Christine Hahn/Harper’s Bazaar
Meet Paris Hilton 2.0.
Love her or hate her, there’s no denying Hilton is one of the savviest stars of her generation. Using her status as a hotel heiress, she became a jet-setting socialite, eventually scoring her own reality series, The Simple Life, which ran for five seasons from 2003 to 2007. Her arrests, breakups and conflicts made headlines for years, all while Hilton furthered her fame with MTV’s Paris Hilton’s My New BFF (and its two international spinoffs) and Oxygen’s The World According to Paris. Since then, Hilton has worked hard to move past the image she perpetuated.
“I want to be known as a businesswoman. I don’t want to be known as a reality TV star; I don’t like the way that sounds,” Hilton, who’s worth an estimated $100 million, tells Harper’s Bazaar. As for her party girl past, she says, “I have really grown past that. Now I mostly focus on my empire and my brand, rather than everything else that comes with the reality star kind of life.”
Hilton knew how to market herself long before it became the norm. “When I moved to New York as a teenager I would just party all the time, but now people think I am actually smart because I have parlayed that into a very lucrative business,” she says proudly. “With partying, no one had ever been paid to go to a party. I was the first one to kind of invent that in Las Vegas at 20 years old. Back in the day, a DJ would maybe get $200 and they would be hidden in a DJ booth. Now they are headliners, making millions of dollars—the whole attraction is them.”
As Hilton tells it, “I saw that coming before it was actually happening.”
Hilton found fame (or fame found her) before the advent of social media, so she can appreciate that people now do so in unconventional ways. “Nowadays it’s so much easier for anybody to become something. These kids could literally be on their iPhone from their bedroom and film a video or take a picture and become viral sensations. Back then, we didn’t have anything. We were just getting MySpace,” Hilton, 35, says. “There was no Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat.”
With her focus always on the future, Hilton began thinking about her second act some years ago. “For a long time I didn’t know what I wanted. I just felt like this kid who was never going to grow up, but now I feel like I have,” she says. “I have had so many adversities against me and people who have not wanted me to succeed in certain areas, but I am proving people wrong all the time. I want to be a role model for young women who want to be an entrepreneur like me.”
Hilton knows some people will scoff at that notion that she can inspire the everywoman, given her affluent upbringing. “Every dollar I have ever made, I have made myself,” she counters. “Yes, I feel very lucky to have come from a privileged family, but I have done it all on my own.”
“For beautiful women, people don’t look past that to see they are actually intelligent as well. I love proving people wrong. It’s my favorite thing. They always say, ‘Wow—I really had no clue.'”
Hilton still makes occasional club appearances (she’s also a DJ), but those days are mostly behind her. Now that she’s in her mid-thirties, she tells Harper’s Bazaar, “I spend my time working rather than just enjoying myself and being on vacation. I am very focused on my business and when you live in that mind frame, you can stay away from the trashy tabloids.”