In the blink of a flashbulb, Kendall Jenner has gone from teen reality star to catwalk phenomenon – we dodge the paparazzi to get the inside story on her astonishing transformation
Taken from the winter 2014 Issue of Dazed:
It’s one o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, but by the time Kendall Jenner breezes into New York’s Mercer Hotel, the 5ft ten-and-a-half-inch, doe-eyed brunette is already on her third breakfast. As she prepares to tuck into crispy sushi rice and chamomile tea with honey on the side, she explains how she’s just escaped a cacophonous horde of paparazzi. This is something she’s used to: it’s been the case even before her ascent on the New York, London, Milan and Paris runways. Because for Jenner, the extraordinary has long been part of her daily existence. “This morning I left my apartment so early there was nobody following me,” she says proudly. Photographers routinely camp outside the 19-year-old model’s Houston Street apartment and stalk her from the moment she leaves. But today, she snuck out at 6am with her BFF, Hollywood scion and Ford model Hailey Baldwin, and the two went everywhere from the Bowery Hotel to Williamsburg in peace. “It’s so refreshing to just walk down the street and have no one bother you,” she says. It’s been just five days since Jenner capped off a week of appearances in Paris, culminating in a feminist fashion protest staged by Karl Lagerfeld on the fictitious Boulevard Chanel. It was a moment that took the fashion world by storm, and Jenner was part of the pack of models charging down the runway with banners (slogans included: “Feminist but Feminine” and “Boys should get pregnant too”) and chanting into Chanel-branded megaphones. After the show, she even took her “Ladies First” protest sign to the streets with Cara Delevingne, sharing the moment with her 15 million Instagram followers.
This season, Jenner also walked for Fendi, Givenchy, Balmain, Sonia Rykiel, Bottega Veneta, Marc Jacobs and Dolce & Gabbana, in a remarkable rise that’s left more than a few people in the fashion industry scratching their heads. Prior to her first real fashion job, a casting in the AW14 Marc Jacobs show in which she clomped her way through a Stefan Beckman-designed set, framed by Magritte clouds, Jenner was a household name in America along with her sister Kylie. Together, they promoted licensing enterprises ranging from clothing lines to their science fiction novel Rebels: City of Indra: The Story of Lex and Livia. Following in the footsteps of the Olsen twins, the pair voraciously pursued branding opportunities as a package deal, until Jenner struck out on her own in pursuit of high fashion.“For me, getting into this and being taken seriously was something that needed to be figured out,” she says. “There needed to be a strategy. You only get one first impression and it had to be a good one. I had to do some of the best shows to say, ‘Yo, this is what I’m doing and here I am, proving it.” Jenner’s drive to succeed reflects some of the obstacles she’s faced in making her career leap – number one being perceptions of her family. Keeping Up with the Kardashians, one of TV’s best-known reality series, has divided audiences across the planet since first airing in 2007. Responsible for the fame of the Jenner sisters, the show is an unprecedented pop-cultural phenomenon and lightning rod for criticism, usually aimed at its mindless amusement, manufactured drama and depiction of the family’s multimillion-dollar lifestyle – the very same qualities that make the series attractive, escapist and highly addictive.
“I’d watched the Kardashians (only) in the beginning so I hadn’t seen Kendall or Kylie on the show,” says Katie Grand, the influential stylist and fashion editor who first cast Jenner in Jacobs’ show. “All I knew about them was from reading trash magazines.” When they met, Grand didn’t realise who she was. “Marc was like, ‘That was a Kardashian girl’, and I was like, ‘Oh, whatever.’ And Nick, who looks after Marc’s dog (Neville), was like, ‘Oh my God, that was Kendall Jenner! Can we get her back in to do Neville’s Instagram?’ She came back in and she was game and really sweet. Nick and I were completely won over. She’s charming. I was into it, but I wasn’t going to say anything to Marc.”
The seeds of a plan began to hatch. Grand had Jenner doing “serious scrubs” to get rid of her tan and plotted to have her fully dressed in the final collection to show to Marc without telling him who she was. “Sometimes it’s good to respond to what’s in front of you rather than the story behind it,” Grand says. “That’s what she wanted as well so we were good partners in crime.” However, the morning she was to go in for the kill, Jacobs and Jenner each arrived early and hit it off before Grand could put her plan into action. “I had my reservations because she is a Kardashian-Jenner and this and that,” Jacobs says. “My first reaction was that I don’t want to do this for any other reason apart from her being right for the casting. I tried to be really objective and I liked how she looked in the clothes.”
“Modelling isn't something I'm doing to prove people wrong. It's something I'm doing because it's what I want to do” – Kendall Jenner
“It was the perfect show for me to first walk in,” Jenner says, beaming at the memory. “I remember being backstage in my full look and the make-up artist said to me: ‘Did you hear? Kendall Jenner is here.’” She lets out a laugh. “And I said, ‘She is? Oh my God!’ It was so refreshing that someone was sitting there, literally touching up my face, and had no idea that it was me. I loved it!” She now thinks of Katie Grand and Marc Jacobs as fashion fairy godmothers who took a chance on her when no one else would. “I’m so grateful for Katie. I feel like nobody knew if they should take that chance and then Marc did – thank God. Nobody knows what goes on behind the scenes. I’m sure everybody thinks I was just sitting up in my room and got a phone call from someone saying, ‘Hey! Come walk in my show!’ No. I was here for a good amount of time, doing test shoots and go-sees. Modelling isn’t something I’m doing purely for fun. It’s not something I’m doing to prove people wrong. It’s something that I’m doing because it’s what I want to do. And I enjoy it.”
