“Ever since I was seven years old, I always dreamed of modeling, so I decided to put a book together to show my mom.” That’s what a 14-year-old Kendall Jenner announced on an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians in 2010. The camera pans across a stark white folder filled with amateur photos of the first Kardashian-Jenner child, which she created in Microsoft Word. “If this is what Kendall really wants to do then I’m on board, and I’ll get the word out,” Kris Jenner declares after fawning over one photo where her daughter “looks [just] like Kim.”
After signing with Society Management in November 2013, Jenner made her runway debut just a year later, walking for Marc Jacobs at New York Fashion Week. In 2018, Forbes announced that the reality star was the highest-paid model in the world, raking in $22.5 million. Despite this, Jenner has always remained adamant that her Kardashian association has been a hindrance to her acceptance in the fashion industry rather than a one-way ticket to the top. “People think that this [success] just came to me. But it didn’t,” she said in an interview with LOVE in 2014. “What I have has almost worked against me. I had to work even harder to get where I wanted because people didn’t take me seriously as a model. Because of the TV show.”
But what makes Jenner worth millions aren’t her long legs, alabaster skin, or conventional good looks; it’s the very tie to the Kardashian dynasty she denounced. The Kardashian-Jenner name has become a brand in and of itself, spawning an 18 season-long reality show, a billion-dollar cosmetics giant, as well as shapewear, perfumes, countless apps, and a myriad of clothing lines.
Every new spinoff hinges on the hope that people want to see the Kardashians rebooted into another proliferation of their original selves — and it often works. At this moment in time, though, it feels as if we’re drowning in a sea of reboots, not just ones from the royal family of Calabasas. “We are in a very prominent period of reboots,” pop culture expert and Trustee Professor of Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, Robert Thompson tells me on the phone. “This is by no means anything new, [but] there are just more places for reboots and that’s why we’re seeing so many of them.” As we’re bombarded with reboots from Disney, as well as the ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s, it also seems as though celebrities themselves are being rebooted, too.
Celebrity kids are overrunning catwalks. Often spitting images of their parents, these version 2.0 celebrities captivate audiences in a way that’s unrivaled by unknown up-and-coming stars. We all know that streaming services, movie studios, and network television have consistently cashed in on nostalgia and name recognition. The fashion industry is no different, using these same techniques to lure attention to their runway shows and editorial campaigns.
Kaia Gerber, who’s a dead ringer of her supermodel mother, Cindy Crawford, is today’s most celebrated fashion model. Since her debut with Chrome Hearts, she’s walked for Alexander Wang, Marc Jacobs, Valentino, Chanel, and Saint Laurent. Just last year, she collaborated with the late Karl Lagerfeld to create her first collection, Karl x Kaia. And when it comes to the most important metric of all — Instagram follower engagement — Gerber has successfully surpassed her nepotic peers Bella Hadid, Gigi Hadid, and Kendall Jenner. We’re all obsessed with mini-Cindy.
“Brands want models that have a big social media following, and Lagerfeld has always been good at picking up on that,” explains Geraldine Wharry, futurist fashion forecaster and designer. “So now it’s shifted from girls who have a ton of talent or personality to basically needing a big following.”
In the ’90s, models had it all: talent, extreme beauty, towering height, and a larger-than-life presence. Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, and Claudia Schiffer were part of the golden age of modeling, and this charming cavalcade of towering women became the new A-list.
As the ’90s drew to a close, models were no longer fashionable. Allure Editor-in-Chief Linda Wells told The New York Times: “Nobody cares about models anymore.” She wasn’t wrong. Models were being replaced with celebrities on the covers of fashion magazines like Vogue, Marie Claire, and Elle as the runway was filled with thin, anonymous European clothes horses.
It’s impossible to recapture the dizzying heights of the ’90s almost 30 years later. But every decade has its phenomenon; ours happens to be social media. With Instagram, the public has become privy to the inner lives of celebrities like the Crawfords, Kardashians, P Diddy, the Baldwins, Sylvester Stallone, Lionel Richie, and Yolanda Hadid. We transfer our fascinations with the rich and famous onto their children, who we watch grow up, morbidly fascinated with the physical resemblance they bear to their parents.
“Before, when supermodels ended up marrying superstars, nobody would care. Now that their kids are growing up in the spotlight, they’re being watched and groomed for who knows what, and they have genetics in their favor,” Wharry adds. “It’s like we’re trying to reboot supermodel culture in the ’90s. I feel like the fashion world is trying to recreate this mystique again.” Part-model, part-celebrity, these offspring are the perfect hybrid for social media.
Brands are after social engagement, and one surefire way of grabbing consumers’ attention is endorsements from the likes of Kendall and Kylie Jenner, Hailey Bieber, Christian Combs, Sofia Richie, or the Stallone sisters. Anonymous talents are overlooked for those with name recognition, and designers like Michael Kors, Dolce & Gabbana, Philipp Plein, Chanel, and Marc Jacobs pack their runways with celebrity spawn in the hopes of increased Instagram engagement. Making a splash is no longer about the unexpected or avant-garde but rather which A-list celebrity will make a surprise cameo. Even Versace brought out Jennifer Lopez in her iconic green Grammys gown for their Milan show this year. Sex used to sell; now celebrity endorsements sell better.
The Revolution Will Be Rebooted
As the old becomes new again, it begs the question: Do we crave originality? “If you’re sick of reboots, you can watch something else,” Thompson says with a laugh. “If this were 1970, you could say, ‘I’m sick of reboots,’ because there were only three television networks and that’s all that was out there. But when someone says there are so many reboots out there, can’t Hollywood bring us anything original? That’s crazy. There [is] all kinds of original stuff out there.”
If America’s Next Top Model has taught us anything, it’s that there are plenty of models building careers from the ground up in hopes of superstardom. But is there any room at the top? “It’s very hard to produce a superstar that lives up to the hype of the ’90s or ’00s,” says Wharry. “It’s harder to produce the next George Michael or Prince… it’s just so much more fragmented now.”
Both Thompson and Wharry concede that pop culture as it stands today is inherently fragmented. In the ’80s and ’90s, we all consumed our entertainment from similar sources. Pop culture was singular; MTV informed our music taste, Vogue was the undisputed authority on fashion, and “everybody saw the same movies, and even the same TV shows once or twice, even if they didn’t like them,” Thompson adds. “It’s harder to get a big audience to pay attention. I think one of the reasons we’re tempted to go to the reboot or go to the Jenner or Crawford names is that they’re already established. And what better way to establish yourself in a fragmented streaming digital era than to piggyback onto brands that were built back when we had a singular mass culture?”
With attention spans becoming shorter, everyone and everything has a higher turnover rate. And in a world where everything is more disposable, we’re forced to look to names that have proven they can hang. For now, we are at the behest of social media, metrics, and engagement. “But we don’t know how social media is going to evolve,” Wharry warns. “You know, right now everything is on a phone. We don’t know if people will be marketing celebrity DNA or it’s going to end up on the label of a garment that you can scan, like ‘Oh my God, this garment belonged to Bella Hadid.’”
As the next generation of celebrity kids grow up, we see their future careers take shape. North West has already starred in her first Fendi campaign and snagged a solo magazine cover. Blue Ivy Carter earned her first songwriting and composing credit on Beyoncé’s soundtrack for The Lion King.
For those who are sick of reboots — whether they be Kaia Gerber, Kendall Jenner, or The Little Mermaid — Thompson concedes: “The end of the planet will probably come before the end of reboots does.”