Queen of Instagram – Kim Kardashian’s Exclusive Interview
In the wake of her hyper-successful SKIMS shapewear launch, we look back at our interview with Queen of Instagram, Kim Kardashian, media mogul, business savant and megawatt star, and reminisce on her take on building an empire as the world’s most followed personality.
At 38 years-old, Kim Kardashian has helped shape Instagram and the social media landscape, conceptualized an amalgam business ventures and has had four beautiful children with her third husband of almost five years, Kanye West. Nicknamed Nori, first child, North West has become somewhat of her own sensation with her high energy and stage presence at her father’s Sunday services. Second child, Saint West, was born 5th December 2015 and was the last child Kardashian had that she carried herself. Second daughter Chicago ‘Chi’ West was born in 2018 and named after Kanye West’s home city, and just this May 11, the most “calm and chill” member of the Kardashian-West brood, Psalm, was born.
Sharing her life with millions of people has always seemed to come naturally to the reality television starlet, even when we interviewed her in 2016. One of the biggest and most influential trailblazers in media with 151 million followers, Kim Kardashian has dominated Instagram from the very beginning, and has organically grown one of the largest fanbases of any public figure.
I am trying to focus on the [business] projects that I am really one billion percent passionate about,” explains Kim Kardashian West, perched at the dining room table in the Calabasas home of her mother, Kris Jenner. On the November morning of our interview, Kardashian West is uncharacteristically undone. Her hair is slicked back into a sleek bun, she has a fresh-scrubbed makeupless glow, and it’s clear—on first glance—what all of the hype is about. She is disarmingly beautiful. Enviable bone structure? Check. Flawless skin, perfectly proportioned features? Check and check. It takes a minute to reconcile her petite five-foot-three stature with the outsized role she has in informing tastes and shaping popular culture. Media personality, business savant, author, actress, model and muse, Kim Kardashian West is an industry. With no less than half a dozen business projects and a social media following of over 151 million, she’s more than the proverbial pretty face; she is a cultural juggernaut sitting at, or perhaps helping to direct, today’s hyper-dynamic intersection of technology and culture.
It’s precisely her work in the digital-technology space that is generating news and prompting transformative change in the way in which people, particularly millennials, consume their media. Following her 2014 Kim Kardashian: Hollywood video game launch, her 2015 Kim Kardashian West Official App launch, the launch of her Kimoji emoticon app a few months later, and SKIMS, her foray into size-inclusive shapewear, she has deftly parlayed her sphere of influence into a business empire with tangential social impact. Deconstructing that empire and the business of being “Kim,” the brand, is less about what some once reduced to vacuous self-aggrandizement but rather a study in earned wisdom and vision.
Greeting me in the oft-filmed checkerboard foyer of her mother’s LA home, Kardashian West is dressed in her trademark monochromatics: body-con floor-length dress, tonal wrap cardigan and slide sandals.
Immediately, her easy and somewhat self-deprecating tone denotes a sense of command and authenticity that converts to real currency in her world. “Kim’s overall awareness is 71 percent,” says Henry Schafer, executive vice president of the Q Scores Company, a media research firm that analyzes the consumer favorability and marketing potential of celebrities. For context, the average celebrity awareness is less than half of that, tracking at about 35 percent. “She mostly resonates with women,” says Schafer, “but she’s strong everywhere, [and] millennial women from 18 to 34 years old have the most positive perception of her.”] instagram kim kardashian
SKIMS, her foray into size-inclusive shapewear, has deftly parlayed her sphere of influence into a business empire with tangential social impact.
The secret to this outré level of awareness? “[Kim] is a master marketer,” explains Schafer. “She creates emotional connections with consumers, and in her case, she’s brilliant at what I like to subtitle the ‘love to follow’ marketing approach… when [a celebrity] stirs the pot and knows how to make that connection with the public work for them.” If there is one thing most people know about Kardashian West, it’s that she is not one to underestimate the power of shock value (see: a 2014 attempt to “break the Internet” with Paper magazine’s nearly-nude November cover story). That she tempers her shock waves with a sense of ownership and transparency is a skill that underscores her accrued merit as a media savant.
In person, she is warm, open and strikingly well-spoken. She is a girl’s girl, and for all intents and purposes, approachable. It’s an image she projects on-screen and vis-à-vis social media (albeit at times couched in a series of less-than-approachable taut, bronzed and bikini-clad selfies. What the Kim Kardashian Instagram brand is selling is aspiration, a millennial-friendly brand of social consumerist feminism. And she makes no pretense otherwise.
