Perhaps it is inevitable that if you’re going to visit the Kardashian-Jenner compound, some drama is going to occur. It’s mid-December in Hidden Hills, the gated community outside Calabasas where Kris Jenner lives, in the home that millions and millions of viewers in more than 160 countries are already very familiar with, thanks to the enormously successful nine-year run of Keeping Up With the Kardashians – the reality show that redefined reality shows. (Could the matriarch of the family that hides nothing really live in Hidden Hills?) Outside the house, workers are hard at it, repaving the circular driveway with cobblestones imported from France. The project has taken a bit longer than planned because Kanye wasn’t happy about the colour grout Kris picked out – “and he was right,” she says – so they started over. And it must, must be done by December 24, or the Momager, who is hosting 150 people for Christmas Eve dinner, will not be pleased.
Boa, Marc Jacobs. Jacket, Brooks Brothers. Bib and shorts, Tommy Hilfiger Archive. Earings, David Yurman. Ring, Simon G Jewellery. Tights, Falke. Boots, Gianvito Rossi
The outside of the manse is not what you see on television. What you see is a faux façade, for safety reasons – the need for which will become apparent very shortly. “Corey Gamble,” Kris’ boyfriend says, introducing himself as he answers the door in grey sweats, bright orange sneakers and huge diamond earings. “Come on in.” As the whole world knows, Corey is nearly half Kris’ age (35 to her 60) and part of Justin Bieber’s management team. He is sweet and polite, and makes sure I’m comfortable in the sunroom behind the Christmas trees – three of them, several storeys tall, bedecked in Kris’ ‘theme’ for this season, candy-cane-stripe everything – and brings me a Fiji water.
A few minutes later, he ushers me into Kris’ gorgeously appointed office. It’s a few days before the holidays, and there are dozens of shopping bags on the floor, from Fendi, Barneys, Dolce & Gabbana and so on, all filled with impeccably wrapped gifts. These are Kris’ presents for her girlfriends, she will later tell me – except for a neatly arranged row of pyjamas, designed by Katy Perry, two sets for each family member. The rest of Kris’ presents for her brood are upstairs in the wrapping room. Kanye’s chef, who is in residence at Kris’ house with Kim and Kanye and their kids while their own home is being renovated, brings me coffee. From the upstairs, the coos of little Saint, Kim and Kanye’s newborn son, and North, their two-year-old daughter, can be heard. Kris is running late, Corey tells me.
Ten minutes later, “I apologise profusely,” says Kris, warmly hugging me hello. I make a mental note to ask her what moisturiser she uses because her cheeks are as soft as a baby’s bottom. There is really no need to apologise for a 10-minute delay, which in Celebrity Time is nothing, and particularly when she explains the reason for it. “So, yesterday,” she begins, “I was sitting here at my desk, doing the five million things I needed to do, and a guy walked into my office. Right there,” she says, pointing to the door. “And he was an intruder. My stalker.”
Jacket, Tommy Hilfiger Archive. Vintage bodysuit and hat, Early Halloween. Earrings, Kenneth Jay Lane. Tights, Falke. Shoes, Marc Jacobs
Seriously? “Oh, you have no idea. I get crazy just thinking about it. The police were here, and then you have to file a police report. It was three o’clock in the afternoon. He walked in and said, ‘Lucy, I’m home!’ – and nobody... Well, let’s just say, three people were fired yesterday.” Thanks to the multitude of security cameras in the house (which are separate from the TV cameras), the perp was identified and arrested by the time I got there. But it put a fine focus on a few of the things I was dying to ask Kris Jenner about. One, how do you ever have any privacy, any real time, when your entire life is a reality show? And what does it feel like to always be a target? There is a lot of venom out there directed at the Kardashian enterprise – particularly toward her.
Kris laughs, and leans forward at her desk. “Here’s the thing,” she says. “We have literally millions and millions of fans. I mean, even Kendall and Kylie have 50 million followers on Instagram – apiece. That’s a hundred million people you have somehow touched emotionally, enough to follow you on a social media platform. And I think with that also comes, you know, haters. But in comparison, like I tell my family, they’re such a small percentage."
Kris is happy to hold forth on these and all topics. It doesn’t take her long to kick back and relax in her comfy-chic all-black outfit – Givenchy sweater, Wolford leggings, sparkly Christmas-y Louboutin sneakers and big chunky Céline reading glasses. Her only jewellery is a necklace that says “Lovey” – what her grandkids call her. Nor does it take long to address the pink elephant in the room. “I was at her house last night,” she says of her husband of 23 years, Bruce, now Caitlyn, Jenner. “And it was... nice. Little by little. Baby steps, you know?” No. Who could possibly know what it’s like when you discover your ex-husband is a woman? “I think at some point, although it was difficult and, uh, a challenge... I just have to let it go. And try to be tolerant,” Kris says. How? “Prayer. God. You know, just trying to understand. It takes time. But time is a wonderful healer. And we have two children together. It’s important for my kids to see our family strong and united.” I ask Kris if, before Caitlyn’s transition, she knew any transgender people or had an opinion about it.
