How Kendall Jenner Became the Highest-Paid Model in the World

Kendall Jenner’s emergence as the “world’s highest-paid supermodel” in 2018 signalled a profound transformation in the modelling industry. In an arena once dictated by those who navigated a traditional climb up the industry ladder, Jenner, leading the charge of the ‘insta models,’ ushered in an era where social media influence became paramount.

Her foray into modelling began at the age of 14, when Kris Jenner, her mother, facilitated her signing with Wilhelmina Models in 2009. Swiftly securing her first gig with Forever 21 and landing the cover of American Cheerleader magazine in 2012, Jenner’s trajectory into high fashion commenced in 2013. The young model graced the pages of Miss Vogue Australia, and Harper’s Bazaar Arabia and inked a deal with Society Management.

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The pivotal year of 2014 saw Jenner making waves on the high fashion runway, walking for Marc Jacobs in a show that stirred both media attention and controversy due to her provocative see-through top. While she claimed that her Kardashian background hindered rather than helped her career, industry insiders recognized the undeniable impact of her reality TV fame, especially in an era where models could be valued for their social media following alone.

In 2015, Jenner continued to make strides in the fashion world, walking for the likes of Marc Jacobs, Vera Wang, Alexander Wang and Fendi. Her face became synonymous with Calvin Klein Jeans’ #MyCalvins campaign, and she made her debut in the Victoria’s Secret Runway Show, showcasing a blue set of embroidered lingerie.

Image Courtesy: Seventeen Magazine

As her career flourished, Jenner found herself gracing the covers of numerous magazines both in the U.S. and abroad. Simultaneously, she signed a contract with Estée Lauder and navigated the highly competitive world of fashion weeks alongside fellow ‘insta models’ like the Hadid sisters, Cara Delevigne, and Kaia Gerber.

However, Jenner encountered a significant setback in 2017 with her involvement in a controversial Pepsi ad, which depicted her handing a can of Pepsi to a police officer in a misguided attempt to address social issues. The ad was promptly pulled amid waves of criticism, and Jenner publicly apologized on her television show. Nevertheless, her sisters reassured her that this would serve as a learning opportunity.

The subsequent year saw Jenner reclaiming her status as the highest earner in the industry, a testament to her resilience and ability to rebound from adversity. She continued to feature prominently on the covers of major American magazines and became a fixture during fashion month.

Image Courtesy: The New York Times

Despite occasional accusations of not taking her profession seriously, Jenner’s influence extended beyond the runway. With 262 million followers on Instagram, she embodied the modern face of the fashion industry, where social media presence often outweighs traditional modelling credentials. While fashion enthusiasts scrutinized her walk and expressions, Jenner consistently topped best-dressed lists for her red carpet appearances and laidback street style alike.

Beyond modelling, Jenner’s financial success extended to her entrepreneurial ventures. In 2021, she launched 818 Tequila and took on the role of Creative Director for FWRD, showcasing her business acumen beyond the realm of modelling.

The question of whether someone can usurp her position in the model hierarchy remains uncertain, but for now, Jenner’s status appears firmly secured.

-Britney Jones