Kris Jenner, orchestrator of the Kardashian symphony, is living her dream. Her home in Hidden Hills, California, brims with family and friends, not to mention producers, assistants, and sitters. The swirling maelstrom of humans checks in with Kris on various personal or business related matters. She is the glue and guide—the one who prods them down successful paths and forms them into a cohesive tribe. At her core she is a mother of six children, which is superwoman-like in itself.
You’d have to be living under a rock to not know the celebrity that she and her family command with the reality show Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Kris, 59 years old, engineers much of the inner workings of the empire. “I am living my dream because I get to work with my kids and watch them find their happiness. It’s so rewarding— we brainstorm around a conference table and have a really great time doing it,” she says.
Kris tends to underplay her role and puts the focus on her children, but managing more than 10 businesses and endorsements is daunting. Business and personal affairs are intertwined with her brood and she takes it all in stride. “Sometimes I just pinch myself because I feel completely blessed at all we have accomplished,” Kris says. She mentions spending time with her granddaughter North, the child of her daughter Kim and Kanye West, who comes to her house every day for breakfast. “It’s the sweetest thing to see her run around the house with all the cousins and see how close they all are,” she says. “It makes me so happy. When my kids are happy, I am happy.”
The show, which is in its 11th season, has changed the nature of celebrity. Her five daughters—all deep brunette beauties with pristine matte complexions, perfectly arched eyebrows, and wardrobes fit for a European catwalk—have become the obsession of the media and the public. Her son, Robert—also not hard to look at—sometimes seems overshadowed by the flashier girls, the only R in the group. Kris credits herself with the concept for the show and taking it to Ryan Seacrest, who sold it to the E! network. “For years people had been saying, ‘You guys should have a reality show—it would be crazy,’ and I didn’t pay much attention to that talk, but the idea did stay in the back of my mind.” she says. “My focus at that time was to develop something my kids could have for the rest of their lives—something they could create for themselves. And I learned quickly that all my kids have the most amazing work ethic. They all stepped up to the plate and showed me they were frickin’ amazing!” she says proudly. “For instance, this morning after Kim and I left the gym, we were brainstorming—writing it all down and then we execute. I love the creative process and being able to build something out of nothing,” she says.
The TV show may be a rallying cry for family solidarity, but Kris’s drive and business acumen have propelled the family to excel in several areas. “This year’s goal is beauty,” she says. “We’re getting ready to go in a major way with skin care and more fragrance— making it a cohesive beauty brand.” (The details of this were not available). The children have their own brands and business focus: make-up, hair extensions, clothing as well as collaborations with Pac Sun and Topshop. The three older ladies own a boutique called Dash with three significant locations: New York, Miami and Los Angeles. “Kourtney went to college to study fashion, and all of us love it and have our own distinctive style,” she says. “The girls sit down and make the design decisions choosing fabrics, stitching, buttons, and lining—all of that. They are very particular, and they love quality.” At the time of writing the launch of Kendall + Kylie was announced—a contemporary line of clothing and shoes targeting millennials. With two younger girls combined social media following of 72 million it’s a no brainer that fans will flock to the nascent brand.
The children learned to appreciate fashion and style from Kris, who exposed them to Valentino, Dolce&Gabbana, and other designers at an early age. “When I was young, I loved shopping at a store on Rodeo Drive called Lina Lee. Shopping there made me feel so special,” she recalls. “The girls grew up playing in my closet—trying on my shoes, etc. Now the tables have turned. They have introduced me to amazing talents.” She mentions Oliver Rousteing of Balmain and Ricardo Tisci of Givenchy. “It’s a whole new world,” she says, “and I love seeing up-and-coming designers— I love seeing people succeed.”
As for her personal style, she favors Celine and Givenchy, but admits that Chanel is her true addiction. “I’m the biggest Chanel fan and have been for over 30 years,” she says. “I love Karl Lagerfeld and appreciate all he has accomplished.” Kendall, her 18-year-old daughter—who is the sensation of the moment—modeled at the Chanel couture show in Paris this summer. “She walked out in the finale as the bride with Karl himself,” Kris recalls, “and I thought—‘Life doesn’t get better than this!’ I was so proud of her—my heart swelled.”
