No one but Paris Hilton knows the exact location of her old Sidekick cell phone.
Upon request one afternoon in April, she disappeared into the depths of one of the many closets in her Beverly Hills mansion and returned minutes later with not one, but two of the early Aughts T-Mobile artifacts, as well as her bedazzled Blackberry with a pink ‘P’ on it, a gold Razr flip phone—also bedazzled in a cheetah pattern—and two more recent Blackberry models.
As she presented me with over a decade’s worth of technology, it became clear that while fellow 2000s icon Kim Kardashian may claim to “remember everything,” Paris Hilton hangs on to it, too.
In the present day, Hilton has a total of five iPhones, and when we first met she was toggling between two of them, one open to an article on Buzzfeed deeming her the “Queen of Coachella,” and the other ready to share the post on Instagram with her 6.9 million followers.
When asked if she had fun at Coachella, she replied in a startlingly low-octave: “Is the Pope Catholic?”
Despite Hilton’s longtime dependency on various cellular devices, it is perhaps visionaries like Steve Jobs who are indebted to her, seeing that it was Hilton who took their creations beyond their wildest expectations, inventing along the way the maligned but ubiquitous selfie.
“If a beeper had a camera, I would have taken a selfie with it,” said Hilton later, agreeing that she was truthfully the matriarch of the modern phenomenon. “I think I have a selfie from when I was a little kid, like on a disposable camera.”
Selfies aren’t the only thing Paris Hilton did first: The heiress turned the stuffy New York social scene upside-down in the early 2000s, setting not only every fashion and lifestyle trend at the time, but also defining what it meant to be an ‘influencer’ before we even had a word for it.
“We started a whole new genre of celebrity that no one had ever seen before,” said Hilton.
At the age of 19, Hilton was signed to Donald Trump’s modeling agency, T Management, becoming one of the first signed scions long before her Millennial protégés, Paris Jackson, Sofia Richie, and a whole crew of celebrity children parlayed their last names into full-time careers.
Hilton then went on to have one of the first successful reality TV careers with Nicole Richie on The Simple Life, the premiere for which attracted a staggering 13 million viewers, according to Nielsen. (That’s more than the all-time highest ratings of The Hillsand Keeping Up with the Kardashians combined.) This also coincided with her (non-consenting) starring role one of the earliest viral sex tapes, 1 Night in Paris.
Finally, Hilton took her influence and built a personal brand before personal brands were commonplace, publishing best-selling books and putting her name and face on everything from canine apparel to a German sparkling wine called “Rich Prosecco.” Her now-famous catchphrase, “That’s hot,” is also legally trademarked.
This year, Hilton will release her 23rd perfume since 2004—an estimated $2 billion business, according to Women’s Wear Daily. She’s also currently touring the world as a highly-paid DJ, taking up residence in Ibiza for her “Foam & Diamonds” night in the months of July and August. Her mother taught her to never talk money, but it’s been reported that Hilton makes approximately $347,000 an hour DJing, or around $1 million a night.
In sum, Paris Hilton proved that you can get paid to be yourself, and that ‘yourself’ can be a multi-hyphenated entity. And in the beginning, she did this all without a publicist, a stylist, glam squad, or social media.
“Nowadays, I feel like it’s so easy becoming famous,” said Hilton, with a shrug. “Anybody with a phone can do it.”
In the year 2017, with a Trump in the White House, the phrase “celebrity entrepreneur” no longer a laughable sobriquet, and the Kardashians firmly ensconced in the highest echelons of American society, it’s starting to look and feel a lot like the 2000s again. As a result, nostalgia is running rampant in popular culture, and Paris Hilton is shaping up to be a pioneer and prophet of the zeitgeist as we know it.
Beyond her closet, Paris Hilton’s home is a museum of herself, a time capsule of the lifestyle that made her famous. Before even opening the front door, a “Princess Paris” placard announces to arrivals that they’re in the right place. Upon entering, visitors are greeted by a large a portrait of Hilton in a gilded frame. She peers down at you, pouting on a chaise lounge like she was too bored to sit for the artist. Across the room is another gilded painting hung above a leopard-print couch—this one being the promo for “Rich Prosecco,” in which Hilton planks naked in front of the ocean, her skin coated in gold.
Take a few steps further inside and it is apparent that every surface in Hilton’s house is covered with images of herself. In the living room, a photo in a bedazzled frame featuring Nancy Regan holding her as a baby; in the dining room, a giant cardboard cutout; in the “club” room, a photo of her and Michael Jackson in a gentle embrace; and on the way to the kitchen, an enormous portrait made up of hundreds of smaller portraits. But perhaps most jarring are the framed cell phone mirror selfies, one of which reflects infinitely in a guest bathroom lined with floor-to-ceiling mirrors.
Hilton’s house is so on brand, you wonder if she actually lives there, or if it is a set. (It was actually a set for Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring in 2013.) The space feels too self-aware to be real—too in on the joke. On Hilton’s bookshelf, for example, are a selection of the For Dummies series, (Nutrition, Pilates, Poker, and The Bible), as well as a copy of Valley of the Dolls. And on her kitchen counter are three cookie jars labeled Uppers, Poppers, and Quaaludes. (All empty.) Her house even smells on brand—every few minutes you can hear as a firing squad of timed air fresheners secretes a flowery scent throughout the space. A wood block in the kitchen explains everything: “Live the life you’ve imagined.”
