1. KENDALL JENNER
Cover story from Dazed & Confused’s inaugural #DAZED100 issue.
PHOTOGRAPHY BEN TOMS
FASHION ROBBIE SPENCER
TEXT PATRIK SANDBERG
In the blink of a flashbulb, she’s gone from teen reality star to catwalk phenomenon—with a little help from fashion fair godmother Marc Jacobs. Patrik Sandberg dodges the paparazzi with our Dazed 100 queen to get the inside story on her astonishing transformation
It’s 1 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, but it’s dusk in Kendall Jenner’s world.
Kendall woke up at six this morning, and by eight she’d already convinced her best friend, Hailey (Ford model, sample size, daughter of Hollywood actor Stephen Baldwin), to join her for breakfast at Gemma, the faux-classical Italian eatery in the Bowery Hotel. A hotspot for the aspirational SoulCycle set since 2007, the restaurant has become a de facto clubhouse for New York’s new brat pack, a gang Kendall and Hailey are both card-carrying members of (others include Gigi and Bella Hadid, Harry Styles, and Jaden and Willow Smith). After breakfast, the twosome booked it to Brooklyn, where they hit up Smorgasburg, the Coachella of food vendor fairs on the Williamsburg waterfront, for some farm-to-table grub. Full from Gemma, Kendall opted for a tea.
By the time she breezes into SoHo’s Mercer Hotel lobby, the 5’10.5” doe-eyed brunette is, in her own words, already on her third breakfast. She’s dressed low key and makeup-free in standard-issue model armor: a snug leather biker jacket with T-shirt and skinny jeans, and a black, cashmere beanie pulled low over her face, which is covered by aviator shades. She has just escaped a cacophonous flock of paparazzi, something she’s used to in this, her current, phase of megastardom. But for your average, above-average breakout on the fashion runways of Paris and Milan, the experience is anything but ordinary.
“This morning I left my apartment so early that there was nobody following me,” she says proudly. “I was talking to Hailey and I was like, it’s so refreshing and amazing to be able to just walk down the street and have no one bother you.” It’s been five days since Kendall capped off a week of catwalk appearances in Paris, culminating in full-tilt fashion protest on the fictitious Boulevard Chanel, constructed inside the Grand Palais. After the show, Kendall took a protest sign outside onto the real street, which read LADIES FIRST. “It’s fun when you get a chance to not be so, like…walk,” she says. “You get a chance to have fun with it and it’s not super, super organized. It’s purposefully disorganized if that makes any sense.” This season, Kendall made appearances at Fendi, Givenchy, Balmain, Sonia Rykiel, Bottega Veneta, and Dolce & Gabbana, a show that fulfilled a particular fantasy for the young model, who’s in her second season of shows. “Dolce was so exciting,” she says, echoing the name of her family Chihuahua. In the show’s finale, Kendall strode front and center in a veritable army of dark, Italian beauties. “It was really major for me, a really amazing moment.”
Kendall’s ascent in the fashion industry has more than a few people scratching their heads. Prior to her first real fashion job, a casting in the Fall 2014 Marc Jacobs show in which she clomped her way through a Stefan Beckman-designed set highlighting suspended Magritte clouds, all sheer beige knits in a ‘60s-spa-filtered stutopia, Kendall had become a borderline household name in America along with her sister Kylie. Together, they promoted their joint licensing enterprises ranging from clothing lines with PacSun and Steve Madden to their jointly-penned dystopian science fiction novel Rebels: City of Indra: The Story of Lex and Livia. Following in the well-trod footsteps of the Olsen twins before them, Kendall and Kylie voraciously pursued branding opportunities as a package deal, until, much like the Olsen twins again, Kendall 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 specifically and there needed to be a strategy,” she says. “Because you only get one first impression and it had to be a good one. I had to do some of the best shows to be able to say, Yo, this is what I’m doing and here I am, proving it.”
Her drive to prove herself reflects the obstacles she had to overcome in order to make this career leap, for it wasn’t the perceptions of her Kendall and Kylie fashion licenses—some of which continue to be lucrative to this day—that she had to upend, but the perceptions of her family’s reality show. Keeping Up With The Kardashians, one of the longest-running reality series ever, has cast something resembling a kryptonite effect across the planet. Responsible for the fame of Kendall’s sisters, Kourtney, Khloe, and Kim Kardashian, the show is an unprecedented pop cultural phenomenon, endless source of benign fascination, and a lightning rod for criticism and outrage, usually aimed at the mindless amusement and triviality of the family’s multimillion-dollar lifestyle—the very same qualities that make the show attractive, escapist, and highly addictive.
“I’d watched the Kardashians in the beginning so I had not seen [Kendall] or Kylie on the show,” says Katie Grand, the influential fashion editor who first cast Kendall in Jacobs’s show. “All I knew about them was from reading trash magazines.” When they met, Grand didn’t realize who she was due to this unfamiliarity. “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 really charming and really cute. I was really into it, but I wasn’t going to say anything to Marc.”
