“Girls, where are you? I’m waiting — let’s get this show on the road. Action!” Kathy Hilton hollers as she waits for her daughters Paris and Nicky to join her for a Footwear News photoshoot in the elegant foyer of her Bel Air, Calif., home.
The Hilton clan is already two hours behind schedule after glam and a change into the day’s first look. They’re commanding a sizable crew of photographers, videographers and assistants — documenting FN’s shoot for “Paris in Love,” an upcoming Peacock network series chronicling Paris’ wedding planning for her upcoming nuptials to fiancé Carter Reum, an investor in footwear brand Rothy’s.
The day is a rare opportunity to unite the busy trio. Nicky, a mother of two who collaborates with French Sole, is based in New York. Paris, who lives in L.A., juggles a multitude of business projects. And mother Kathy has recently reinvented herself as a pop culture icon in her own right, thanks to her breakout stint as a guest star on the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”
Show business aside, her favorite role is as a mom, and there is a lot of talk on the shoot about the dinner she prepared the night before: her famous meatloaf with baked potatoes and string beans.
It’s like that in Hilton land. One minute, the discussion is show business and deals and the next minute, it’s interior design and family tales. Kathy is the undisputed ringleader here — at high volume, with witty quips and breathless enthusiasm — trying to move things along.
“Nicky always used to get embarrassed of me,” Kathy admits.
“I don’t care anymore, I’ve thrown in the towel,” Nicky notes as the women pose for the cover shot in looks selected from and inspired by their mother’s closet, paired with shoes from Nicky’s collaboration with French Sole. The ensembles, accessorized with Chanel jewelry from Kathy’s personal collection, include layers of faux-pearl and jeweled necklaces, and some of her Chanel bags. “Take this sleeve up a bit, do it so it looks like a bracelet,” Kathy says, instructing Nicky to showcase black quilted leather mini bags that hang off her wrist.
Above the spacious foyer near the staircase is a haunting painting of two young, brown-haired girls in old-fashioned dresses that seems to tower above the live show going on below.
“I don’t like those witchy girls,” Nicky says in between the snaps.
“I tell them that’s them when they were little,” Kathy says.
“They look like demonic dolls,” Nicky fires back. “Now everyone’s going to think I don’t really have blond hair,” Paris chimes in.
“The painting is from London. When I bought it, it looked like the two of you and it meant a lot to me,” Kathy explains. “I wanted to dress them like that.”
Surrounded by her quieter daughters, Kathy is like a blooper reel come to life.
Known for roles in “Bewitched,” “Happy Days” and “Nanny and the Professor” more than half a century ago, Kathy’s witty performances have ignited the 11th season of Bravo’s hit reality show “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” And brought instant viral fame.
From inside her home, it’s easy to see why. In a sit-down interview and tour of her closet with FN alongside Paris and Nicky, Kathy’s offscreen persona is often hard to separate from reality TV.
Designed like an intimate boutique, Kathy’s impressive closet houses a boldface roster of brands like Hermes, Chanel, Oscar de la Renta, Valentino and so on. It’s clear that the closet has been a playground for her daughters, who need little prodding to open up about the role their mother’s fashion played throughout their lives.
Naturally, it was once Nicky’s answer to finding an outfit for the Met Gala. Pity she didn’t tell her mother. “One of my funniest memories of borrowing something from my mom’s closet was when I was in my 20s and I had just landed from Miami,” she recalls. “I ran into her closet and sort of threw something together last minute. I remember it was a [Dolce & Gabbana] corset…”
“No, it was the Valentino yellow…” Kathy interrupts.
“It was [Kathy’s] vintage Valentino skirt with these Gucci Tom Ford heels,” Nicky says. “And I needed to be, like, glammed up, so I just went in and I throw on a necklace and I was out the door. Within an hour she’s calling me, panicking. She has the entire Waldorf Astoria security team looking at the cameras. Apparently, this necklace that I had borrowed is extremely valuable and she thought it was stolen.”
