THE BUSINESS OF BEING PARIS
PARIS HILTON IS NOT JUST A LOVABLY DITZY EMPRESS OF PINK OR THE SHREWD CAPTAIN OF A SMALL INDUSTRY THAT BEARS HER NAME. SHE’S BOTH. BUT ON HER NEW REALITY TELEVISION SHOW, YOU’RE BOUND TO SEE LESS PARTYING AND MORE SERIOUS BUSINESS—WHICH IS EXACTLY HOW SHE WANTS IT
Photography Daniele + Iango
Text Derek Blasberg
Paris Hilton, pop culture phenomenon, speaks in two distinct voices. There’s the coquettish, sweet, high-pitched, girly affectation that’s been well-documented in TV shows and personal appearances around the world, associated with phrases like “That’s hot” and “Loves it.” And then, when Hilton is among friends and business associates, there’s a deeper, more gruff tone, devoid of flirtation and flippancy, used to discuss facts and figures, scandals and stalkers.
Conversation with Hilton reveals both voices; she knows precisely when to use which and, more importantly, which is more effective to make a given point. Right now, we’re discussing her personal business empire, which includes seventeen unique product lines. Using her serious voice, she lists them: “Fragrances; clothing; shoes; dog accessories and other pet products; watches; hair products; lingerie; scrapbook and art supplies.” She pauses, then says in her girly voice, for comedic effect, “Did I already say shoes?”
These dueling tones are entertaining. Who are her fashion icons? In the serious voice: “I have always admired Marilyn Monroe, because the camera loved her. Audrey Hepburn, for being so classic. And Kate Moss.” In the girly voice: “But I’m very fun, and I’m very daring. I don’t copy anybody. I’m like my own Barbie doll!”
What about business? Girly voice: “I make stuff that’s cute!” She deflects inquiries about how much she and her company are worth: “My mom always told me it’s obnoxious to discuss money.” Then she switches to the serious voice: “I’ve always looked up to Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart,” she says, without a shred of irony. At first, I find this amusing. But she cuts short my laughter, in her serious voice, saying, “There’s a lot that goes into this. It didn’t just happen. I’ve worked for fifteen years.”
While there have been bumpy moments in Hilton’s ascent—a leaked sex tape and jail time come to mind—this verbal dichotomy points to what has held the public’s interest for a decade. Yes, she’s self-effacing and a part-time ditz, but behind every loopy comment is a shrewd businesswoman.
It’s the day after her V photo shoot, and Hilton, on just two hours sleep, from three to five a.m., has been doing back-to-back promotions, radio call-ins, and interviews for her new Oxygen TV show, The World According to Paris. She hopes the series, for which she was filmed “from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed,” all around the world, for months, will give her a greater platform to share both these voices.
The origins of her girly voice make for an interesting story. As she explains, it was crafted on her first television hit, 2003’s The Simple Life, the pioneering reality show that made household names of her and then-unknown Nicole Richie, and inspired an entire TV genre. “They told me to play a character: Green Acres meets Clueless,” she says. “I didn’t realize the show would go on for so many seasons and I’d have to continue doing that character. But you know what? It was comfortable, because I was shy and I could hide behind that persona.”
It’s hard to imagine that a girl whose entire career began with paparazzi pictures is shy, but Hilton says that before she moved to New York, she was an introverted tomboy who preferred the outdoors to parties. (She wanted to be a veterinarian when she was little, until, she says, in her girly voice, “I learned you had to give them shots and put them to sleep, so I didn’t want that anymore.”)
Stardom, she recalls, came in a flash. “I moved to New York when I was 15 and got invited to all these clubs and parties, and this whole socialite scene opened up for me—that’s when it all changed.” Her parents wanted her to stay in school and go to college, but she had other plans. “I didn’t listen to them, I did what I wanted, and the rest is history.”
One party picture led to another, and Paris the brand began to emerge from her sound bites—typically regarding what was hot and what was not—and a never-ending stream of red carpet and Robertson Boulevard appearances. Today, she is indisputably a modern pop icon.
Now just entering her 30s, Hilton, it turns out, is making good use of both of her voices. About her new show, she says, “I love it because it’s showing more of the real me, as a businesswoman, with my friends and my family. I wanted to show what it’s like to be in my world.” The other reason she likes her new show so much? “I get to use my real voice.”