The Kardashian brand makes the trivial feel deeply personal and the risque feel wildly provocative. Each woman is in a constant state of burlesque as they peel back glimpses of their cleavage and/or inner lives, titillating audiences with pageantry rather than the reveal itself. And as Kendall and Kylie Jenner have grown into the fame-esque inheritances of the strategy built by their matriarchy, they have also proved themselves to be the heirs of a new set of platforms for which their youth makes them especially well-equipped. As Kim and her sisters fade into the pseudo-retirement of reality TV stardom, Kendall and Kylie are positioned to take the krown, while kapitalizing on an empire all their own.
Who knows how much this was planned? There is a far more intricate strategy than any lay person could imagine, to be sure, though there’s a limit to even Kris Jenner’s momager machinations. It’s easy to plot out the launch of a magazine cover or even an entire marriage, but the timing of Kim’s armed robbery with Kendall and Kylie’s mogul maturation is a moment in which the family’s continued endurance was left up to fate.
As with anything Kardashian-related, there was a deluge of sexist garbage in response to Kim’s robbery, including allegations that it had been faked “for attention.” Kim could let North wear lipstick and dominate at least two and a half news cycles, so the idea that she would need to set up an intricate Ocean’s Eleven-level scheme orchestrating and publicizing her own attack is beyond absurd. Although, perhaps the most clear-cut debunking of her dissenter’s theories is the simple fact that she has spent the months since the attack fading from the spotlight.
We have heard very little from Kim since the Paris ordeal, especially since it was followed by her husband’s hospitalization for “temporary psychosis.” The few instances in which she has posted anything to social media since have generated headlines, but things have otherwise remained quiet. If this is not retirement, it’s a sabbatical.
Khloe and Kourtney have always been Kim’s backdrop, and as Kim’s light has dimmed, their presence, too, has faded. Now that Khloe has incorporated health into her personal brand, she busies herself with the dissemination of workout tips and tricks, operating more at the level of a fitness blogger than an A-lister. Kourtney’s profile has also lost some pull. She’s always been the least scintillating figure in the family, but the rumors of her reuniting with Scott Disick have gotten little more buzz than the relational details of a tertiary member of the Real Housewives franchise.
Meanwhile, Kendall and Kylie are everywhere. The two have a clothing line, various promotional partnerships, and a dystopian novel series—and that’s just as a pair.
In positioning herself for supermodel stardom, Kendall must eschew many of the major elements of the Kardashian brand. She’s refrains from oversharing even on her for-profit app, keeping her social media confined to mostly promotional content aside from the stray selfie. Living within the constricting rules of the fashion industry, Kendall is known as “the shy one” in a family of extroverts. Still, it’s impossible to walk by a newsstand without seeing multiple iterations of her extraterrestrial gorgeousness. In fall of 2016 alone, she covered Vogue’s September issue, Vogue Japan, Vogue Australia, Vogue Germany, Vogue Spain, Allure, Garage, and L’Officiel Germany. It’s possible her lack of presence on social media has contributed to her rapidly-rising profile. At the very least, it certainly generates a rabid sense of intrigue; the deletion and reinstatement of her Instagram account in November was a major news item for a certain internet demographic, covered across USA Today, People, and in a segment on Ellen.
In terms of exposure strategy, Kylie is Kendall’s polar opposite. If Kendall seems omnipresent even with her high-fashion limitations, Kylie lives life for the camera in her phone. For every personal photo from Kendall, Kylie shares seven images of her nails alone. Her Instagram and Snapchat are like a live stream of Narcissus’s mirrored stream. She often posts videos instead of selfies, puckering her lips and admiring her reflection in defiantly vain meditations on her ever-compelling aesthetic.
The question which dogged Kim has been on Kylie’s heels since the first rumors of plastic surgery arose: Is she vapid and superficial, or a cunning business woman, poised to profit from every angle of her image? There’s a debate to be had in terms of deliberation, but there’s no doubt that it’s working. Kylie’s 2017 calendar photographed by Terry Richardson already appears to be in high demand, despite her endless supply of sensual selfies (and the fact that almost no one buys calendars anymore). Her cosmetics line generates headlines with the tease of an announcement on Snapchat or countdowns to an unspecified events. She’s cultivated a system of built-in publicity, which allows her to avoid advertising beyond quick updates to her own account. According to Money Nation, her net worth is estimated to be $11.9 million, and surely the stage is set for an increase from here.
As Kim, Kourtney, and Khloe unhook their virtual IVs, Kendall and Kylie are creeping into the void and far beyond it. There are still people who can’t tell Kendall and Kylie apart, or maybe feign the inability. The “name a more iconic duo” meme is proof at least that some see Ben Affleck and his vape pen, Kathie Lee and Hoda, or Harambe and the small child he endangered as better poised for world domination than the Jenner sisters. On the other hand, the flippant response to their rise to mega-fame is less compelling evidence than the kind that is kept in their bank accounts.