When the news broke that Kendall Jenner would be honoured as the Fashion Icon of the Decade at New York Fashion Week later this month, it should have signalled a career highlight.
Not so. Within hours a backlash had begun, with comments on Twitter ranging from, ‘Girl poses with the same old boring face, didn’t even do 10 diverse photoshoots & y’all giving her “Fashion Icon of the Decade”... Tragic’ to ‘Decade?? She was 11 a decade ago? Have you SEEN what the Kardashians were wearing 10 years ago’ and ‘I’m sorry, is Rihanna dead? Did she die and no one told me? Why is she receiving this?’
Such comments are becoming increasingly familiar. Just last month, Kendall was accused of ‘cultural appropriation’ once again after she used an emoji with a darker skin tone than her own when she posted a picture on social media. And a month before, an online fan club devoted to the 21-year-old publicly denounced her. Kendall Jenner Updates, which spent two years sharing the details of the model’s every move to 30,000 followers, wrote, ‘Disclaimer: we are aware we should’ve stopped giving her a pass a long time ago but at least we came to our senses OK?’
The reason? Not just one. Instead the fan site had a list of 14, including: Kendall wearing ‘a tshirt with the confederate flag on it’, ‘doing what the Jenners do best: stealing from other cultures’, wearing ‘a burkha as a disguise’ and [calling] ‘herself a workaholic but [cancelling] fashion shows to attend bday parties and hang out with unemployed rich friends’.
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Worst of all? ‘Not apologising’ for her much-criticised Pepsi advert, which was accused of exploiting protest movements. It featured the model defusing tension at a rally by offering a can of Pepsi to a police officer and was later pulled by the company, which admitted it had ‘missed the mark’.
Kendall Jenner at last year's Victoria's Secret show
The next day, Kendall – herself a follower of the site who sent messages to the account – had blocked them on Twitter. But in a world where a supermodel’s status is increasingly determined by the size of her online following (Kendall’s success has often been attributed to her 83.1 million Instagram followers), the implications could go beyond the realms of social media. Perhaps tellingly, her name was absent from the list of models who will walk the prestigious Victoria’s Secret catwalk this year, despite Kendall being part of the show in 2015 and 2016.
‘When there is a fan backlash it’s something of a worry: you can’t forget the power of fans,’ says celebrity PR expert Mark Borkowski. ‘If Kendall doesn’t start listening to the herd, then she will be in decline. The type of brand who wants to work with Kendall and her channels are the first people to walk away when they begin to smell dead meat.
‘What I’ve been surprised about is not quite the arrogance but the insensitivity in this case. There’s no evidence she’s listening to the zeitgeist, and that’s when fans turn.’
His solution? ‘Preservation of your brand is the most difficult thing when you’re no longer perceived to be the thing that is loved. You need strong people around you to sustain that.’