Photo by Mayan Toledano. Visual Editor: Biel Parklee.
Hilton, now 36, has lived in this house for the past eight years. That is when she’s not traveling 250 days of the year or sleeping over at the house of her boyfriend, Chris Zylka, a model and actor currently on The Leftovers. Her five dogs—Harajuku Bitch, Diamond Baby, Princess Paris Jr., Prince, and Prince Baby Bear—also reside in a two-story replica dog mansion next to the pool.
“It’s my work and I’m proud of it,” said Hilton of the decor. And seeing that her life is her work, and her work is her life—and that both thrive on opulent fantasy—it’s hard to imagine her house looking any different.
Over the past decade, though, the world has changed in a whirlwind around Paris Hilton. It’s no longer “politically correct” for a celebrity to use the word “bitch;” social media makes everyone a socialite; and the women Hilton grew up with have either gone the way of Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, or Kim Kardashian. Then there’s Ivanka Trump, just one year younger than Hilton and today the most powerful socialite in the land.
Some might commend the likes of Kardashian for moving beyond their past lives, growing apart from Hilton in the process, while others say they couldn’t have existed in the first place had Hilton not paved the way. On the subject of the Kardashians, however, Hilton only had high praise: "I've known the family my whole life,” she said. (A phrase, it should be noted, she also used when asked by Australia’s The Project if she voted for Trump.) “They are all intelligent, beautiful business women and I'm proud of them and the brand they've built.”
Meanwhile, through all the highs and lows, breakups, falling outs, tabloid takedowns, and even presidential elections, Hilton has been right here, sitting safely and comfortably under her own roof in a state of suspended animation. And she never once broke character. If she did, the whole thing might have come crashing down.
“I never really do anything out of character,” she said, really trying to think of an instance in which she’d gone rogue recently. Followed by, “I’m always real.”
The 2000s are Back, Bitch
In January, Kylie Jenner posted two photos of herself on Instagram wearing a black Vetements x Juicy Couture onesie tracksuit from the brand’s Spring 2017 collection. Rather than a traditional, Hilton-like selfie, Jenner posed backwards for what we now call a ‘belfie,’ showing the brand’s rhinestone branding on her iconic bottom. As a result, not only did the internet break, but also the time-space-continuum. Friedrich Nietzsche would have had a field day with this one, as it proved that time is indeed a circle—and in the shape of of an ass.
“To now see things on the runway, and to see girls wearing things that I used to wear is really cool because nobody really dressed like me back in the day,” said Hilton. She’s flattered by the recent imitation of her early looks, and fondly remembers dressing up in ‘80s Madonna costumes as a teenager, much like young girls today are doing with everything from Juicy Couture to Von Dutch.
In the past few seasons, major designers have started to show Paris-isms on the runway—Gucci with graphic tees, Saint Laurent with tiaras and rhinestones, Paco Rabanne with chainmail dresses, and of course, Vetements with its Juicy collaboration. The 2000s as a trend are everywhere you turn, from small accessories like fishnet tights and chokers to indie designers like Vaquera showing a dress made out of a Tiffany & Co. bag. And with the help of social media, these trends are quickly trickling down to the mainstream: Urban Outfitters now carries custom Juicy Couture, and last week, VFiles announced that they would be carrying Von Dutch trucker hats again. However, now Hilton turns up her nose at the novelty hats, decreeing simply: “No.”
But it’s not just on the runway that the 2000s are back, but in pop culture writ large. In November, Kendall Jenner recreated Paris Hilton’s 21st birthday look consisting of a shimmering silver chainmail halter dress, rhinestone choker, and tiara, for her own celebration. Hilton was actually present that night, and recalls Jenner walking into the Los Angeles hot spot Delilah and thinking, “That looks just like what I wore.” Jenner came up to her after and confirmed that she was, in fact, inspired by her look, which of course Hilton took as the ultimate compliment.
“Young people now see what people wore before and want to bring it back,” Hilton said.
What Hilton wore in the 2000s was certainly “hot,” “fun,” and “cute,” but beyond the surface level she also possessed an authentic attitude that was unapologetic about being privileged, feminine, and sexual. She seemed to truly enjoy being herself to the fullest, and in 2017’s highly-curated, filtered world, the candor of that former “hot mess” is, surprisingly, refreshing.
“Being in New York and being a socialite, everybody was always proper and kind of plain, and I always wore these fun outfits,” she recalled. “People would send me things or I would go down to 8th Street to Patricia Field’s and Hotel Venus. I was also hanging out with David LaChapelle a lot, so he would introduce me to all these funky designers.”
Hilton’s past sartorial choices ran the gamut from Barbie to bimbo, mixing highbrow and lowbrow in a way that made her simultaneously relatable and also an icon. Who can forget those Rock and Republic miniskirts that were barely bigger than her belt, or her low-slung jeans, fishnet tights, and graphic tees bearing phrases such as “Got blow?” and “Stop being desperate.”