“As for shopping, I frequent Barneys, Neiman Marcus, Saks, and Maxfield’s— they have such variety—and I never have enough time,” she says. But when asked if she considers herself a tastemaker, she flatly says, “No, I don’t. But I believe that, no matter how old you are, a woman can look amazing. As you age, the body changes, and sometimes women give up,” she says. Kris Jenner—always polished and fashionable, modeled elegant seasonal looks in our fashion spread—evidence of putting her motto into practice. She doesn’t shy away from strong fashion statements.
It’s clear that Kris has instilled in her children the importance of the exterior’s being a mirror of the interior. “My mom, Mary Jo, is such an inspiration. She gets up every day and puts on the most adorable outfits. She always looks pulled together, and she’s 81 years old.” Fashion, Kris declares, is “presenting yourself to the world every day. It expresses how you feel about yourself. I was raised to always look your best.”
But looking buttoned-up and wearing high fashion does not exclude her from such guilty pleasures as going to Costco. Like most people, she can’t get enough of the tastings and the good deals. “Oh, my goodness, I am obsessed with Costco! We do runs at least twice a week. I love the salmon and rotisserie chicken, the dog beds,” she says. “Costco is my favorite store.” The contrast of Chanel and Costco is probably what people find so authentic about her.
Among the other Kris Jenner surprises is that she started a church, California Community Church, with her pastor a few years back. The pastor, who married her daughter Khloe and Lamar Odom, “has been in our lives a very long time,” she says. Her spirituality is clearly important in her life. A recent Easter Sunday service was attended by all of her family. As usual, the paparazzi captured the group, all dressed in a creamy white, as they walked from their vehicles to the church. This expressed the family values she has instilled in her children and now grandchildren. “First God, then family, then everything else” is her motto.
Her devotion to family is rooted in her upbringing in San Diego—she was born Kristen Mary Houghton in 1955. Her parents divorced when she was seven— Kris and her younger sister, Karen, were raised by their mother, Mary Jo, until her mother remarried. She credits Mary Jo with teaching her the essentials of a good life along with a strong business sense. “My mom has a children’s clothing store —for 45 years,” she says proudly. “It’s called Shannon & Company, and I used to work there when I was young. My dad was in a car accident in 2003, and when he was in the hospital, my mom wanted to close the store, but I said I would run it for her.”
Kris worked at the store in La Jolla every day, drove home to see Kendall and Kylie for three hours, and then drove back. It went on like that for 14 weeks,” she recalls. “I was exhausted trying to make it all work from San Diego, but I knew my mom and dad needed me.” Her father eventually died from a staph infection, which he acquired while in the hospital recovering from the car accident. “It was so devastating for my family,” she recalls. And then she got the news that Robert Kardashian, her first husband, was very sick. “I knew I had to find something to throw myself into that I was good at, so Kourtney”—her eldest daughter—“and I opened a children’s store. Soon after that the girls opened a boutique in Calabasas called Smooch which was very close to our home and three years later the reality show began. “We basically did the show because we thought it would be great exposure for our stores—as well as having fun,” she says.
A typical day for this alpha woman starts at 5 a.m. “After I have a coffee, I get myself to the gym in Beverly Hills, where I work out with Gunnar Peterson. After that, I start working from the minute I get into the car to go home. I look over everyone’s schedules to see where everyone is. I may hop on the phone with our attorney to go over deals that we’re negotiating. There is maintenance on every single thing we do,” she reveals. “I have a bunch of people in my office I couldn’t live without because ‘it takes a village,’ but it starts here”—meaning it starts with Kris. “I end my day at 5 or 6. I used to work into the night, but learned that is unhealthy, and I wasn’t feeling as productive the next day,” she says. “Then I can cook,” she adds with a smile, happy to also talk about her book, In the Kitchen With Kris (October 2014).
Kris’s love of cooking aligns with her caretaker nature. “I wrote it for my kids so that they know our favorite family recipes and for nostalgia sake. They call me constantly anyway to ask about recipes, so I thought I would write this family cookbook. Right now, I love to grill. Today I went to Williams-Sonoma and got some vegetable grillers for the barbecue. I love to throw a bunch of asparagus on the grill with salmon and then make a big salad,” she says. At the time of the interview, she was in the middle of a three-day juice cleanse that she took on with her assistant. “I live by the 80-20 rule: 80 percent of the time you eat really healthy and 20 percent you treat yourself. But every once in a while it’s good to cleanse,” she says.