For the Hilton sisters, playing dress-up in their mother’s collection of designer brands started early. “When I was little, I would always go in the closet with my sister and I remember this one time, I put on this really cute floral, like, big puffy-sleeved Moschino dress with your Chanel glasses and your Manolos, and I took pictures. I just saw them the other day,” Paris says to Kathy.
It’s clear that Nicky and Paris have keenly observed their philanthropist mother’s fashion savvy over the years. “She taught me the power of accessories and to have fun with them,” Nicky says. “She has an amazing collection of stuff she’s accumulated over the years. The vintage Valentino purses with the feathers and estate jewelry, costume jewelry. She’s a collector.”
Paris adds, “And, you know, um, just to like — put on, like, a Chanel jacket, you just look chic and elegant. I would never wear that before, but when Nicky and my mom put me in them, it’s really a different look for me.”
Of course, not everything comes from their mother’s closet, and both Nicky and Paris have worked to evolve their style over the years. There have been hits and misses. When asked about her most regrettable fashion choice, Paris recalls a hodgepodge outfit she sported at the Sundance Film Festival years ago. “I wore this black bustier with, like, big poofy tulle. It was from Patricia Field. It was with Moon Boots,” Paris says. Nicky giggles, repeating Moon Boots. “I used to get bills from Patricia Field,” Kathy says.
Today, Nicky can often be spotted in heritage brands, while Paris has an affection for rising designers. “Nicky is effortlessly chic. She can just put on a pair of jeans, throw on a top or sweater — it just looks right,” Kathy explains. “What I love about Paris is she is not trying to impress people or labels. If she likes something or finds a new, young designer and they become friendly, she will put a look together. And it’s her. It’s iconic.”
When pressed about some current trends the Hiltons would like to unsee, the answers are interesting. Birkenstocks and fur for Nicky, and crop-tops, bike shorts and Crocs for Paris. “What’s Crocs?” Kathy asks. “Plastic shoes,” Paris explains. “Diplo just did a collab and he’s, like, the only person who could make Crocs look good.”
The exchange is classic Kathy and would come as no surprise to viewers of RHOBH. On the show, she has, after all, mistaken ear drops for eye drops — a painful encounter; Red Bull for juice before bedtime — a long night, indeed; and believed the expression “hunky dory” (meaning everything is fine) is the name of a person. “I found out that Hunky Dory is a guest that sometimes visits, but he never stays very long,” she said of her recent discovery.
“I’ve enjoyed myself a lot, and I wasn’t going in and looking or expecting anything,” Kathy says of her reality show stardom. “So when you’re received well, it feels good.”
In fact, she’s the comedic relief from all the drama on a series known for shouting and tears. Accolades echo on social media, with many viewers calling her a “refreshing” addition to the series.
“I’m so proud. It makes me laugh, and all of my friends are calling me. I’ll see them kind of obsessed with my mom,” Paris says. “And then just all the fans writing, and on social media sending me memes and videos. I get a lot of me from her.”
“I think it’s hysterical,” Nicky says of her mom’s RHOBH fame. “Initially, I was horrified, but I love how she was just herself. And people fell in love with her because she was herself. She wasn’t trying to impress people and show off.”
Though not an official cast member like her sister Kyle Richards, in her role as a friend to the cast, Kathy has appeared on all episodes so far. Most guests don’t get that much screen time — and most don’t inspire as many memes.
“I’ve heard people refer to Kathy being in this as a stroke of casting genius. If you go through iterations, we judge whether it’s been a good part of the franchise depending on who was on,” said Robert Thompson, a pop culture expert who serves as the director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. Thompson, who has watched Paris’ unscripted “The Simple Life” series as well as all “Real Housewives” franchises, believes there’s circular learning between mother and daughter. “Kathy Hilton knew about showbiz before Paris was born, but in many ways, the child became the parent in terms of manipulating and using the pop culture environment of the time,” Thompson said.
