In the 2018 Vice series Hollywood Love Story, which explored a group of young people trying to make it in the current climate of L.A., Paris Hilton acts as a kind of host or narrator for the show. She pops up in the middle of the stories to interject her own experience of achieving fame in the fickle culture of Hollywood. Of course, Paris had a leg up because she came from a rich and prominent family. However, there were a number of stepping stone opportunities that launched Paris into a household name and long-lasting brand.
Before she landed a reality show deal with Nicole Richie (The Simple Life, 2003) Paris was “discovered” by an Andy Warhol protégé photographer who is responsible for shaping popular American culture in the late nighties and aughts. David LaChappelle is responsible for many iconic moments with Madonna, Britney Spears, Michael Jacksons, and even Kim and Kanye. His photographs are saturated in color and often very provocative, especially with themes of religion.
He called a teenaged Paris Hilton his muse, and eventually, his photographs of her were noticed by Vanity Fair. This was Paris’ first launch into the spotlight, and she continued to rocket herself based on this momentum.
“When I was 16 I met David LaChapelle,” Paris reveals in Hollywood Love Story Season 1, Episode 2 “Sky.” “He told me I was his muse and he was like Warhol, and I was his Edie Sedgewick. We would do photoshoots all the time. Then Vanity Fair saw pictures he shot of my sister and I, and they did a huge story on us. That was before The Simple Life and the beginning of my career. I was really lucky to have such a talented person to create with. He opened my mind to a world I felt excited about. Meeting him changed my life.”
The article she’s referencing was published September 1, 2000, and was titled “Hip-Hop Debs,” (a cringe-worthy culturally appropriative title.) Of course, being photographed by David LaChapelle might have helped them get noticed by Vanity Fair, but being the fourth generation of Hilton aristocracy gave the magazine more of a meaty angle to work with. Paris and Nicky Hilton’s great-grandfather was Conrad Hilton, who founded the Hilton Hotel empire.
As of 2007, the Hilton family no longer owns Hilton hotels, but their legacy is still tied to it. At the time when Paris met David LaChapelle, her family was still living at the Waldorf Astoria Towers, which was a property purchased by Conrad Hilton, Paris’ great-grandfather and the founder of Hilton Hotels.
In a 2017 interview with The Guardian, David spoke highly about working with Paris, although he did call her “desperate.” As a teenager, she must have been very charmed by being compared to Edie Sedgewick and the idea of being someone’s muse.
“’Paris had a charisma back then that you couldn’t take your eyes off,” David said about her. “She would giggle and laugh and be effervescent and take up a room. She was desperate to be in my photographs and one day we needed her for a jeans shoot.” The model at the time couldn’t fit into the sample size provided and Paris was given a shot. “She came over, she hadn’t been home for, like, three days, but she looked incredible. You never saw that girl looking messed up.” Some people, he says, really do hold an indescribable star quality.'”
His comment in the article was in defense of an internet comment that was criticizing him for bringing the world Paris Hilton and otherwise bringing down our culture.
“’Someone wrote a comment online when I moved to Maui, like: ‘The person who gave us Paris Hilton and destroyed our culture is now gonna go live in the jungle.’ Did I really bring culture down?!'” he asked.
Where is David LaChapelle now?
After years of chasing the next ad campaign, music video moment, or magazine spread featuring the It people in the spotlight, David LaChapelle now lives almost off-grid in a remote village in Hawaii.
In 2013 he was sued for $1 million allegedly physically attacking gallery owner James Parmenter. He reportedly choked him to the “point of unconsciousness” in the New York apartment of David LaChapelle’s former manager Fred Torres. David LaChapelle denied these allegations.