She’s certainly not doing it for fame, the spectre of which has dazzled and displeased her in equal measure since the age of eight. With her tribe of Instagram followers, Jenner has quadruple the social currency of Barack Obama. When she was included in TIME magazine’s list of the world’s most influential teens alongside Nobel prizewinner Malala Yousafzai, the Obama girls, and her close friend Jaden Smith, the Twittersphere fumed with outrage. So what does all of Jenner’s success, evidenced by her number one position on the inaugural Dazed 100, mean for the fashion business? Does her presence on catwalks represent a cynical embrace of celebrity by fashion designers looking to trend on Twitter? Or could it all be down to something far more simple? “It sounds stupid, but I’m happy for anybody who pursues their dream and gets to live it,” Jacobs says. “And it’s the dream of a lot of young women. She’s certainly putting in the work and she’s very good at it. She has character and personality.” And besides… “She’s great looking.”
“It’s ridiculous!” Jenner says of her top spot on the Dazed 100. “It’s amazing, but it’s so crazy because you don’t think of yourself like that. On the shoot, we tried to create different characters that were all me. It was really eerie, and cool and different. I’m excited!” Virgil Abloh, Kanye West’s creative director and the creator of the Pyrex Vision and Off-White fashion labels, comes across the lobby of the Mercer to say hello and he’s thrilled to learn that Jenner has taken top spot on the list. “It’s perfect. She should be number one,” he says, laughing. “Rightfully so. Hard-working. Killing it.”
“I think my mom and dad have an incredible work ethic and we’ve grown up around it,” Jenner says of this drive. Her father, Bruce Jenner, is a world record-setting Olympic decathlon gold medallist and motivational speaker, long considered a national hero. Her mother, Kris Jenner, is the momager and media architect behind the family’s branding empire. “Kylie and I were brought up around so many adults who were hard workers, there’s no way it couldn’t be passed on.” Today, Jenner’s family is ecstatic for her success. “Every show, no matter how many shows I’ve done, I get a text message from every single one of them,” she says, exasperated. “But I love it. I couldn’t ask for a better reaction. The other day Kanye hugged me and was like, ‘Yo, I’m really proud of you.’ And I was like, ‘REALLY?!’” She laughs. “It’s so sweet to hear that.”
“I remember being backstage in my full look and the make-up artist said to me: ‘Did you hear? Kendall Jenner is here.’ ‘And I said, ‘She is? Oh my God!’” – Kendall Jenner
In all of this, however, there’s one critic whose opinion matters most of all. “If you knew my little sister (Kylie), she is not one to say, ‘I miss you’ to me. She wants to be the cool kid. So when she says something like ‘I miss you’ or ‘You’re so dope’ it, like, really means something.” Jenner’s eyes begin to well up and she looks back to her chamomile tea and smiles. “So, that’s cool.”
As for rumours of bitchy behaviour at the hands of other models, Jenner says not a word of it is true. “That has never happened, ever,” she says. “I would see rumours of girls bullying me backstage and putting cigarettes out in my drink, and none of that has happened. Everyone’s been really cool to me. I’ve never had one girl be mean... so far.” She lists Natalie Westling, Joan Smalls, Karlie Kloss, Cara Delevingne and Josephine Skriver as some of her favourite runway mates. “During fashion week you see them at all the shows and the parties. You are always around them so if you can have a friend in all of that, I think it’s something you really need.” She’s also not averse to the occasional bout of the pre-show butterflies. “I get nervous sometimes, but not as much as I thought I would. I get excited. I try not to look at the crowd, because if I look at a face I get nervous. I’m just thinking, walk. Don’t fall.”
Whether or not you believe she can be taken seriously beyond cameos with her sisters on the E! network, Jenner’s future is looking brighter than ever. “I think she’s going to get everything she wants,” says Grand. “It was all a bit of a risk for her to go out there on her own in New York and trust someone that wasn’t IMG (Jenner is signed with The Society Management). But above all, she looks great in the clothes. She’s flat-chested, she has good shoulder proportions and a long neck. That’s all you really need.”
“You can’t take anything personally in this business,” says Jenner, sounding like a seasoned pro. “Follow your dreams, but there is a lot of criticism. You have to brush it off. Everybody is looking for something different.” Though she already considers Katie, Marc, Riccardo Tisci and Karl Lagerfeld her “mains”, Jenner still aspires to work with Steven Meisel, and to land more major campaigns. “My whole life, even as a kid, I would say, ‘I want to be on a billboard!’ To be on a fashion billboard, for a brand, is a life dream.” As for rumours that she’ll be quitting her reality show, she’s ready to debunk those as well (for more, check out Jenner’s Mean Girls-inspired Burn Book video on Dazed Digital). “It’s not something I can avoid,” she says. “When I’m at my mom’s house, that’s what’s happening. It’s literally my life. It’s me walking around my house. I don’t know what there is I can say to stop.” As we say our goodbyes and step outside, the stretch lenses are ready for their prey, emitting a machine gun-barrage of shutter snaps. Some photographers slip out of parking garages to catch her from the front. One even emerges from the Marc Jacobs store. And then, in a runway-rapid Magritte cloud of bodies and cameras, Jenner is out of sight.
Hair Shon at Julian Watson Agency; make-up Yadim at Art Partner; nails Rica Romain at LMC Worldwide; model Kendall at The Society; set design Andy Harman at Andy Harman Studio; photographic assistants Drew St. Ivany, Jake Merill; styling assistants Lizy Curtis, Victor Cordero; hair assistants Ryuta Saiga, Hikaru Hirano; make-up assistants Kanako Takase, Mondo Leon; set design assistant Nicholas Jenkins; digital tech Devin Doyle at Capture Blue; on set production Helena Martel Seward Helena Martel Seward; post-production Studio Private; casting Noah Shelley