If Kathy is the comic relief and viral breakout of the group, Paris is the legend. Back in the early 2000s, she became one of the most successful early pioneers of reality TV and an omnipresent figure in media. Her influence extended offscreen, too. She inspired a haul of trends — think velour tracksuits, trucker hats and chihuahuas as props. In fact, Forbes ranked her No. 1 on its list of the Most Overexposed Celebrities in 2008, the same year she launched her MTV reality series “Paris Hilton’s My New BFF.”
Over the years, Kathy has always been a source of support in the background of her daughter’s media exposure, including episodes of “The Simple Life” and “The World According to Paris.”
But will roles reverse with Paris and Nicky popping up in RHOBH if Kathy makes a return next season?
“I wouldn’t ask them because I feel like that would be taking advantage,” Kathy says. “Because they’re very, very busy.” But Kathy thinks her daughters would do it “if it was something important” and involved a charity component. “I want to do one charity event for dogs and then for this other very special group, but I want to keep it a secret,” adding that she thinks “they would want to stop by and say hi” if it was filmed on RHOBH.
She’s been asked to return for the season 11 reunion, much to the viewers’ delight. As far as a second act in season 12, she says, “I really enjoyed being a part of this current season, so if I am invited to return, it is something I would give serious thought to doing.”
And Nicky’s leaving room open to the possibility of an appearance on the show in the future. “My mom has never asked me to be on it — but we always support each other, so who knows.”
Both Hilton sisters have sustained projects of their own, particularly in the fashion space and beyond. Nicky’s Upper East Side lifestyle and streamlined fashion sensibilities cemented her chic shoe collaboration, and Paris’ spirited flair has extended to a range of consumer goods.
Since 2019, Nicky’s French Sole partnership has drawn attention, and this summer, she saw the release of her first 100% sustainable collection that includes sneaker espadrilles and flats. “We partnered with Amanda Hearst’s website, Maison de Mode, which really champions ethical and sustainable brands,” Nicky shares. “And it was very different to work with all these different recycled and organic materials. We found this fantastic factory in Spain that specializes in sustainable materials, so I’m really pleased — it’s done very well.”
“That’s cool that you partnered with someone who you were literally in the crib with,” added Kathy, of Nicky’s friendship with Hearst.
Now celebrating their fourth seasonal collection together, French Sole’s wholesale director Nisim Frank called Nicky “a true pleasure to work with.”
“She always has a clear vision of what she wants and is involved in every aspect of the line — from the baby blue soles, pricing and our recent sustainable collection.”
Nicky’s clout in social media has also given a boost to the brand and opened up a greater audience reach with her 1.2 million followers, according to Launchmetrics, a software and data insights company with a focus on fashion, beauty and luxury. Her recent post celebrating the latest Nicky Hilton x French Sole collaboration was 98 times more powerful in Media Impact Value than French Sole’s own post with its nearly 8,000 followers. (MIV is a proprietary metric that assigns a true monetary value to marketing strategies across print, online and social media in order to calculate ROI.)
For spring ’22, there are plans to expand the sustainable collection, and for fall ’21 Nicky will introduce a new design inspired by one of her favorite fall trends, Frank added.
Of course, Paris is the undisputed business leader in the family, as she continues to build an empire with 19 product lines, including shoes, clothes, handbags, jewelry, lingerie, dog clothes and makeup, as well as media projects. “I’m about to release my 29th fragrance,” she said, listing off her current commitments. “I’m investing in a lot of tech products and VR and NFT and writing my third book and doing my second album. And I have my podcasting company, my deal with Warner Brothers, my own production company deal, and my new show called ‘Paris in Love,’ which we’re shooting right now.”
“My daughter has offices and a lot on Warner Brothers. I was very proud when I read that,” Kathy added.
All of this ambition, Paris said, comes from “just wanting to make [the family] proud — I feel like it’s just something that runs in my blood.”
Kathy said they owe their drive to her husband, Richard, chairman and co-founder of luxury real estate brokerage firm Hilton & Hyland. “That really comes from dad’s family,” Kathy says.
“Dad learned it from papa,” adds Paris, whose grandfather is Barron, son of Hilton hotel founder Conrad.