Kris is a consummate professional in the business world—that is plain. Her mother was a store-owner at a time when that was uncommon. Her first husband, Robert, was a formidable attorney, and her second husband, Bruce Jenner, an Olympic medalist. What better influencers to teach strength and business acumen? These lessons seeped into her—by “osmosis,” she says—and surface when needed. “I follow my intuition,” she says. “I’ve spent a lot of time around really powerful people who happened to be successful, and they were very positive influences in my life— great mentors.” She adds, “Robert Kardashian taught me so much about business and dealing with people—all these years later they are some of my greatest tools. I’m so thankful for those lessons.”
But the sweeping popularity that the family enjoys comes with obvious pitfalls. Kris is a realist and admits that she and her family knew what they signed on for when they opened their lives up for the world to gawk at. But she finds fabricated stories about her and her family to be cruel. “I worry about my grandchildren because the Internet can be brutal,” she says. “What makes someone so evil and angry that they would say the cruelest things about another human being? I raised my kids kind of old-fashioned—if you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say it at all. I teach love, acceptance, and tolerance,” she explains. “People hide behind ‘freedom of speech.’ That’s what you are going to hide behind?” She continues: “I sometimes think that this generation is lacking in decency,” adding that “I’m strong enough and have a pretty thick skin, but when people go after my kids, I just hit block-delete, block-delete. It’s my mantra.”
Because she doesn’t publicize her philanthropic efforts she is frustrated that people assume she doesn’t have a benevolent nature. “I taught my kids to give back. Robert Kardashian would tell us to give back to the community and ‘do good things’ with our extra time—but don’t talk about it,” she reveals. “But in this world, if you don’t talk about your philanthropy, people don’t think you do it,” she protests. “For instance, I recently posted [a photo on Instagram of ] a basket of skincare products that I was given by Philosophy, and I thanked them for the gorgeous gift. Soon after comments were posted, saying, ‘You need to give back!’ Unless you shout it from the rooftops, people don’t know your charity work or philanthropy. I don’t think anyone should pass judgment,“ she says.
Although she has been graced with copious blessings life does have a way to reveal who is in charge. Pain and sorrow are not alien to Kris. Whether it’s Kim’s 72-day marriage to Kris Humphries or the breakup of Kourtney’s relationship, there have been bumps in the road. Her two divorces and recent revelation that her second husband, Bruce (now Caitlyn) is undergoing gender reassignment has likely caused Kris pain and consternation. She would only say, “I just want everyone that I love in my family and in my life to be happy, and so my wish for Caitlyn is that she finds her joy.” But her innermost feelings remain locked in her heart for now. No one is exempt from life’s difficulty and a wish for finding one’s joy is a step to healing. Kris, a true woman of substance, will not let anything stop her from enjoying her very full life.
When asked about her daughter, Kourtney’s recent relationsip issues she says, “she’s kind of my hero right now—she makes good decisions. She always puts her children first and is accepting, loving, and dedicated to her family—she doesn’t get easily ruffled. This situation has made me realize how strong she is.” Kourtney is currently a single mother with three children under the age of five and has recently left the children’s father, Scott Disick with whom she had a 10 year relationship.
Although business and family are paramount, her close-knit social posse’ keeps her giggling like a schoolgirl. Her girlfriends in her inner circle are of prime importance. People just don’t get what a goofball I am,” she quips. “They see the business side and the crazy family side, but I have a lot of friends who I enjoy spending time with. We have some serious belly-laughing going on when together, and that is so good for the soul. We really support each other, she says.
When asked what her greatest luxury is, she brings the conversation back to the core of her being: “Weekends with my kids. The memories of good times spent at our barbecues are stamped in my mind—playing tennis and swimming in the pool. I’m happy that my kids are now doing the same with their kids, and I still get to be a part of it. I feel lucky.”
Kris Jenner’s philosophy for living a good life became clear when she said, “Surround yourself with really good people who are like-minded. Life is too short to be with people who don’t have a good energy.” Kris, the matriarch of one of the most influential clans of this media-obsessed decade, is steering the Kardashian-Jenner ship the best way she knows how—with love and grace.
Interview by Laura Schreffler • written by Mimi Lombardo • photographs John Russo @ jorge perez reps • stylist Bruno Lima @ the grid agency hair Chris McMillan @ solo artists • makeup Patrick Ta @ the wall group stylist assistant Jenn Edelson