Jacket, vest, shirt and tie, Brooks Brothers. Trousers, Akris. Beret, Kangol. Sunglasses, Ray-Ban. Pocket square, Boss. Shoes, Dieppa Restrepo
“I never really thought about it before,” she says. “And I’d never known anyone who was transgender. I didn’t even know what the word meant. Because there’s transgender and transsexual, and there’s ...” A pause. “I mean, I just didn’t know much about it. So...” She smiles. “I definitely got a big education.” What about her perception of herself, as a woman – did she doubt herself, her own femininity? “No, I never. Thank God, I never doubted myself. I never really doubted my femininity. I just doubted the relationship. You know, ‘What were those 20-plus years all about?’ And I felt like, at some point anybody would feel like, ‘Wow, why was I put through this? For 20 years I could have been, you know, doing something else.’ But I really do believe everything happens for a reason.” And the reason, in this case, was Kendall and Kylie, the children she had with Bruce.
In Kris’ memoir, Kris Jenner... and All Things Kardashian, which was published in 2011, she describes Bruce Jenner, not her ex-husband Robert Kardashian, who passed away from cancer in 2003, as the love of her life. Does she still feel that way? The short answer: No.
She says the only regret she has is her divorce from Robert, the father of her four older children. “I had a wonderful, beautiful life with Robert. He was just an amazing man,” she explains, adding that as she went through the Bruce/Caitlyn thing, she wished she could call him, to have a solid shoulder to lean, or maybe, cry on.
Robert, a high-powered businessman and attorney who famously defended OJ Simpson in his 1995 trial, treated her well, she says, and provided her with a very cushy life. But in 1989, with four kids, she cheated on him. It led to a torrid affair (with a professional soccer player a decade her junior), which she has been open about before, including in her memoir. (And, yes, there will likely be another Kris Jenner memoir.) In one of the more poignant passages, she recalls the moment after Robert finds out and files for divorce, when she asks herself, WTF did I just do? She also learned from that experience – particularly when he cut off her credit cards – what it was like to have “no power”. She vowed that she would never be out of control again.
Despite putting everything out there for the world to see, Kris Jenner is still an enigma. Raised in a middle-class family in San Diego, she never went to college and barely graduated from high school, which bored her, she says. Instead, she pursued her dream of becoming a flight attendant, which she was for two years, until Robert Kardashian wooed her off the tarmac and married her when she was 22. Kris grew up in a Christian home, but says she became increasingly devout thanks to Robert, “a very spiritual man,” with whom she regularly attended Bible study in Beverly Hills. When I ask if she still considers herself born-again, she laughs at me. “Oh, yes! It doesn’t go away! I believe in God and the power of prayer.” She is also a homemaker who could kick Martha Stewart’s butt in her voraciousness for decorating, baking and entertaining. (She even published a cookbook, In the Kitchen With Kris, in 2014, and it’s pretty darn good.) She admits to being a fan of both Donald Trump (he’s a friend) and Hillary Clinton (“I think she’s great”), but insists, “I’m just not a very political person, and I keep some of my views to myself.” Unlike her ex Caitlyn, who is “really political, like whoa!” (Like conservative whoa.)
It’s worth noting that before there were Kardashians to be kept up with, Kris helped resurrect Bruce Jenner’s career early on in their relationship, helping him secure speaking engagements and endorsement deals. I ask when she found out about Bruce’s decision to transition. “The same time as everybody,” Kris says. He didn’t tell her first? “No. We were already divorced,” she explains. “And what are you going to do? You have to just be there. And you have to accept that everyone is going to have something.”
Jacket, shirt, shorts, and boots, Balmain. Vintage hat, Early Halloween. Ring, Kenneth Jay Lane. Tights, Fogal of Switzerland
Indeed, even closet watchers of Keeping Up With the Kardashians will admit that there’s a palpable closeness within the family – even when the going gets tough. Such as when her son-in-law former NBA star Lamar Odom was hospitalised after he was found unconscious at a brothel in Nevada in October. “He’s improving a little bit every day,” says Kris. “It’s tragic. So sad. And I love him so much. He’s the best, best, best.” Asked if she’s bothered by the unseemly circumstances of his situation, she shakes her head, “No.” Scott Disick, the father of her daughter Kourtney’s three children, was still invited to Kris’ Christmas Eve dinner despite his and Kourtney’s break-up last summer and his subsequent stint in rehab. When I bring up Kris’ son, Rob, who was on the show in prior seasons but now has chosen to keep a much lower profile, she is protective. “He’s good,” she says. “He just doesn’t want to be on camera as much as the rest of us. He’s more quiet and to himself.” And as for Kanye, arguably her most controversial son-in-law, “I couldn’t be prouder,” she exclaims. “One thing people don’t realise about him is, not only is he so beyond talented, but he’s also a genius. And when he’s here, he’s so present."
When I ask Kris about the biggest slam against her, that she sold out her family for fame, she removes her Céline reading glasses and stares straight into my eyes. “Nooooo,” she replies. “I made and created a show that my family was all on board with, and we were so excited because we got to work together.” Does she ever wonder if there would be such vitriol if it had been Bruce, or even Robert, who came up with what is surely an unprecedented and hugely successful family industry? “I think there’s definitely an attitude when a woman accomplishes anything,” Kris says. “But I also think people are very jealous. Or are bitter and angry about their own lives. So maybe they don’t have anything else to do but be nasty and criticise someone else. That sounds like a simple answer, but I don’t think it’s much deeper than that. And there are so many millions of people who are great to us that I can’t worry about some idiot in Oklahoma.” She smiles and glances at the piles of gifts that surround her. “You just have to have a thick skin and say, ‘That poor person, I feel sorry for you.’ ”
This article appears in the April issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia. On stands now.