Kylie Jenner has created the fastest growing make-up brand in history. She talks about her phenomenal multi-million dollar beauty enterprise with her mum Kris Jenner while posing for her sister Kendall’s camera.
In autumn 2017, Kylie Jenner sat down with her mom to talk make-up. That’s never not a nice conversation for mothers and daughters to have. It’s a rite of passage, a passing on the baton of matriarchal wisdom. A recording of the conversation landed in the LOVE office. Listening to it feels just like snooping in on one of those intimate exchanges that can feel curtly abbreviated in the edit suite when Kris and Kylie are exchanging thoughts on TV together, which they often are. Sometimes they argue. Sometimes they sulk. Occasionally they take strides in intra-familial spats that mean there’s a wound forming. That’s what families do. But on the recording, there is only love.
“Do you ever think of somebody, do you have in mind this movie star, someone who made an impression on you because of the way they did their make-up?” asks Kris at one point in the conversation. “For me, it’s Liz Taylor” she adds (of course it is). She fleshes out why. “She was the first one to do lavender eyeshadow.” Her stress on the word eyeshadow makes it sound delicious and illicit, as if Taylor was breaking the law. “It was a big deal,” she continues. “Do you have somebody like that?”
Kylie ponders her response. She says that being in the make-up chair for the family’s hit reality show Keeping up with the Kardashians meant that the application, the ritual, the process of make-up had become second nature to her from a young age. The make-up artist she most looks up to, she lets slip, is Pat McGrath, which garners an enthused response from Kris (“I love Pat McGrath!”). But rather than pinpoint an individual, Kylie makes a simple, sweeping broadside. “I think that my generation express ourselves in the way that we want,” she finally avows. The old star system that mom had put her faith in was collapsing and becoming democratised. In that one sentence, you could trace at last part of the reason why Kylie’s cosmetics brand is projected to be worth $1 billion by the year 2022.
Right now, at 20, Kylie Jenner – seemingly forever the most emo, the most diffident, the most angsty of the five sisters who have ruled 21st-century pop culture with a steady hand – is already the richest of her siblings. What started off as a fun project with 5,000 branded lipsticks swiftly escalated to 500,000 after immediate sellout. Demand on the product outstripped supply, over and over. 2017’s projection for turnover of Kylie Cosmetics, the company she founded, is estimated to run at $386 million, an expedient growth arc that trounces the already dizzying figures of the launch of Tom Ford. If this century is to have its own Estée Lauder, its own “Maybe it’s Maybelline” moment, the safe money is saying “Of Kourse It’s Kylie.”
“It’s estimated that in the next few years you could have the biggest beauty brand in the world,” says Kris to Kylie, a moment that might put a lump in the throat of any mother. “How do you think that phenomenon happened?” Kylie pauses again. She’s careful with what she lets on to mom. “I think truly, I put a lot of hard work into this,” she replies. “It’s not like I’m doing this to make money. I don’t even think about that part. This is just something authentic to me.”
Kris asks her offspring why make-up matters so much to her. “I feel like sometimes it gives me this mask,” replies Kylie. “It’s transformative”, offers Kris, as if unable to bear that her daughter might want to hide away from the world rather than simply heighten her natural assets. “It makes me feel confident,” Kylie adds.
“What makes it so fascinating to me,” says Kris, “is that you’ve taken something so important to you, that you love so much, and turned it into this beautiful business.” At this point it becomes impossible not to recall the best piece of advise Kris Jenner ever received, as documented in her brilliant tell-all biography, Kris Jenner…And All Things Kardashian. Her best friend, the daytime TV host Kathy Lee Gifford, once said to Kris: “Find out what it is that you love to do. Then find out a way to make money out of it.” Here was her life’s ethos made flesh in her youngest child.
Kylie Lips, as the brand was first christened, went to market in October 2016. Kylie explained to her mom that she had to keep refreshing the homepage on her website to check that it was an immediate sellout. “I think you had a lot more faith in me,” she says, “than I did in myself. But everything had sold out on the site before I got to my own launch party. Kylie Cosmetics had so much demand at the start and we had no idea how big this would be.”
She notes some of the challenges presented by that first sellout. “I was just trying to keep up with myself. All businesses, every company, makes little mistakes here and there, growing it in front of so many people all of a sudden was kind of hard.”
When they aren’t talking through the super-impressive business model, things become personal. “How long does it take you to do your make-up?” asks Kris. “I can do my everyday in five to 10 minutes,” Kylie shoots back, “but if I’m going out it can be a full hour.”
“Do you ever feel pressure?” mom asks. “I know I feel pressure when I go out,” says Kylie, “even if it’s to the grocery store to do an errand.”
“Do you ever feel pressure that you have have a perfect make-up look, because that’s your business and perhaps you’ll be photographed by a paparazzi or something? Does that ever enter your mind?” Kylie is quick on the uptake with that one. “Never,” she declares.
Kris eventually broaches the question of the generational divide between them. “What can your generation teach mine about make-up?” she asks her daughter. “Because sometimes I think people my age, we get stuck in a rut.” “Well,” replies Kylie, “I think you’re kind of different to most people your age.” It’s a sweet moment.
On her way to becoming the biggest beauty brand in the world, Kylie Jenner may find herself leaning on her momager more and more. If anyone knows how to spruce up a million-dollar industry based on your name, taste and personality, it’s Kris. “Do you see yourself doing this when you’re 50? Kris asks. “Oh, I haven’t even dipped my toes in yet,” answers Kylie, business brain discernibly kicking into full force. “There are eye products, mascara, concealer…there are so many products that I have yet to do. I want an entire beauty line. That will take a few years.”
Kylie’s mom seems more than happy with the response. “I love you to death,” she says by way of payoff. Which is all a make-up conversation between mother and daughter is really about anyway.