Nepotism is a word often associated with the fashion industry, and unfortunately that association is not an unreasonable one. We’ve all heard the age old phrase “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” but what if the more appropriate phrase is now “it’s not who you know, it’s who conceived you.”
Simply put, fashion has become obsessed with celebrity children. Sit back and think of some of the biggest new names in the industry: Gigi and Bella Hadid, Lily-Rose Depp, Sofia Richie, Kaia Gerber, Paris Jackson, Francis Bean Cobain, Brooklyn Beckham, Jaden Smith, and Willow Smith (I would continue but honestly the list could go on for days). What do these stars all have in common? They have famous parents. In fact, for many of them their parents are some of the most famous people in the world, and as a result, they are headed down the same road. Whether it’s willingly or not, these kids were always destined for fame and success.
Kendall and Kylie Jenner are prime examples of kids destined for a life in the spotlight. While Kourtney, Kim, and Khloe got to live their teenage years off camera, the Jenner girls have had their lives filmed since they were 9 and 11 years old. Their family has become one of the most famous families in Western culture, and as a result, it has not been hard for the girls to build careers. They’ve both become Instagram sensations with over 177.4 million followers between them. Kendall has become one of our generation’s biggest supermodels and Kylie has a cosmetic line that sells out in minutes every time a new product drops.
Willow and Jaden Smith have also been working from a young age. Willow made her first film appearance, alongside her dad, at just 7 years old in "I am Legend" and released her first single, "Whip My Hair," at the tender age of 9. Likewise, Jaden was 8 when his first film came out, "The Pursuit of Happiness." On top of this, they are now taking the fashion industry by storm; despite only being 16 and 18, they were the winners of the New Fashion Icons Award at the 2016 British Fashion Awards.
In fact, even Google-searching for "celebrity kids in fashion" lands you with heaps of articles titled "Celebrity kids set to take over the modelling/fashion industry," and the lists are all 30-40 names long. That’s a lot of famous offspring, and arguably a lot of jobs or careers us mere mortals - who study and grind out years of unpaid creative work for our portfolios - will never achieve because our parents aren’t famous. Unfair? Yes. Surprising? Not in the slightest.
Access to fame, influence, and a whole industry network is the biggest stepping stone for any career. Kendall Jenner was never going to truly struggle to become a model because at the end of the day, she comes from one of the most famous and influential families in the West; her name is enough to sell anything, before you even consider modelling ability. The big question, however, is whether these kids are really worthy of their success. I read the other day that the arts is "a playground for famous offspring" - a playground that they can afford to play in because they have money and a pre-existing fanbase. Brooklyn Beckham, for one, is releasing his first photography book this month, and has already shot a Burberry campaign at the age of 18. I know aspiring photographers (who arguably take better photos) in their mid-twenties who haven’t come close to achieving anything like that. I’m surrounded by artists with just pennies in their bank account, struggling to survive, trying to build a career and a name for themselves, and so when I see celebrity kids handed a successful career at 18, it obviously irks me. It irks me because they didn’t have to struggle for their art. Kendall Jenner has never had to wait for her next modelling pay-cheque to come in just so she can make rent, nor has she been in debt to her agency, lived in scummy model apartments, or gotten lost on public transit on her way to a casting. Brooklyn Beckham has never had to sell one of his cameras just so he can afford his weekly travel and food.
While they may have worked to prove themselves to be something other than 'just' the child of someone famous, they haven’t truly worked for their career. Can you be worthy of your successes if you didn't struggle for them? But then again, can we truly criticize them when we - consumers and followers - are one of the main reasons for their success?
Arguably, this new phenomenon of elite kids is perpetuated by social media, in particular Instagram, and society's voyeuristic playground. 20 years ago, teens and young adults got their celeb information from weekly magazines providing questionable gossip and grainy paparazzi shots; fast forward to today, and young people have a world of information, fake or not, at their fingertips. The internet provides us with unlimited 24/7 access to whatever and whoever we want to find out about. For celebrities, this can become a nuisance and a huge threat to their privacy. Bring their kids into the equation and you have a melting pot of intrusion and inescapable fame.
In fact, 90% of Instagram users are under the age of 35, and so it is no surprise that it has become an incubator for young fame. Young people are interested in their celebrity peers. Instagram provides us with a look into the lives of the rich and famous, and, healthy or not, fair or unfair, it has become a ubiquitous part of life in the digital era.
Commenting on the stressful side of Instagram in an interview with LOVE Magazine, Lily-Rose Depp stated she would be “much less stressed out without social media,” saying “it’s like being afraid of stepping on glass.” There is an obvious tendency to place celebrities on a pedestal and treat them as higher beings, but in doing so we forget that underneath it all, they are just regular people experiencing anxiety and stress as we do. In fact we, their followers, are one of their biggest anxieties.
On the flip-side, there are some who are actively using their social media accounts to speak out, make a difference and use their influence for the good of society rather than just posting airbrushed holiday snaps. When interviewed by Pharrell Williams for Interview Magazine, Willow Smith said:
“I know so many kids who literally are, like, Instagram-famous… Kids will paint a picture of themselves that is so far beyond who they actually are…And then there's people, like me and Jaden, who want to utilize social media to elevate the consciousness of those people who feel like all they want from social media is to be famous…you can actually be a voice. You can actually say something that's inspiring and not just make people feel like you need to buy things and be a certain way.”
It is this level of self-awareness and responsibility that the Smith siblings have that has elevated their success and, very often, sees them respected by fashion followers for their unique voices and not simply for their surnames. While they may be the children of two superstar actors, they have also shown themselves to be beyond the entitled mentality that one might anticipate; the siblings recognize what they have, where they come from, and they try to use their position of influence to better the society they live in by supporting causes like Black Lives Matter, #NoDAPL, and intersectional feminism. Social media is not about portraying an aspirational (read: unrealistic) life, but for them it is about starting a movement, getting their followers to think, and even encouraging them to pursue their art.
It is important then, that as they build their own careers in the limelight, celebrity kids are not ignorant of their roots. There is nothing worse than someone saying they’re a struggling artist when they most definitely are not struggling. And while it is aggravating for those of us without fame or fortune, who are entering into a highly oversaturated job market in a career field like fashion, there comes a point when we just need to accept that this will always be the way of things. Nepotism is real. Nepotism is hard to fight. The best that we can do is to work hard and prove that we are tough competition.
Image via @brooklynbeckham