Paris Hilton is undeniably one of the most influential celebrities of our time. As the namesake of craven gossip entity Perez Hilton in the early aughts, the heiress essentially invented the concept of being famous for being famous, which has come to define our current concept of celebrity today. Amongst a reckoning of how we as a culture treated young, female celebrities of that era, there’s been an overdue recognition of the impact Hilton had on our culture. In honor of her Netflix show Cooking With Paris, where she cooks with friends like Kim Kardashian, Saweetie, and Demi Lovato, we break down some of the heiress’ most defining cultural moments.
In this E! reality TV show, Hilton and Nicole Richie work low-playing, laborious jobs, like cleaning houses, milking cows on diary farms and in the kitchen of a Kansas Sonic, while saying “that’s hot,” and wearing stilettos, in this commentary on capitalism, income inequality, and celebrity that pivoted them both to uncharted fame and remains a seminal fixture of television history.
“That’s hot,” is Hilton’s calling card, the tagline that immediately conjures a Juicy Couture jacket, giant sunglasses and a small chihuahua, the ubiquitous uniform of the mid-aughts that Hilton helped popularize. After popularizing the tagline on The Simple Life, Hilton had to sue Hallmark for misappropriating her use of the phrase. She settled out of court, reportedly walking away with a sizable amount of cash.
The Julien Macdonald chain mail minidress Hilton wore to her 21st birthday party in 2002 made her look like a walking disco ball more than a decade before people started dressing in clothes made to look good on Instagram. The dress became legendary, even prompting an homage from Kendall Jenner during her own 21st birthday celebration. What’s even more iconic is that Hilton started rewearing the dress for DJ gigs in 2017, 15 years after its first appearance, in anticipation of the 20-year trend cycle that’s now fully manifested itself with the return of Ed Hardy, cowl necks and Juicy Couture.
Hilton is responsible for making Chihuahuas and other small dogs an accessory as essential as oversized sunglasses in the early aughts, carrying her dog Tinkerbell, (whose name I can still remember without looking it up) around in her purse, making her pup a celebrity in its own right. Of course, there was backlash to this trend, with people returning small dogs to shelters, but you can’t deny the influence Hilton had on the celebrity silhouette of small dog, large bag.
Paris appears as herself on an episode of The O.C., where she calls Orange County disgusting, flirts with Seth Cohen, tells him Thomas Pynchon is a genius, and takes a selfie with him, explaining — because she is a crystal ball of cultural knowledge — that “camera phones are the autograph of the 21st century.” Foresight? That’s hot.
Carl’s Jr. wasn’t pretending to sell anything but sex — and this commercial, where Hilton wears a low-cut, rhinestone one-piece and sort of washes a car, herself, and the camera, before biting into a juicy Carl’s Jr. burger made the brand relevant beyond its wildest dreams, and in a way it probably will never achieve again.
This slasher film had a stacked of-the-era cast that included Chad Michael Murray, Elisha Cuthbert, and Jared Padalecki. But it was Hilton who singlehandedly shaped its marketing, which used the slogan “See Paris Die.” And you do! Her gruesome death scene is one for the books.
In the darkest days of tabloid culture, The New York Post ran a cover featuring a photo of Hilton, Britney Spears, and Lindsey Lohan riding in a car, with the headline “Bimbo Summit,” in a year that marked a downfall for all three stars. There’s much our culture needs to atone for when it comes to mid-aughts tabloid sensationalism that may or may not have contributed to a generation of women with a specific kind of internalized misogyny! That being said, the cover is legendary among pop culture scholars to this day, and forevermore.
In 2014, it was reported that Hilton, a self-described “huge tech geek” is sometimes paid up to $1 million for a single DJ set, making her the highest-paid female DJ in the world. “Inventing getting paid to party — I’m sorry, people want to hate on that? I think it’s pretty awesome,” she told Time. Go off!