“Can you promise, no vinyl, please?” I ask our fashion assistants. And, no, I’m not talking about the hipster record revival: I’m being photographed for Style and I’m having to stipulate no skintight plastic. This is no ordinary shoot: I’m being kitted out for a day as Kylie Jenner, the youngest of the Kardashian-Jenner clan and now the No 1 most powerful celebrity fashion influencer, according to the global fashion search platform Lyst.
At just 21, Kylie is an Instagram and reality-TV superstar, a beauty-industry tycoon and, according to the August issue of Forbes magazine, which featured her on the cover, well on her way to becoming a billionaire. Her 120m Instagram followers track her every move, and there is serious spending power behind them. This year, it was estimated that Kylie’s posts are now worth more than $1m (about £780,000) each in advertising equivalent value, and the brands are cashing in. Fast-fashion sites such as Pretty Little Thing and Boohoo are experts at recreating Kylie’s Yeezy, I.AM.GIA and Alexander Wang looks as soon as they appear on Instagram; the sequined playsuits, neon heels and vinyl tank dresses they produce all sell out as quickly as they drop online.
“Her selfies are more powerful than any brand marketing campaign right now,” says Katy Lubin of Lyst, where Kylie has driven more than 2m searches this year.
Although we’re roughly the same age (I’m 25), my style and Kylie’s are worlds apart. I can usually be found in jeans and a white shirt, and I am as suspicious of body-con as I am of on-the-cheap eyebrow waxing: in both cases, you normally end up with far less than you’d bargained for. Kylie’s look, meanwhile, is hyper-sexualised and all about trends worn tight: think sportswear and stilettos. She teams her outfits with thick, airbrush-perfect make-up, dramatic wigs and the famous lip fillers she injects and removes like most people change their shoes. And it’s a look that’s catching on. “There’s a generation of young female shoppers who are feeling empowered by Kylie’s looks and her confidence,” says Lubin. “They’re looking to buy into a lifestyle and an attitude.”
Photoshoot aside, I didn’t think I’ll ever feel empowered enough to wear a pair of cycling shorts (Kylie’s favourite bottom half of choice) in broad daylight, given that the last time they graced my thighs was during fifth-form gym. However, searches on Lyst for the spandex nightmares have increased by 78% year on year, so it would seem not everyone has the same aversion. I have to hand it to Kylie, the Towie cast and the girls from Love Island, all of whom have championed cycling shorts this year — they must have buns of steel. When I slip on the shorts, I’m disappointed to see that nothing has changed; they’re tight where you’d rather they were baggy, and strangely baggy where you’d rather they were tight. When teamed with a pale pink blazer, I look like Mr Motivator at a job interview. Still, the hair and make-up definitely help: after three hours, I emerge plucked, bronzed and shining, like a turkey from the oven, complete with heavy false eyelashes and hair teased high. The thought of making time for this every day makes my head spin (and it’s not just down to the hairspray fumes).
My next outfit is a print tracksuit, which mimics a famous Fendi two-piece that Kylie modelled on, of course, Instagram, while pushing a matching Fendi buggy. It’s less painful than the cycling shorts, both literally and metaphorically; I feel more comfortable and more covered up. I’m encouraged by the comments from my co-workers. “You look like a teenager,” says my boss, as I saunter into the office with uncharacteristic swagger. It may not be my first choice for a Thursday at work (thank goodness I’ve had the foresight not to arrange any meetings), but at least I can sit down in it.
My favourite outfit by far, however, is a black strapless dress, which, mercifully, has arrived in the wrong size, so it’s not quite the second skin it should be. Posing like Kylie, with hands on hips and my collarbones, arms and even fingers brushed with body glitter, I look confident, relaxed, tanned and toned. In short, I don’t look like me: in Grand Designs terms, I’m a London terraced house that’s been given a whopping, LA McMansion makeover.
But not everyone is so positive in their review of my new look: namely, men. All the ones I encounter have one of three reactions: they stare and stare, as though I might not be real; they look at the floor, as though they wish I weren’t; or they offer their unsolicited opinions. One man tells me he’d “avoid me”, though it’s unclear whether he means this as a threat or a promise. When I canvass opinion on Kylie’s look for this piece, comments run the gamut from the vaguely judgmental (“fake”, “too revealing”, “stupid”) to the downright sexist (“up for it”, “easy”). There’s a notion that as Kylie has signed up for the social media circus, she is fair game; she deserves judgment as much as praise. In her clothes, hair and make-up, I find myself in the same line of fire.
It is extraordinary that public perception flips on the application of one more set of eyelashes, when, in this social media-obsessed age, we should be more aware than ever that image is all smoke and mirrors. Layered up with foundation and overlined lips, I was deemed no longer myself, and treated in the kind of biased way I’d hoped advances in feminism had gone some way towards eradicating. I’d advise caution when casually judging someone, particularly a woman, on what she wears: you know only a part of her story. Besides, she could be on the cover of Forbes next year. Overall, I enjoyed being Kylie for a day — I just wish it hadn’t revealed such a disheartening truth: that, even in 2018, we need reminding that a woman is more than she looks.