The seeds of a plan began to hatch. Grand had Kendall 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 I think we were good partners in crime.” However, the morning Grand was to go in for the kill, Jacobs and Kendall each arrived early and ended up hitting it off before Katie could present her discovery. Once Marc was on board, the real journey began. “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 than that she would be right for the casting. I tried to be really objective and I liked what she looked like in the clothes.”
“It was the perfect show for me to first walk in,” Kendall says, beaming at the memory. “I remember being at the show backstage in my full look and I was doing makeup touch-ups. The makeup artist said to me, ‘Did you hear? Kendall Jenner is here.’” She lets out a laugh. “And I said, ‘She is? Oh my God!’ And I was like, what? This is crazy! But it was so refreshing that someone was sitting there, literally touching up my face, and had no idea that it was me. And I loved it!” She now thinks of Katie Grand and Marc Jacobs as fashion fairy godparents who took a chance on her when no one else would. “I’m so grateful for Katie. It ended up being such an amazing thing. I feel like nobody knew if they should take that chance and then Marc did. Thank God he did, because it started this whole circle. 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 going on go-sees. Oh my God, the amount of test shoots I did…Modeling isn’t something I’m doing for fun. It’s not something I’m doing to prove people wrong. It’s something I’m doing because it’s what I want to do! And I enjoy it!”
Perhaps there is something in Kendall’s DNA that programs her to work diligently to thwart expectations, a trait that is peculiarly Kardashian. For example, no one could have predicted that Kim would grace the lofty cover of American Vogue, or be invited to the Met Gala, or marry one of the world’s most revered musical artists. Yet, here we are.
“I think my mom and my dad have an incredible work ethic and we’ve grown up around it. My sisters’ dad would tell them they had to work to do something they wanted to do. My mom learned that from him, I think, and she got into business a lot. And my dad has been a businessman his entire life.” Kendall’s father, Bruce Jenner, is a world-record-setting Olympic decathlon gold medalist and motivational speaker, long considered a national hero, until Keeping Up turned him into a straight man stock character in the farcical comedy of his marriage and divorce to Kendall’s mother Kris, the architect behind the Kardashian phenomenon.
“We were lucky enough to grow up around parents who were not only hard workers but who wanted to pass it on to their kids very much. Kylie and I were brought up around so many aults who were hard workers, there’s no way it can’t be passed on.”
Today, her family is ecstatic for Kendall’s success. “Every show, no matter which show it is, no matter how many shows I’ve done, I get a text message from every single one of them,” Kendall says. “[They say] ‘Are you kidding me?! Who are you?! You’re KILLING IT! How am I your sister? Literally, I am so lucky to be your sister!’ I’m like, okay, I know, I know. I get it. It’s my tenth show. 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 really sweet to hear that.”
In all of this, however, there’s one critic who matters the 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.” Kendall’s eyes begin to well up and she looks back to her chamomile tea. “So, that’s cool.”
As for rumors of bullying at the hands of other models—“They put cigarettes in her drink” screamed The Daily Mail—Kendall says not a word of it is true. “That has never happened, ever,” she says. “Everyone’s been really cool to me. I’ve never had one girl be mean to me. Nobody has been mean to me at all, actually. So far.” She lists Natalie Westling, Joan Smalls, Karlie Kloss, Cara Delevingne, and Josephine Skriver as some of her favorite models to work with. “It’s nice to find people you bond with and click with because during fashion week you see them at all the shows and all the parties. You’re always around them so if you can have a friend in all of that, I think it’s something you really need.”
Despite constant outrage on the part of her social media watchers, who can’t stand seeing her on TIME Magazine’s list of the Most Influential Teens—alongside subjects like Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and democracy protestor Joshua Wang—and who refuse to believe she can be taken seriously beyond cameos with her sisters on the E! Network, Kendall’s future is looking brighter than ever.
“I’m really happy for her,” says Marc Jacobs. “It sounds stupid, but I’m happy for anybody who pursues their dream and gets to live it. 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,” he says. And besides…”She’s great looking.”
“I think she’s going to get everything she wants,” Grand concurs. “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 [Kendall is signed with The Society Model 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 personal in this business,” Kendall says, sounding like a seasoned pro. “Follow your dreams, but there is a lot of criticism. You have to brush it off, onto the next one. You can’t sit here moaning about it. Everybody is looking for something different.” As for rumors that she’ll be quitting her reality show, she’s ready to debunk those as well. “It’s not something I can avoid,” she says, earnestly. “It’s in my house, you know what I mean? When I’m at my mom’s house, tat’s what’s happening. It’s literally my life. It’s me walking around my house. I don’t know what there is that I can say to stop. If that makes any sense.”
As we say our goodbyes and step outside, a throng of paparazzi are ready with stretch lenses and a machine gun barrage of shutter snaps. Some photographers slip out of parking garages, and one comes out of the Marc Jacobs store. And then, in a runway-rapid Magritte cloud of bodies and cameras, Kendall is out of sight.