Alice Johnson [the 63-year-old grandmother who was serving a life sentence on nonviolent drug charges but had her sentence commuted by President Trump after Kardashian went to the White House to plead her case] on social media just by looking on Twitter.
I didn't know that's how you heard about her story.
Yeah, and I was able to help her just by seeing the story there. You know, it's like, it's a give and take. But I love putting my life out there.
So you never feel like, “Oh, I have to do this now”? You actually enjoy it?
No. I never feel like I have to. And I've also come up with, um, you know, things to feel more comfortable with it. I don't particularly post everything in real time unless I know I'm in a safe environment just from my experiences. Doing that worked against me. And so it's all about learning and I'm OK to have taken these learning lessons to teach everyone around me what to post and what not to post, how to make the experience enjoyable and cautious and still fun.
OK. So what can we all learn from a business perspective on promoting ourselves and the things that we're doing professionally?
I think that you definitely have to include the audience. I think they love that inclusion, especially if you are working on products. You might not be able to pick the specific color or shade, and getting that feedback from everyone is so much fun. I mean also you don't have to really announce a product a month in advance or months in advance like you used to. You can announce it a week before launch and get everyone excited. The cycle moves so fast. And it's fun. You can really do whatever you want. There's no rules.
What about posting beauty shots and sexy shots? Some people have a problem with that, but you know it's going to catch attention and help promote your brand, right?
Yeah, but that's also like, still me, you know? I get it, you know, I'm a mom and I have kids.
Well, I think moms can still be sexy! You're having fun with it, no matter what people say, right?
Sometimes if I see negative things it really doesn't faze me, because you've got to be tough and you've got to be you.
I love makeup and fashion, all of it, but I'm also a feminist. Sometimes people make assumptions about women who love these things, that they're superficial or whatever. How can we as women show the world that this is how we express ourselves and we're having fun with it, but it's only one part of us? You know, that just because we care about those things doesn't mean we don't care about other things? How do you try to do that?
I think you have to know in your soul. I think for me, I'm not really defined by… Okay, so if I'm seeing articles about me that are negative, or like, “What did she do,” or whatever, I will just work harder to prove the opposite. I won't be out there shouting it, like, “Hey guys, this is what I'm trying to prove,” I'll just do it and try to live my life the way that I want people to perceive me. And if they don't get it, then they don't get it. And I'm just like, “You know what? I don't have time to educate you on this right now.”
So if I love makeup and I love getting ready and the clothes and the hair, that's a side of me. And if you know, I take a nude photo, that's a side of me. And if I want to go to the White House, that's a side of me. If I want to take my kids to Disneyland, that's a side of me. You can do it all. Don't ever let anyone limit you. As long as you are authentic to you, do you.
Kim Kardashian West will the featured speaker on the main stage at BeautyCon on Sunday, July 15. More info on times and tickets at beautycon.com/festival/los-angeles/.