On The Simple Life, half the plots involve Hilton and Richie getting dressed for their respective Middle-America hosts, only to have them respond with shock and awe at the girls’ boldness. In Season One, Hilton serves Sonic Drive-In burgers in high heels and attends a country fair in what amounted to a loincloth in the pattern of a picnic blanket. While attending a quilting session with seniors, Richie suggests they make them, “like, a little edgier,” by adding some cigarette burns or paint, throwing herself on the floor when her suggestions are denied. “You guys! Make it fun! Make it exciting!” she screams.
“I laugh so hard that I cry,” Hilton said of watching The Simple Life episodes today. As a matter of fact, after driving home from Coachella, she and her boyfriend snuggled up in bed with their puppies and watched episodes together for the first time—although Zylka, now 32, was already a fan in college, and still is.
“Nowadays, everything is just so scripted and fake,” Hilton continued about reality TV. “Everything is planned out. There’s nothing real, really. I’m glad that I did it in the beginning when it was organic and fun.”
It goes without saying that both Hilton and Richie have transcended their inauspicious starts as celebrity scions ‘famous for just being famous.’ Richie is now an actress—on an acclaimed sitcom by Tina Fey, who used to mercilessly lampoon both women on Saturday Night Live—and a successful lifestyle entrepreneur in her own right. Meanwhile, Hilton is hard at work on her no-joke business empire.
Hilton currently has 50 eponymous boutiques carrying her collections of handbags, watches, sunglasses, fragrances and clothing in nearly the same number of countries, reaching as far as the United Arab Emirates and Asia. Plus, her name is now on two hotel properties in the Philippines. In 2011, Variety named Hilton its “Billion Dollar Entrepreneur,” and in 2014, Forbes came away impressed with her business acumen: “'Ditzy Blonde' No More: Paris Hilton Reinvents Herself As A Serious Entrepreneur—And Crushes It,” a headline read.
“I want to have something substantial and something that lasts,” said Hilton of her growing empire. “I’m very blessed that I grew up in a family with amazing mentors and businessmen I really look up to, and can get advice from. It just runs in my blood.”
styled by Caroline Grosso. Visual Editor: Biel Parklee. Hair by Angel Gonzalez, makeup by Alexander Echeverri for Becca Cosmetics, manicure by Quisa Robinson. Photography Assistant: Tim Mahoney. Lighting Technician: Randy Newman. Fashion Assistant: Paige Viti. Production Assistant: Alex Hodor-Lee.
A Cuter Future
Paris Hilton has plans to redecorate. She has done some significant growing up since The Simple Life went off the air, and she wants her space to reflect this evolution as well.
“I am starting an art collection, so I’ll be taking some of me down,” she said of her numerous selfies and self portraits. “Right now, I’m just looking, but I love Warhol, Damien Hirst, and Alex Israel,” she said referring to L.A.’s preeminent artist _du jou_r.
She said this from her in-home recording studio, facing two of the many portraits of herself by LaChapelle. In one, she holds court on a drum kit while wearing a skimpy bikini that bears the words “Eat the rich.”
“It’s a totally different vibe,” said Hilton of 2017. “I’m more mature now. I hate when people call me a ‘former reality star.’ I want to be known for my business and inventing a new wave.”
In the next decade, Hilton says she wants to have a husband, (“obviously”), a few kids, and “like 20 dogs and 50 fragrances.” In addition to her current franchises, she’s also following in her family’s footsteps by dipping her toes in the hotel business with planned properties in Dubai, New York, and Las Vegas. Plus, she has another book slated for 2018 about how to be a businesswoman and build your own empire.
As for the future of culture, after traveling the world and having dinners with people “who literally are geniuses,” Hilton has decided that virtual reality is it. She’s moved on from Sidekicks to Razrs to Blackberrys and is now all about the HTC Vive, a $799 headset that she can often be seen playing with on Instagram. Hilton is so invested in VR, that she’s got her own interactive game in the works, though she’s can’t share specifics yet.
“I’m obsessed with gadgets,” she said. “I could do VR for hours; it’s so sick. When you put it on, it’s like you’re in another world. And when you take it off, it’s weird to be back in reality.”
In that moment, Paris Hilton’s reality involved a pink Juicy Couture tracksuit, a plate of grilled chicken and rice that her assistant brought her, and a film crew packing up in her living room. She sat swaddled in a blanket on a black velvet couch while her boyfriend blasted EDM music wirelessly on every speaker throughout the house. It was 10:30 p.m. and she’d been working for 12 hours (although five of those were spent sitting in hair in makeup.) In the morning, she had an 8:30 a.m. meeting at a skincare factory, but she wasn’t stressed about it.
“This is like, everyday,” she said, before insisting that visitors leave with not only a hug, but also a bottle of her Gold Rush perfume, and of course, a selfie.
In the end, perhaps this is why in 2017 we find ourselves looking back to a simpler time: Paris Hilton’s reality is just so much cuter.