Paris' plan is simple: develop her brand

With CD, other products, she tries to escape heiress label

August 24, 2006|By Chris Lee... | Chris Lee...,Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- As Paris Hilton sees it, her main problem is that people don't understand how hard she works. "People are going to judge me: `Paris Hilton, she uses money to get what she wants.' Whatever," she said. "I haven't accepted money from my parents since I was 18. ... I have things no heiress has. I've done it all on my own, like a hustler."

It was a recent sweltering morning, and the socialite, 25, was speaking at her three-story compound in West Hollywood, within valet-parking range of some of the area's hottest nightlife. Fresh from a hair and makeup session that a publicist said cost $10,000, she had descended her marble staircase, passed under the gaze of several poster-sized vanity portraits of herself, breezed by the chrome stripper pole she uses as an exercise prop ("It's great for parties," she said) and settled into a white sofa beneath a black Baccarat chandelier.

The professional celebutante and heir to the Hilton hotel fortune released her debut album, Paris, on Warner Bros. Records this week. Next, Hilton will disseminate what she calls "the brand of Paris Hilton" even more widely, and more lucratively. She has signed off on signature lines of lingerie, shoes, bathing suits, makeup, wigs, purses, an energy drink, a video game and champagne in a can - all meant to land not on the shelves of, say, Kitson but at the average Middle American mall.

But first, she wanted to straighten out a few misconceptions. Chief among them: "The whole `party girl heiress' thing, I'm over it," Hilton said. "I'm really serious as an artist. I'm a businesswoman."

A hustler, if you will.

Hilton's reggae-tinged lead single, "Stars Are Blind," is already a hit. It became the most requested single at radio stations in New York and Los Angeles upon its release in June and one of the most downloaded songs on iTunes, her latest unexpected success after her best-selling book and hot-selling perfume line.

"I do everything step by step in a certain order," Hilton said. "The book, the perfume, the show, the album. I wanted to do the album last because I wanted to do it like no one else has ever done it before. I don't think there's ever been anyone like me that's lasted. And I'm going to keep on lasting."

As Hilton pauses to survey the world from the precipice of a frightening new level of ubiquity, all is not completely copacetic. The limitations of her plan may be hard to escape - not least because her "brand" depends foremost on her image, and there is only so much of her image that she is able to control. As Eric Hirshberg, president and chief creative officer of the advertising agency Deutsch Inc., put it, "With Paris, there's so much debauchery and valuelessness to her brand, she'll have to figure out a way to get past that. There needs to be some humanity."

On the new album, Hilton's efforts at portraying herself in a new "she works hard for the money" light are evident in her musical choices. She is self-consciously trying to align herself with hip-hop's bootstrap ethos.

"I love hip-hop. I grew up listening to Dr. Dre," she said. "With the hip-hop world, they came from nothing, from the streets. I respect their turning into these huge stars with huge mansions, all on their own."

She seems oblivious to the advantage her family name and connections have given her. Instead, she sees an obvious overlap between her own self-described dues-paying period and the career arc of many successful rappers, who generally start out with only hustlers' ambition.

"When I moved to L.A., I swear on my life I didn't have anything," Hilton said glibly. " ... I told my mom I didn't want any money. And I've done it all on my own. All this, I bought for myself: my cars, my house. Who can say that at my age who's an heiress?"

Despite her determination to play down the benefits her wealth gives her - hard to do when she owns a Ferrari Spider, Bentley coupe, Range Rover and Mercedes-Benz MacLaren SLR - Hilton's aura of moneyed entitlement is one of her defining characteristics. "Parts of Paris' brand are automatically appealing," Hirshberg said. "Her job is to party. She seems to answer to no one. ... And there's a bit of anarchy there - she's like the princess running around the palace knocking over vases."

He added: "The part that I don't understand: Paris has this meanness that's in her persona. And it's embraced. Girls from the kind of places she makes fun of on The Simple Life want to wear her perfume."

Indeed, contrary to her Benzes and bling image, the target demographic for her branded products is not the socialite-heiress set. Hilton's name and image are licensed mostly to goods that are priced to be affordable, such as "pleather" handbags for $65.

"Her consumers adore her," said Seth M. Siegel, who is working on deals for Hilton's lines of fake fur, jewelry, shoes, pantyhose, lingerie and sportswear. "Maybe not the opinion elite. But the ordinary person - that's who's buying her products."

As Paris the brand prepares for her entrance into the Great Mall of America, she is determined to align herself with the common folk she hopes will buy her CD and drink her canned champagne while dancing at her club.

"I've always been a humble person," Hilton said, wiping a long brown cat hair from her lip gloss. "The stupid blond stereotype - it was cute for a while. But I'm over that now."

Chris Lee writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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