As the Kardashians set their business-expansion sights on the UAE, a look at the family phenomenon.
The Kardashians are coming to the UAE
When Sheeraz Hasan decided to open the first Millions of Milkshakes shop outside of the US in Dubai, he knew just whom to call to bring in the maximum amount of publicity.
With 10 million Twitter followers, books, clothing and perfume lines, several reality shows, the current cover of Harper's Bazaar Arabia and a forthcoming two-part reality special on her recent wedding, Kim Kardashian was really the only choice.
No wonder Hasan calls Kardashian - "a very good friend", who is due to land in Dubai next Wednesday for a five-day visit with her also-famous mother, Kris Jenner - his "lucky charm" in business.
The 37-year-old owner of the Millions of Milkshakes franchise (as well as the online star-watcher Hollywood.tv) invited Kardashian, 30, to be the first celebrity to create a signature shake when the business opened stateside in 2009. Since then, more than 70 A, B and C-listers have followed in the half-Armenian star's fashionable footsteps.
"Kim's been offered to come here to the Middle East many times before, but it's a question of trust, and that's why she's coming with me," he says. "She has the Arabic look, she understands the culture and really connects with the fan-base here."
As for Jenner, Hasan calls her "a genius".
"She makes sure the kids are very focused and extremely motivated," he says. "Everyone works 'the brand' together - they are united and she's definitely the glue who keeps the entire family together. They've mastered the power of celebrity branding to the point where last year alone they brought in US$65 million [Dh239m]."
If anyone doubts the influence of this famous family, according to their itinerary, Kardashian and her mother will end the second day of their visit having a "private dinner with members of the royal family at a Dubai desert ranch".
In the October cover story, Harper's Bazaar Arabia went to the fashion duo Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, who have dressed Kardashian in the past and worked with her for the issue, for some perspective.
"Kim Kardashian is a global phenomenon," say the duo. "From a reality show she has been able to affirm herself as a globally known and renowned icon. Whatever she does catches the attention of both media and blogs, and this was quite evident during her wedding."
Kardashian, of course, is the most famous part of a larger package: Kardashian Inc. Since the appearance of the American reality television show Keeping Up With the Kardashians five years ago, the family has spawned a Sears Kardashian Kollection clothing line, a perfume, a book, more fashion and beauty products, endless celebrity endorsements - and, of course, television shows. In addition to Keeping Up, which is currently in its six season and will return for a seventh, there are three spin-off shows involving Kardashian and/or her two sisters and brother: Kourtney, the oldest, and the younger Khloé and Rob. Kourtney and Khloé Take Miami and Kim and Kourtney Take New York focused on the opening of their high-end boutique, Dash. Khloé & Lamar visits the ever-after of her quickie wedding to the professional basketball player. The wedding was an E! special and, no surprise here, Kardashian's wedding to another professional footballer Kris Humphries in August will be another E! special, a two-parter to be broadcast this autumn. Rob Kardashian is competing in the current season of the reality show Dancing With the Stars.
All the Kardashian shows, save for the specials, are on endless rotation on the E! network, seen in the UAE and across the Middle East on OSN.
But where did this entertainment juggernaut come from? What is the appeal of the Kardashian clan? And why, in a conservative region, do they matter so much?
Kim's father - through where she gets her Armenian heritage - was running a music and marketing company when he came out of legal retirement to serve on the legal team for the former NFL star OJ Simpson, who was accused of murdering his wife and another man in 1994. Nine months spent defending his famous friend during a massively watched televised trial made Kardashian a household name in the US.
Earlier this decade, Kardashian started making her own name due to her association with the socialite Paris Hilton. Like Paris, private videos of Kardashian and a boyfriend were released online, catapulting her to notoriety. At the time, in early 2007, Kim's mother Kris - all the matriarch's female children share names in the K-family - was in talks to star in a reality TV show about her family. When it appeared at the end of that year, Keeping Up With the Kardashians became a huge hit, with Kim its breakout star.
Kardashian's mother was already quasi-connected in Hollywood: she had married Bruce Jenner, who shot to fame for winning the gold medal for the decathlon in the Montreal 1976 Summer Olympics and parlayed that success into television and film roles and a career in motivational speaking.
Kris, building on the contacts of her former husband - who died of cancer in 2003 - helped with these roles and expanded them into business opportunities, later using her savvy to promote the entire family. Of late that has included the modelling careers of her daughters with Bruce Jenner: Kardashian's half-sisters Kendall, 16 and Kylie, 12.
Naturally, the E! network's production crew will be accompanying Kardashian on her UAE visit. There could also be more links to the region, as Kardashian and Jenner confirmed this week they will be scoping out opportunities for expanding their business - whether in fashion, night clubs or real estate - while they are here.
The Kardashian appeal has not escaped the interest of Cosmopolitan Middle East, which has featured both Khloé and Kourtney on the cover in its first six months of publishing.
"With Kim and the Kardashians in general, while they live this exceptional lifestyle they are still very down to earth and have incredible family values," says the magazine's editor-in-chief, Kerrie Simon. "Obviously, they have their own individual interests but they still sit down to a family meal every night together and I think that really resonates within this region."
The feedback for the Khloé cover on the magazine's inaugural issue in April was "overwhelming", says Simon.
This month, Kourtney appears on the issue's first double cover. She spoke about the hard work that has been involved in getting to this point, says Simon - something that is often overlooked in coverage of the family.
"Kourtney told us about launching Dash, their first clothing store in LA - they did it with practically nothing," says Simon. "Bruce, their stepfather, built the changing rooms; they bought all the stock on Kourtney's credit card."
For Emirati fans who follow the family's antics, the fact that members of the family are visiting is exciting - even if they don't endorse everything about them.
Tamadher Al Muraikhi, a 27-year old systems administrator in Abu Dhabi, counts herself as one, even as she recognises that Kim's personal life doesn't necessarily reflect Emirati values.
"True, she has the personal life of an American, who can do anything without really thinking of her family," she says. "So she really doesn't fit well with the lifestyle of the Arab world."
Maha Al Ansari, an 18-year-old Qatari journalism student at Northwestern University in Qatar, was hoping to travel to Dubai to catch up with the reality star.
"In my opinion, in the end it's entertaining," she says. "If you don't like it, you don't have to watch it and you don't have to come to Dubai."
* With files from Anealla Safdar