“Dad was self-made,” says Kathy.
Mom’s work ethic is also well-honed. At 9 years old, Kathy began her career as an actress. After retiring, she became an entrepreneur herself, owning stores in L.A. and selling products on QVC and HSN. She also had brief stints on reality shows, including hosting “I Want to Be a Hilton” in 2005.
“What’s interesting about Kathy is that she married into a family of men who aggressively pursued success and financial security and entrepreneurship. She just fit right in,” said J. Randy Taraborrelli, a biographer who penned “The Hiltons: The True Story of an American Dynasty.” “It’s not unusual for the women of the family to be formidable, but what is unusual is the high-profile nature of Kathy’s power — she’s a woman who lives her life out loud in a public way.”
Like mother, like daughters. Among Paris’ TV ventures is “Cooking With Paris” debuting Aug. 4 on Netflix, where she shows off her cooking prowess alongside guest stars like Kim Kardashian, Demi Lovato, Nikki Glaser, Saweetie and Lele Pons. Kathy and Nicky will also show up. “No one has a cuter kitchen,” Nicky says. “She’s got Swarovski spatulas, rainbow-colored plates.”
Kathy praises her lasagna as “incredible,” and admitted that though the recipe comes from her, Paris makes the better dish “because it comes out a little firmer.”
Described as “Martha Stewart with a twist,” expect the show to feature things like cannelloni getting a whimsical makeover. “I always like making them look like unicorns,” Paris explains. “All the food is very fun and cute and delicious.”
The program also serves as a reunion with her friend Kim Kardashian after appearing in her Skims ad campaign last year. “We had a lot of fun just being in the kitchen together and cooking and making frittatas. And she’s an amazing chef, she’s amazing,” says Paris.
Following on the heels of the cooking show is “Paris in Love,” a docuseries detailing her wedding plans with fiancé Reum. Planning a wedding amid COVID is “challenging, sure, and stressful, but we are doing it,” she shares, adding that she’s on the hunt for the perfect location to walk down the aisle. All three Hiltons were tight-lipped about the wedding specifics. “We’re deciding right now, you know, we’re trying to just find venues,” Paris explains, and her plans are to wed “before the end of the year for sure.”
What Paris wasn’t planning on was a July 27 New York Post Page Six story that falsely reported she was “pregnant and expecting her first child,” citing an unnamed source. The news went viral — so much so that her sister Nicky was left bewildered when she was congratulated on being an aunt while on the set of a photoshoot back in New York last week. “I was very confused,” she told FN. “And I just knew it was 100% not true because, first of all, I did spend a week with her in L.A., every single day, and she does not have the self-control or discipline to keep a secret like that from me. It’s ridiculous, so silly.” Nicky adds that she believed the report was out of touch with today’s values “to be picking women’s bodies apart.”
Almost immediately, Paris shot down the pregnancy rumors on her podcast “This is Paris” after receiving “thousands of texts.”
“The only thing in the oven at the moment is my ‘Sliving’ Lasagna,’” she said, referencing her new catchphrase for “slaying” and “living.” She added that she “can’t wait to have children in 2022” after her wedding.
And if there’s anything Paris can learn from Nicky’s 2015 wedding to James Rothschild, it’s to get her cake early — and to expect her mother to be at the center of the action.
“I know what I’m doing,” Kathy says of wedding planning. “Just trust me. Tell me just the color flowers you want. Tell me the menu. Trust me. Nicky’s wedding was incredible and absolutely beautiful.”
But there was one hitch, she says. “The cake. The Claridges Hotel ended up making the cake, we couldn’t find a cake. We tried every cake in the U.K. It was like nuts.” No doubt Nicky will be a critical part of her sister’s wedding planning, too.
As the shoot day ends, Nicky dashes off to catch her flight back to New York. But first, mom-in-charge has one more ask of her daughters: a quick Instagram Live for her fans. “Paris named me the Insta GOAT,” Kathy says, gleefully.
“You think you have a talk show now,” quips Paris.