“She is a really strong woman; she shares her vision, and I think people want to follow her because [they] feel like she’s sharing something with you,” explains Olivier Rousteing, a close friend and creative director of French fashion house Balmain. Rousteing notably helped to cement Kardashian West’s legitimacy in high-fashion circles by featuring her and husband Kanye West in the Balmain spring 2015 advertising campaign. “[Kim] has a great talent to communicate and inspire. You can really feel her curiosity. She is curious about new designers and archives, and she always loves to play with that mix.… It’s really inspiring for designers and for [her audience]. It’s as if she lets you in on her secrets, which is amazing.”
Her’s is a resonance with which, at least at the moment, no level of editorial seniority or gallons of ink can seemingly compete. When you stack the social reach on Instagram of today’s leading consumer magazines against Kardashian West’s, the former charts an average of one million to two million followers versus Kardashian West’s 151,000,000 [and growing].
This is just Kim Kardashian’s Instagram audience on one platform.
They’re hard numbers that quantify a tangible resonance, and as any good media mogul knows, your audience is your single most valuable asset. In a media world where transparency and perceived authenticity sell, she is subtly doing what she does best—controlling the message on Instagram and beyond.
Lloyd Braun, CEO of Whalerock Industries, the Los Angeles–based media and technology company that produced Kardashian West’s first app, underscores her skill as chief brand architect. “[She] has a very specific brand—which speaks to a passionate and engaged audience,” explains Braun. “When you look at who is succeeding in the current digital landscape, it is honest, authentic talent who speak to their audience in their own unique voice. While the Kim [Kardashian Instagram] life is aspirational, she remains rooted to her true self. And Kim puts in the work—a critical element when blazing a new trail.”
On the subject of work ethic, Kardashian West is notorious for hers. Transparency and authenticity are also key to the Kardashian West business model. As she tells it, removing the filter is an approach more learned than intuited. “When we started off [with reality TV show Keeping Up with the Kardashians], it was just about being transparent and who we are, I remember when we first started filming, I was like, ‘Khloé, please, watch what you say! The audience is not going to understand it. You’re so crazy, you just say whatever’s on your mind. People will cringe.’ And of course, they ended up liking Khloé the most, so I was like, ‘OK, OK, I was wrong.’”
Applying this early learning in building a sense of openness has become a winning business formula. Yet, Kardashian West is quick to assert, there are boundaries. “The biggest misconception about our family is that we don’t allow privacy and that we don’t have any [privacy]. That’s just completely wrong.”
“My mornings are so important to me so I can get [North] up,” she says, referencing off-camera times with her daughter as the crux of those private, social-media blackout moments. “I work during the day, and hopefully I’m there to put her down at night, which is most of the time. I like to have a really good balance between filming and sharing information on our apps…and balancing it all.”
On that illustrious family, “I’m definitely fully in control,” she says. “It’s so funny because I’ll hear stories like, ‘Kris Jenner is the puppet master, having all of her kids do this and that,’ and I’m like, ‘If they only knew.’ I’m the one that will be like, ‘Kylie do this…Kendall you should do this.’ My mom facilitates it all and gives great opinions, and she’s been so helpful to manage everything, but it’s really a collaboration. I take full responsibility over my brand.”
In what has become the winning Kardashian West business manifesto of life imitating art imitating life, brand extensions are important components in growing the brand footprint. At the beginning, the end goal was to market the Kardashian sisters’ Calabasas clothing store, Dash. “When my mom and I decided to do our TV show together, some of the sisters weren’t really into it, and I just thought it was the best way to market our store, because our number one passion was really fashion, and all we wanted to focus on was our clothing store. Once we did that, I felt really confident our store was going to blow up, and maybe it will last a season or two, and that will really be it. Then it turned into this whole other thing, which we really had no idea was coming, and it was kind of a new world.”
Then the endorsement deals started to pour in—liquor (even though Kardashian West doesn’t drink), diet pills, sneakers… The range was broad, and the message, confusing. “We made a lot of mistakes along the way. We had a lot of partners, a lot of licensing deals and things that didn’t really work out, things that were not beneficial to us. So as time has gone on, we have been fortunate enough to have learned so much along the way, I feel like we are in a position to make really good decisions now.”
Informed by past experiences, today’s plan is to take a step back and refocus. “I really want to kind of scale things back and do what I am crazy passionate about. That’s just what makes me happy, especially when you have a family.” She confides that launching a private designer label is something she has always wanted to pursue. “I have so many ideas, and I think it’s just about taking that step because I do a lot with my sisters, so it’s a decision on [whether or not] we want to do it together.” Keeping it all in the family is a strongly apparent source of comfort and strength for the star. Her husband similarly factors into the family-collaborator mix as a sounding board and source of inspiration. “It was [Kanye’s] idea to do the book of selfies, he picked the name, and he introduced me to Rizzoli. The book is so fun and cool, and no one has ever done a book of selfies before. I really value his opinion, and I trust his opinion, especially aesthetically. But I work a lot with my sisters, so sometimes three opinions is all you can handle,” she concedes with a laugh.
