First Families may come and go, but one model American lineage—unencumbered by term limits yet still subject to the fickle tastes of the viewing electorate, to be sure—has our enduring allegiance. Forget political dynasties: The Kardashian-Jenners of Calabasas, California are positively Hapsburgian in their conquest of the provinces of television, cosmetics, fashion and just about every form of social media in the realm. The undisputed head of the empire is Kris Jenner: ur-momager, swinging sixty-something and doting mother to Kourtney, Kim, Khloe, Robert, Kendall and Kylie (as well as a grandmother to six—at last count).
In the nine years that we have been keeping up (the first episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians aired in October 2007), there have been enough weddings, break-ups, births, botox binges and season finale cliffhangers to rival any soap. In fact, the endlessly compelling mundanities of the K’s have surely had a hand in hanging those daytime juggernauts out to dry. Who is to say how one learns to gauge the zeitgeist as deftly as Jenner has? As she tells it, her keeping the family’s position at the top of the pop-culture heap is less due to an ineffable gut instinct than it is a combination of good old fashion American elbow grease and, not surprisingly, a whole lot of love.
Almost a week after the birth of her sixth grandchild, Dream Renée Kardashian, to her son Robert and his girlfriend/partner Blac Chyna, Jenner’s excited coos over the phone are more reminiscent of a grandmother who just left the delivery room than one making a post-workout call from her home office on a Monday morning. “The baby is so fabulous,” she beams, nearly as besotted with Dream herself as she is watching Rob build his own family. “He’s so nurturing, and he’s such a care giver and such a sweet man. It’s really been such a joy to watch him go through this.”
Those who kept up with Dream’s birth on Instagram no doubt witnessed Chyna and her delivery crew’s take, performed between contractions, on “the mannequin challenge” (a viral social media phenomenon whereby participants are captured in video standing frozen to Rae Sremmurd’s Black Beatles). Perhaps the pinnacle of the current rage, Jenner reveals of their rendition: “It was Chyna and her girlfriends who said, ‘lets do this,’ and I thought that was such a great distraction. I was always so nervous in the delivery room, so I gave her a lot of credit because she was so excited and nervous but still wanted to do something to make everybody laugh!” Think Botticelli conceiving The Birth of Venus for Snapchat. Top that, mortals.
According to Jenner, there was no better time to welcome her latest bundle of joy: Dream’s November 10th arrival was a much-needed distraction from the fallout of the election. Jenner, who turned 61 on November 5, had a belated birthday dinner with friends out in L.A. while the polls closed before falling asleep watching the results trickle in and waking up, like much of the nation, to the surprise of a Trump win. “And now everyone has to find a way to come together,” Jenner says with the practiced diplomacy of America’s mom-in-chief.
Another highly anticipated distraction for her is the upcoming holiday season, which is historically a #BigDeal in the Kardashian-Jenner household. “The holidays are our big thing,” Jenner proclaims. Lest we forget the highly stylized Christmas cards she and the gang produce each year, ranging from David LaChapelle fantasy to steely black tie glamour or 90s Hells Angel chic (Google right now). On specific rituals, the family line is very clear: “We have a lot of traditions that we celebrate year after year and believe me…if I forget ONE thing,” be it their favorite popcorn or those perfect little Life Saver books moms nationwide stuff into stockings, “the kids let me know right away!”
Festivities notwithstanding, as one year winds down and the next beckons (please hurry), Jenner begins what she considers perhaps her most important work. “January is a time when me and my kids individually get together and talk about our goals for the year. I think that’s really important for us. As a businesswoman, what’s important to me [is] to feel what each one of my kids wants to do with their year, and what they would love to see happen in their lives. Then it’s my job to kind of go out there and figure out how to make that happen!”
Listening to Jenner talk shop, you get the sense the matriarch is less Mama Rose in Balmain separates and more Jobsian svengali. Looking back on 2016, her proudest manifestation was without a doubt the runaway success of Kylie Cosmetics, the eponymous makeup collection of her youngest daughter with ex Caitlyn Jenner, which launched in September 2015 and includes her marquee product, The Kylie Lip Kit. There is no question Jenner’s family has changed that industry as we know it. From the mass marketing of contouring and highlighting to the appointment of her and Jenner’s other daughter, Kendall, as the face of Estee Lauder, they have disrupted every level of beauty from the DIY to the billion-dollar establishment with ingenuity, exceptional instinct and fun. Kris credits Kylie’s laser focus and uncanny work ethic (a rarity among 19 year olds) to the ultimate success of the line. “She’s unbelievable. When she focuses, there’s nobody like her.”
As for the key to keeping up with all her other myriad businesses and projects, Jenner follows one guiding principle: being present. “You just can’t build something and hand it to someone else to run,” she swears. The hands-very-much-on and five-steps-ahead approach keeps her busy around the clock, but secure in the knowledge that she and only she is minding the store. “You have to have your hand in every pot…and really keep stirring.”
Still, at the root of all of this serious empire building is simply a mom who wants her kids to need her help every once in a while. She relays a telling anecdote about immediately sending an IV drip to one of her children who recently complained of feeling a little exhausted. “I love when my kids need me,” Jenner says, “Any mom loves that!” And at a moment when the country could use some much needed TLC, it would come as no surprise if Kris Jenner knew exactly what we needed—just as she has so shrewdly demonstrated every Sunday night for the last decade.