LOS ANGELES: It was mid-March, early into the pandemic when the Kardashian West household in the Hidden Hills of Los Angeles was hit by Coronavirus. “During the time that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson announced that they had Covid,” explains Kim Kardashian West, the First Lady of the house. Her husband, the hip-hop/fashion powerhouse Kanye West had contracted the virus.
“Kanye had it way at the beginning, when nobody really knew what was going on,” she says. “It was so scary and unknown. I had my four babies and no-one else in the house to help.” The Kardashian Wests have four children: North, 7, Saint, 4, Chicago, 2 and Psalm, 1. “I had to go and change his sheets and help him get out of bed when he wasn’t feeling good. It was a challenge because it was so unknown. Changing his sheets with gloves and a face shield was really a scary time.”
Nonetheless, Kardashian West has reconciled her feelings toward the pandemic. If the Kardashian clan have taught us anything about 21st century womanhood, it is how to remain poised and on point amid moments of global madness. “I’m the type of person that respects the process,” she says, “that respects what’s going on in the world.”
Kardashian West will hit 40 this month. She’ll cross the milestone as a global brand within a global megabrand, the most instantly recognizable corner of a family whose name has accrued the red hot familiarity of the Jacksons, Kennedys and even of McDonald’s. “Maybe our planet needed a break,” she says, sweetly.
“Maybe we all needed a break. Maybe this was the reset? I try to look at it that way.”
She says her maternal instinct kicked straight in with both the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests. She lets the kids lead the conversations in the family home in order to gauge how much they’ve picked up from the news. “I am very open and honest with them. I don’t want to give them too much information that they won’t fully understand and that will give them anxiety. But they obviously sense that there is something going on. You have to keep it together and not be scared yourself. As a parent, your number one goal is to make sure your children feel safe and secure.”
We are speaking over a transatlantic phone line. There is something in the down-home timbre of Kardashian West’s speaking voice which feels so familiar that the conversation quickly takes on a soothing tone. Her manner is warm, bluff and appropriately sisterly. At several points during our conversation, it feels a little like bumping into an old friend doing their grocery shopping outside an elite Malibu deli. Being next-level famous and genial to chat with is her most immediately apparent skill-set.
The Thursday we talk is two days after the announcement of the end of her family reality vehicle, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, the show which sent Kardashian West and her sisters into orbit. The late blockbuster novelist Jackie Collins once told me, “they’re just like you and me, but with better place settings,” neatly crystallizing the kindred appeal of the show. The next season will be their farewell. They haven’t yet filmed their last on-camera interviews (“can you imagine? I’m going to just be crying the whole time”) but Kardashian-West has already asked to keep her personalized microphone pack as a memento.
“Whoever thought we’d miss getting mic’ed?”
The day the announcement went out was high drama for the family. “Oh, it was honestly the most emotional day,” she says, with a slight waver to her voice. “The tears. I mean, I think I was crying all weekend. I’ll probably get emotional now on the phone.” She pauses. “It was just a really emotional decision.” While they looked at the many outpourings of love for the end of the show online, sister Khloe reminded them all: “It’s not like we’re dead. She said to us, ‘we’re still here.’”
The memories have been flooding back. Kardashian West recalls one crew member, Landon, their long-term lighting guy, sent her a card with a keychain attached one Christmas. “I kept it. Because he said ‘thank you, because of you I was able to buy my first home.’”
So, why now? “This was a dream of all of ours,” she says. “We never imagined we would get onto season two. Now we’re on 20. Sometimes we just need a break. It’s really simple. We just need a minute to regroup. You know, we haven’t had a break for 14 years. We’ve gone in filming a season, then a spin off and I think there’s no other way to say it other than, we just live such big lives. And we have kids now. And they need us.
There’s so much going on that, even just for a minute we need a break.”
For the final season, which will have added episodes and a grand finale, we should expect to see another dimension to the Kardashians, just as we have ourselves during lockdown. “If anything, it’ll be really interesting to see what all of us were doing during the pandemic. We were so scared and cautious and we shared every moment of that. Having to be with four kids and not have their friends or their routines and no help. It was a very different side of us that I don’t think anyone’s really seen.” The season will begin with footage they filmed themselves on iPhones. Filming is now cautiously back up and running. “Now the production can happen, in a very careful way, but the end of the season goes back into a little bit of normalcy. We want to fully live this out.”
Between nursing an ill husband, looking after four kids and filming the final season of her reality show, Kardashian West has kept her academic and mogul head afloat. In early July, she inked a 20 per cent stake sale of her phenomenally successful grooming brand, KKW Beauty to the global cosmetics giant, COTY. “KKW Beauty and KKW Fragrance has a team of seven people,” she notes. “It’s been us coming up with every campaign, our model shoots, our socials, our everything. And I love a small group of really strong super diverse, super powerful women. But it’s a small group. I’m excited to have a partner who can help us with the infrastructure, to make us super international.”