Yet, Kardashian West hasn’t exactly slowed anything down. Most recently, she upped the ante by way of her new launch of a line of size-inclusive shapewear – called SKIMS – a tongue-in-cheek play on the creative’s own name. Success following the line’s launch has been meteoric, to say the least.
“When I announced the name of my shapewear line, I did so with the best intentions in mind,” Kardashian mediated. Accompanied with the hashtag #ShowYourSKIM, the line has Kim Kardashian’s line garnered an almost cult-like following on Instagram and beyond. “I rely on solutionwear to accentuate and enhance my body, shape, and silhouette,” Kardashian West mused. “As my style changed and evolved, I found myself altering existing shapewear to work specifically for each look that I was going for. I knew I wasn’t alone in looking for the perfect shapewear and was inspired to turn my passion into something real that works for every body type.”
Yet all of the exposure, both on social platforms like Instagram and beyond, as much as Kardashian West’s been able to harness it to fuel her business initiatives, can come at a cost. “I would say I’m a really realistic person. At the beginning of my career, [the press] made me—or maybe not ‘made me’ but was such a big part of my career. And then, I feel like when I got a divorce, it kind of turned on me, and the people I would do interviews with, who I thought were my friends, just did not understand me. And so it was all of these made-up stories, and this whole story line like a soap opera [started to form].… I saw that happening, and it really took a toll on me.” She pauses in what seems like an effort to rebound from a still-raw memory. “I’m strong. I can handle it. But I took some time off. Then when I got pregnant with my daughter—and, you know, I was always known for my curves—all of a sudden it was, ‘She’s getting fat! She’s 500 pounds! She’s this, and she’s that.’ I couldn’t control it, and I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe people are so mean.’ And a lot of that was the press, so I just started to turn it off…I kind of retreated a little bit.”
Her approach today is more guarded and tactfully applied. “[Looking] back now, it was great for me. I learned how to live a more private life. It’s also hard, you know. My husband lives really a more private life, and I…don’t.” She laughs at stating the highly obvious. “So it’s the combination of figuring it out—he’s really opened up, which has been great, and I’ve closed off and learned how to just take our alone time with him. And I’ve never really done that before, take time for myself.”
Kim Kardashian concedes that the press and Instagram can be a powerful tool in furthering her business agendas. And it’s her apparent skill in leveraging that relationship that ultimately yields bottom-line impact. “It’s a love-hate relationship [with the press] for sure. But I would have to say a little more ‘love’ because I do respect that they really were helpful in my career, and I think as long as you know how to filter and turn it off, then you won’t ever let it get to you that much.”
We’re momentarily interrupted by a small voice and North running to her mother through the dining room, clad in oversized frog pajamas. Kardashian West explains that “in the morning, it’s all about costumes.” North is currently wearing two pairs of pajamas. The outer layer is printed with frogs and has two covered feet detailed with stuffed frog heads. “She wants to wear it every day and trips over how big the feet are.” After a brief and well-mannered interlude, North bounds off to her next endeavor with the promise of reading a book and making macaroni necklaces later that morning.
The subject of balancing it all naturally comes up. For someone with a multibrand empire, and as much going on as Kardashian West has, it’s a weighted question.
“I just want to make sure I have time for everyone evenly spread out. But I don’t see myself ever slowing down. I love to work. I love being busy. I love motivating myself. I’d love for my [children], to see that I’m really passionate about things and I work really hard.” Her view on motherhood is simple and grounded. “When [North] was born, I used to pray, ‘Can she handle this life?’ Because it’s a lot to come into, a family that has the spotlight on them, and it’s very public. But I really believe people come into our lives, and they choose us, and she knows what her life is going to be. I value my relationship with her so much. I want to become best friends with her to the [point that] she can ask me anything. My hope for her is that she is just really kind to people and grows up as normal as possible. I try to have her childhood and her life as normal as possible within all of the chaos.” instagram kim kardashian
In that, the brilliance of Kardashian the Instagram brand and Kardashian, the woman, coalesce. If innovation is an active endeavor and creativity is the act of connecting things, Kim Kardashian West—the brand and the individual—is poised to have an immutable impact on the shape of things to come. No pun intended.
Photographed by Gilles Bensimon