Call her what you want a celebutante, a blonde bubblehead or worse but with an international branding empire with retail revenues of more than $2 billion in fragrance alone, Paris Hilton is laughing all the way to the bank.
She arrives for her WWD interview and shoot earlier this month more than an hour late but not without her handler texting well before call time to make sure it’s OK. She is rolling a three-foot-tall nylon suitcase containing two dress options (“I didn’t want to wear them in the car or they’d get wrinkled,” she said) and carrying a MacBook (for mood music during the shoot) in a pink Neoprene case; her newest mini-purebred pooch, a six-month-old, 11-ounce micromini teacup Pomeranian named Prince Hilton, and a stack of 50 calligraphed cards that she plans to sign as part of a surprise mailer for beauty editors heralding the arrival Saturday of her 17th (yes, 17th) fragrance from New York-based Parlux Ltd., With Love, Paris Hilton.
The question today is the same one that arose when she launched her first fragrance a decade ago: What qualifies her to peddle perfume in the first place?
“I would say that the success speaks for itself. [My brand] is one of the number-one celebrity fragrances out there and I have 17, which is a lot more than, I don’t know, most people,” she said, adding it continues to grow. “Every single month we are getting more sales and more countries wanting to sell the fragrances.”
Grant attributes it to timing. Tapping into the cultural zeitgeist at the right moment is half the battle. “Everyone looks to America for trends maybe not design, but certainly in tech, marketing and pop culture. Paris managed to marry a movement in pop culture through TV and just being who she was. All the people like her have this place in the history of fashion and celebrity coming together which predates digital culture.”
Perhaps it’s stating the obvious that Hilton inherited the entrepreneurial gene given her family tree: Her great-grandfather was Hilton Hotels founder Conrad Hilton. Many say she could have easily gone the route of heiress and layabout, but given that her father Rick built the Hilton & Hyland real estate firm, her mother Kathy oversees her own empire of licensed fashion lines, and her little sister Nicky does the same, that seems less likely (her two younger brothers Barron and Conrad are a budding film director and real estate executive, respectively).
It’s also probably easy to imagine Hilton is inspired by Elizabeth Taylor as far as longevity in the fragrance arena. In fact, they were once related. “I grew up with her. She married my grandfather’s brother, so she was my great aunt. I don’t know how many fragrances she had, but a lot. I always looked up to businesswomen like that who build their own brands. Oprah as well is another one I’ve always admired. And I don’t know anyone else who’s been doing celebrity fragrances as long as me other than Elizabeth Taylor.”
Hilton struck her first fragrance deal in 2005 and the next year, encouraged by its success, she founded Paris Hilton Entertainment. “I didn’t want to just be known as the Hilton Hotel granddaughter. I wanted to be known as Paris who created her own empire,” she said.
The fact that Hilton’s licensing team is based in Europe, not New York or Los Angeles, speaks to her international savvy. Serena Sibbald, associate vice president of brand development at licensing agency Beanstalk, heads up Hilton’s global branding efforts from the company’s London office. Introduced to Hilton via her talent agency, Beanstalk has worked with her since 2006 to expand her brand in the fashion space. “With Paris it’s the multitude of products and territories that’s very special. And she is actually the best ambassador of her brand and because she has such a strong sense of style that her fans around the world love to emulate, so the most natural thing for her to go into is fashion and beauty,” Sibbald said. “She just seems to touch gold with whatever she works on.”