With the Y2K resurgence, a new documentary, and now the Lanvin SS21 campaign, the patron saint of the social media age has become more relevant than ever
Last month, Paris Hilton posted an intriguing 8-second video for her 14.3 million Instagram followers. In it, a pair of manicured hands clad in sequined, fingerless gloves position a Sharpie over the iconic Lanvin logo and etch out a loopy “Hilton” underneath the brand’s blocky “Paris.” “Loves it,” she intones, dotting the “i” with a heart.
Paris Hilton has never been afraid of personal or professional transformation: from heiress to model, to singer, to businesswoman, to DJ, and now to the new face of Lanvin. Nearly 20 years after she first donned a mesh top and flipped the bird at David LaChapelle for Vanity Fair, Hilton has defied the odds and proven herself to be multifaceted and surprisingly enduring: a diamond rather than a rhinestone. The woman who invented the influencer movement and the idea of “famous for being famous” may not be an obvious pick to represent one of fashion’s oldest and most established houses, but the Lanvin Spring/Summer 2021 campaign is just the latest in a series of career moves designed to play with her image and show us new sides to the star. All soft peaches and classic silhouettes, Lanvin Paris is worlds away from the trucker hat-wearing, tiny dog-toting teen who rose to fame two decades ago.
However, such is the cyclical nature of fashion and celebrity, that just as 2021 Paris is embracing a new look, 2000s Paris is making a comeback. As the It Girl of the era, Hilton epitomized the soft/hard aesthetic of the ’00s: baby tees and huge plastic sunglasses, diamonds, and velour. Now, fueled by social media and Depop, Hilton style staples like baguette bags, belly chains, and body glitter are trendy again. Self-described ‘New Age Bimbos’ on TikTok and Instagram are looking to her as a feminist role model. Juicy Couture has risen from the dead. Y2K is back baby, and today Paris Hilton’s relevancy doesn’t look a day over 2003.
Yet unlike Y2K style, Paris Hilton never really went out of fashion. Her tabloid ubiquity may have been usurped by former assistant Kim Kardashian-West, but over the last decade, Hilton has been quietly building her multimillion-dollar lifestyle and music brands. When the first rumblings of Y2K resurgence appeared on the horizon in 2019, Hilton found herself thrust back into the headlines. She was happy to ride the wave, recording new music (“Best Friend’s Ass” featuring Kardashian, natch), DJing Tomorrowland, and releasing the 25th fragrance in her $2.5 billion perfume line. 2020 was even bigger. Hilton starred in an ad campaign for Kardashian’s brand SKIMS, where the pair brought back the velour tracksuit and released This Is Paris, an intimate documentary in which the star revealed the extent of the disconnect between her public and private lives, and detailed for the first time traumatic childhood experiences at a series of reform schools.
“As the It Girl of the era, Hilton epitomized the soft/hard aesthetic of the ’00s: baby tees and huge plastic sunglasses, diamonds, and velour. Now, fueled by social media and Depop, Hilton style staples like baguette bags, belly chains, and body glitter are trendy again.”
This Is Paris marked a turning point in Hilton’s revived career, and a subtle reworking of her image from dumb blonde to intelligent, self-aware businesswoman with her tongue firmly in her cheek. In the film, she reveals how much of the Paris Hilton “character”—namely, all of it—was actually a smartly calculated career move that ended up working just a little too well, and discusses how trapped she felt when the press and general public took her airhead heiress persona at face value.
Post #MeToo, the brutal tabloid machine of Hilton’s heyday has given way to a (somewhat) kinder culture that values, and even requires, authenticity and vulnerability in its celebrities. Ever the cultural chameleon, Paris Hilton understands this and has used her recent projects to add new layers to her public persona. Tellingly, she still adopts the breathy, baby voice made famous on The Simple Life at appearances and on social media, but now both she and her audience are in on the joke.
With the Y2K trend set to dominate the coming decade, it’s likely that Paris Hilton will remain in the spotlight. Certainly she’s showing no signs of slowing down—alongside the Lanvin campaign, three months into 2021 she’s already launched a podcast and started a production company under an exclusive deal with Warner Bros. Unscripted Television. She’s turned 40 and gotten engaged. Perhaps most significantly, she has testified in front of Utah lawmakers about the alleged abuse she experienced at a boarding school in the state, as detailed in This Is Paris. 2021 Paris exists in dualities not afforded to her younger self, as an enduring pop cultural symbol and a living, breathing human being with depth, lived experiences, and smarts behind the glossy exterior.
“People are finally seeing the real Paris,” Hilton says of her recent projects. That’s hot.