The “Simple Life” star, reality TV revolutionary and businesswoman on her new love song, selling nearly $3 billion of fragrances and getting into the tech industry
Celebrity is cool. But being a lady boss? That’s hot.
Paris Hilton may be America’s most underrated businesswoman. The 37-year-old became a media darling almost 20 years ago with partying antics painstakingly chronicled in the tabloids. She then grew a love/hate relationship with audiences through “The Simple Life,” a reality TV show in which she played a ditzy blonde who seemingly didn’t know what Walmart was. For better or worse, the show—and her signature phrase “That’s hot!”— defined the heiress’ image for most Americans.
But then, something happened. While attention spans were turned to her protégé Kim Kardashian, Hilton was busy building a business empire. Through companies like Paris Hilton Entertainment Inc., the entrepreneur now runs 19 different product lines, ranging from shoes and handbags to a fragrance line that she claims has done over $2.5 billion in sales. There’s a beach club branded after her in the Philippines and the entertainment gigs that’ve made her reportedly the world’s best paid female DJ, with compensation of as much as $1 million a gig.
How did this happen right under the spotlight? “I definitely have a lot of misconceptions about me coming from ‘The Simple Life’ because I played a character on that show,” Hilton tells Moneyish during a recent interview in her impressively furnished apartment in New York’s NoHo neighborhood, which features a photo of her as a baby being carried by Nancy Reagan and a huge collage of her with Hugh Hefner and other pop culture icons. Her kitchen also sports tchotchkes like a plaque with the often misattributed Laurel Thatcher Ulrich quote “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”
But changing social mores and growing confidence have led her to embrace her femininity. “I’ve proven myself as an intelligent businesswoman who’s created a huge brand. Being a woman in the industry, there’s always stereotypes,” she says. “But I love it when I can walk into a board meeting and completely take over the room. It feels amazing to have that respect. I feel like an amazing woman!”
A case in point being her recently released single “I Need You,” a love ballad that’s the most unabashedly girly of her music, most of which has been of the EDM genre. In the music video, directed by her new fiancé Chris Zylka, Hilton is decked out like a 50s-era Marilyn Monroe and frolics in a bed of roses, “American Beauty” style. “This is the happiest and most in love I’ve ever been in my life,” says Hilton, who spent the week scouring for wedding dresses with her sister Nicky (she won’t reveal what designers she’s considering.) “I love having him behind the camera because I feel so comfortable. Especially with a love song like this, you can see it in my eyes.”
Hilton grew up with money but also an eagerness to grow it. “I was always asking my grandfather and father for advice, it’s something that runs in my blood,” says the granddaughter of former Hilton Hotels chairman Barron and real estate magnate Rick. “I didn’t want to be another of those trust fund kids but to build something of my own.” Her life today involves the glamor of regular travel, often to Latin America, Asia and the Middle East— Hilton estimates she spends 250 days a year on the road— but also early call-times and jet lag.
So why is this Paris Hilton, an entrepreneurial success rid of the trashy, baby-voiced character she inhabited, so hard for feminists to love? Well, in the #MeToo era, there’s her family’s longtime friendship with Donald Trump. Hilton didn’t do herself any favors when she said the President’s accusers were guilty of seeking attention, though she subsequently apologized for her comments. (Of course, Hilton is a survivor herself, having famously suffered the ignominy of a leaked sex tape in her early 20s.)
Most recently though, she’s embraced Sheryl Sandberg-esque feminism. “Growing up in Hollywood, I’ve seen a lot of [sexual harassment] happen,” says Hilton when asked about the #MeToo movement. “It’s so incredible that all these women are being so brave and speaking out against men who’ve taken advantage of them for years. It’s a very exciting right now to be a woman because everyone is sticking together like sisters. We’re holding people accountable and definitely going to stop that.”
So what’s next for Hilton? There’s a wedding to plan, a bachelorette party set for perhaps Miami or Las Vegas, and also a 24th fragrance to release (she spends the most time on the lucrative perfumes line.) But she’s also hoping to crack an industry with limited female participation: technology.
Hilton fell in love with the possibilities of virtual reality after meeting in China with industry leaders five years ago. (She previously endorsed a VR headset from Taiwanese electronics brand HTC.) She’s now working with a team of female techies from Germany on a Paris Hilton-branded social media network, but based in the virtual reality world.
“I’ve been a huge tech nerd my entire life,” says Hilton, whose love affair with cellphones has been very well documented. “This new tech is mind-blowing. It feels so real and you feel like you’re there. It’s definitely very innovative and going to be a game changer.”
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