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Kylie Jenner might not be a billionaire. Well really, I suppose the issue at hand is she (possibly?) was never a billionaire. A splashy exposé from Forbes claims that the make-up mogul and her family have inflated Kylie Cosmetics’ success for years. As a result, the financial publication reports it does not “think” Jenner is a billionaire. Near the end, we discover Jenner’s real estimated net worth—a humiliating, paltry sum of $900 million.
Jenner has already fired off all the predictable responses to Forbes’ piece. On Friday morning she tweeted, “what am i even waking up to. i thought this was a reputable site.. all i see are a number of inaccurate statements and unproven assumptions lol. i’ve never asked for any title or tried to lie my way there EVER. period.” She also pushed back against the publication’s allegation that her camp provided Forbes “tax returns that were likely forged” in order to inflate her perceived wealth.
Soon after her initial tweets, perhaps remembering that there are many more important things happening in the world, Jenner added to her initial thoughts: “but okay i am blessed beyond my years, i have a beautiful daughter, and a successful business and i’m doing perfectly fine,” she wrote. And then: “i can name a list of 100 things more important right now than fixating on how much money i have,” Jenner wrote, before tweeting soon after about how little she obviously cares about all of this.
It’s not hard to imagine why Jenner seems to be taking the piece so personally—apart from her family’s normal enthusiasm for a good feud. The Forbes piece seems to relish the ire that often surrounds the Kardashian-Jenner clan. The families, the publication says, “tend to induce eye rolls and sighs among jaded media consumers” and have “spent years fighting Forbes for higher spots on our annual wealth and celebrity earnings lists.” Jenner’s cosmetic brands, Forbes makes sure to note, “began as a way to cash in on a minor scandal”—the lip injections she denied using for years before using them as a marketing hook.
But Forbes declines to get into much detail about its own interactions with the Kardashian-Jenner family, beyond occasional references to the odd snippy email exchange. As the publication unspools its subject’s “web of lies,” it’s almost enough to make one forget that with this piece, Forbes is really reporting that it spent years feeding an image its own analysts and writers have suspected to be false since 2016.
The accuracy of rich-people lists like the Forbes 400 has long been the subject of discussion and suspicion. Personal wealth accrued from privately held companies can be notoriously hard to calculate. As one source who works with ultra-rich clients told Daily Beast Editor At Large Lloyd Grove last year, “It’s really purely guesswork and dick-measuring at its finest.”
“They will say, ‘We have research that shows this person gets this amount’—they estimate,” the source told Grove last September. “They allow you to tweak it. They are wildly inaccurate. There’s no attribution. They never tell you where the client will be on the list.” One person familiar with the Forbes reporting process told Grove, “It’s an art, not a science. A lot of it is precedent—it builds off the existing database and information over time. It’s the same people who have been working on it for years and they understand it. They do have tremendous skill and forensic ability.”
One gets a whiff of the negotiations Grove’s expert described in the Forbes piece. The exposé notes that Forbes first became suspicious of Kylie Cosmetics’ financials in 2016, as Jenner’s team lobbied for her to get a cover on the magazine like her sister Kim Kardashian West recently had. Forbes reports that Jenner’s team handed over tax returns that would have placed Jenner at No. 2 on its Celebrity 100 list, “behind only Taylor Swift.”
“But the documents, despite looking authentic and bearing Kylie Jenner’s signature, weren’t exactly convincing since the story they told, of e-commerce brand Kylie Cosmetics growing from nothing to $300 million in sales in a single year, was hard to believe,” Forbes continues. “After speaking with a handful of analysts and industry experts who also found the Jenners’ claims implausible, we settled on a more reasonable estimate for our 2017 Celebrity 100 list: $41 million in overall earnings for Kylie, good for the No. 59 spot.”
Although Forbes never used the numbers that first made it suspicious of Jenner, it’s striking how readily the publication offered coverage that perpetuated the very image her team allegedly fudged the numbers to create.
Despite its apparent suspicions about Jenner’s personal wealth, as well as the real size of her business, Forbes gave Jenner her cover story in the summer of 2018—a piece whose headline clucks, “How 20-Year-Old Kylie Jenner Built A $900 Million Fortune In Less Than 3 Years.” (Forbes noted that after WWD and other publications had run with the numbers it rejected, analysts seemed more optimistic about their plausibility.) A year later, Jenner got another cover—one that was widely lampooned for suggesting she was a “self-made” billionaire despite her own family’s significant wealth and platform.
Which brings us back to the idea that started this whole mess: Kylie Jenner is, I guess, not a billionaire. She is, instead, a $900 million-aire.
None of the experts Forbes spoke with seem particularly scandalized by this realization. As Jefferies equity analyst Stephanie Wissink put it, “It’s fair to say that everything the Kardashian-Jenner family does is oversized. To stay on-brand, it needs to be bigger than it is.” Added cosmetics veteran Jeffrey Ten, “You have to remember they are in the entertainment business. Everything in entertainment has to be exaggerated to get attention.” And truth be told, are any of us truly shocked?
Kylie Jenner should not lie about her wealth. But we all know that a lot of rich people do it; our own president has done it. The emperor has no clothes and, apparently, way less make-up revenue than we thought. But to quote one of Jenner’s half sisters, “There’s people that are dying.” For most of us, $1 billion and $900 million are equally unattainable fortunes. We have better things to do right now than to pretend to be surprised.