KKW Beauty is just one of the gentle reminders of how Kardashian West and co. have changed the physical landscape over the last 14 years. Before KUWTK, contouring was still something artists did on a palette. The sisters effortlessly transferred it to the face.
Kardashian West’s global business empire will only build as the show draws to a close. This month she’ll launch her shapewear and loungewear brand, SKIMS, in the UK, debuting on a British shop floor at Selfridges a year after US sales smashed it out of the park. “Yeah, well,” she says, buoyed by her own business savvy, “I’ve always worn shapewear and I really wanted to start a shapewear line.”
The loungewear could not really be any more apt for the moment it drops into. “I guess perfect timing, right?” Every cloud? “It’s been super-cosy and amazing for times like this, in quarantine. When you still want to look and feel good, when you don’t want to dress up and still look cute.” The way she pronounces the word (“cewt!”) is a further reminder of how the Kardashians actually changed the way America speaks.
Behind the business brain, she says there is further motivation for SKIMS. “Really, I have worn shapewear for years and years. But there was always something wrong with what I felt was out there. Especially the shade range. I couldn’t even find my color tone in shapewear.” She would buy pieces and dye them with teabags in the kitchen sink. “I thought, ‘wow, if I can’t find a shade color, think of all the women out there who couldn’t find their color either’. I found something I felt was missing in the market-place and made sure we filled it.”
The US advertising for SKIMS has featured women straight from the digital rolodex of Kardashian West, including the brilliant Queen and Slim actor Jodie Turner-Smith and pardoned former federal prisoner and law reform activist, Alice Marie Johnson. Diversity casting for ads, she says “wasn’t even a question. That was what we had to do. That was why I invented the brand. It was why I created shapewear, so that my friends and every woman out there have undergarments that are representative. It wasn’t even a thought when we were casting, like ‘oh, we have to be strategic and make it this way’. It wasn’t an option. This is just what this brand is.”
Johnson’s casting ties to perhaps the most unlikely aspect of Kardashian West’s professional portfolio; her move into the law. She is two years into her legal training and says she was writing an essay just before the call. This afternoon, LA time, she will have a five-hour zoom call with her Law Professor. “I know, right?” she says, laughing .“Torturous”.
In the 14 years of the Kardashians on TV, in a time frame where they’ve put sisters who love one another front and center of the global media dialogue, it’s easy to forget that Kardashian-West and her family first felt the glare of the Hollywood spotlight in the midst of the biggest American court case of the last half-century. During the OJ Simpson trial, Kim, Kourtney, Khloe and brother Rob would dutifully sit in court and watch their mother testify in the case for the prosecution, in support of her deceased best friend Nicole Simpson, while their father, Robert, would work as an attorney for Simpson’s defense.
Her father died in 2003, aged 59, and Kardashian West says her legal work ties back to fond childhood memories of her father. “Obviously, I saw my dad do what he did,” she says, “and I used to always be looking through his stuff, trying to go through his cases on the weekend, when my sisters were trying to party and have fun and couldn’t even understand why I wanted to.” There was a secret room, behind a paneled wall in his study in the Bel Air family home where Robert Kardashian Sr would log evidence samples.
“[Dad would] keep all of his evidence books back there. I was just so intrigued and so nosy.”
Sometimes she can feel her father on her shoulders while stepping into her new, personally uncharted territory. “He once said to me, ‘I think you’d be great at it. But I also think that it’s super stressful and exhausting. So, if you want a stress-free life, maybe don’t follow through with law school.’” She laughs at the irony of how things turned out. “He would’ve loved it so much, though. He would’ve been my study partner.”
Perhaps mindful of this, Kardashian West is not so bothered about having to cancel the big 40th birthday party she’d been planning (she turns 40 on October 21). “I’m not one that gets nervous about getting older. I obviously do what I can to try and feel as youthful or to look a certain way. But I’m proud that my kids get me here another year. I always think about that. Particularly losing your dad or a parent or someone close to you at a young age.”
FYI, the party sounds like it would’ve been absolutely amazing. “I had the best plan,” she says. “It was going to be called Wild, Wild Miss West’s 40th Birthday. I had Manfred Thierry Mugler make me a metal costume. Like, a cowgirl costume.”
“Right? I have it and it is insane. We did virtual fittings. I don’t even want to waste it on a party for myself with five people. I want it to be something. So, I’m thinking maybe next year. I can have it on my 41st. We can still call it my 40th, right?”
Photography: Vanessa Beecroft
Interview: Paul Flynn
Makeup & Beauty Direction: Ariel Tejada
Hair: Chris Appleton
Top Image: Fits Everybody Scoop Neck Bra in Clay, Fits Everybody Boy Short in Clay, SKIMS