‘Why would I ever touch my body?
I was perfect before.’

Kylie Jenner and Haider Ackermann discuss their evolving relationship with beauty.

Interview by Elizabeth von Guttman

Kylie Jenner and Haider Ackermann discuss their evolving relationship with beauty.

Haider Ackermann is used to working with his usual coterie of androgynous-looking women. Like the model Saskia de Brauw, who stars in the campaign for his recently launched collaboration with luxury skincare brand Augustinus Bader. Or the actress Tilda Swinton, who has worn Ackermann’s designs on countless red carpets. So when it came down to creating a dress for Kylie Jenner for the 2023 Met Gala, a woman celebrated for her sumptuous curves and overt sensuality, he was presented with the ultimate creative proposition: to reimagine his own aesthetic within the context of Jenner’s signature vision of beauty. After all, here is a woman who has managed to commodify her appearance to the tune of one billion dollars thanks to her highly bankable line of cosmetics. The result was a seamless union of two distinct worlds and an unlikely friendship.

Elizabeth von Guttman: Growing up, can you tell me about your first encounters with beauty?

Kylie Jenner: My earliest memory was playing with my mum’s beautiful acrylic make-up case. She had all of these Chanel lipsticks and sparkly powders. I was always the girl with make-up on but I wasn’t trying to be expressive. I was just having fun.

Haider Ackermann: I have always been seduced by the beauty of the gaze. I was raised in countries where women were covered in veils. Some of them would wear those white cotton veils with a cut-out triangle showing just one eye. It was something very unsettling and penetrating. It would fix you more than anything else; it would undress you. This very eye rimmed with kohl – a black powder they used as eyeliner – made the gaze even more mysterious and almost dangerous.

Who was the first person that represented beauty to you?

Kylie: The strong female figures in my life, like my grandmother who has always been such a hard worker and always dressed to the nines. And then my mother, who’s the same. The confidence that all the females have in my family. Everyone has such a strong belief in themselves. The presence that emanates from that fills a room.

Haider: Certainly my mother. Her angular face, her elongated neck, this masculine haircut, her endless fingers holding a cigarette, leaning at the dining table. Fearless, she dared in front of those conservative family members – it made her so provocatively seductive in my eyes. Her beauty was all about gestures.

Were there any male figures that inspired you too?

Haider: Defining a man by the word beauty is not appealing to me. His attitude, style, and elegance will make him attractive. His words and gestures will define his beauty.

Kylie: For me there was my dad. I have lots of brothers too. It’s funny because within the beauty industry it’s becoming much more accepted for men to wear make-up and to represent beauty. I think a lot of men have come out of their comfort zone and feel comfortable about it and are just experimenting and having fun.

Growing up in the public eye, and with social media, do you think that has affected your perception of beauty?

Kylie: I do. Being on social media and in the public eye from a young age can be really damaging. It is a lens on you that you can’t even imagine. It made me recognise things about myself that I would have never normally seen. Social media gives people this platform to be able to criticise, Iike someone saying, ‘She has really wide shoulders.’

When was the first moment you felt beautiful?

Kylie: It would have to be with my mom. She loved to dress me and my sisters in the most beautiful outfits.

Haider: It’s not the first time, but rather the last time. I was coming out of my room dressed in my tuxedo as we were on our way to the Opéra Garnier. The way my partner laid his eyes on me made me feel handsome. I was moved. I believe that we feel beautiful through the eyes of our loved ones.

Haider, how has working in fashion shaped your understanding of beauty?

Haider: As the season passes, you begin to understand women and men even more. You get to know their body, feed on their strength, use their imperfections. Each collection, each critique, and each fitting allows you to question the concept of beauty. Beauty lacks substance when it is not supported. The garment tells a different story depending on the person who embodies it. There is no beauty without personality.

Your first encounter was at the 2023 Met Gala. Coming from two different aesthetics, how did your collaboration develop?

Kylie: As a child, I never spoke up when I used to do things. Over time, I think I’ve learned to have this voice and I remember going into the Zoom meeting and Haider’s voice was just as loud on the call! In the best possible way. We were talking about the colour of the dress, and then Haider was very honest about his opinions. We always met in the middle. Then I had my first fitting in Palm Springs and he was on FaceTime. I was so impressed, fully trusting him and his vision because whilst I am very particular, it was his design and he is the expert. The things that he saw over FaceTime that I couldn’t see in person were remarkable. It only took him an hour over FaceTime. Haider is such a natural and is such a perfectionist. It was the first time that I let go.

Haider: You did not completely let go…

Kylie: Okay, yeah, I did not totally let go! [Laughs]

Haider: I remember meeting Kylie privately, and I was seduced by her kindness. From then on, I didn’t doubt for one minute whether or not I should accept her invitation. What was intriguing and challenging about this collaboration is that we are two different people with two different approaches and personalities. A different education of beauty. Where I am used to a certain ‘pudeur’, the people I collaborate with, in general, would not suggest sexuality as much as Kylie. We had a lot of conversations to understand each other and find the path where these two very different worlds meet. But when we explore other perspectives and aesthetics, I find that our spectrum expands, and the notion of beauty then takes on its full meaning. Coming back from the red carpet, she ran to embrace me with those words: ‘Thank you for allowing me to be myself.’ I suddenly realised how we, designers, sometimes forget that we are at the service of those women and not only our visions. I took it as a massive compliment.

Kylie: I think we both had the same intention and goal. It was a conversation.

What was it about Haider’s designs that made you feel beautiful?

Kylie: I love to feel sexy but it wasn’t just that. I just felt so classy and chic and like a grown woman and a mother. It captured the sexiness in an elegant, chic way. I felt like myself more than I have done in the past.

Haider: She was glowing with sensuality and it is this specifically that I wanted to work on and emphasise. This led me to play with lines and curves, so the cuts of the dress would embrace the movement of her body, like a caress. For her to remain desirable while being covered. Where beauty meets desire.

What else do you find beautiful?

Kylie: My kids have made me feel more confident. I have gained so much more self-love from having kids. Being able to see my features in my kids, how I see their beauty and how I can see my beauty outside of my body.

Haider: I think words. Words that you read, or words that are expressed to you. They can transport you.

Kylie, as someone who owns their own beauty brand, what do you hope to communicate and contribute to the world of beauty?

Kylie: Make-up to me is not about hiding. It is about expressing yourself and extending your own natural beauty.

There are so many variations around it.

Haider: Yes, one can not be judgmental about how people own their own beauty. A friend of mine has just undergone a lot of surgery, and it was very disturbing for me because I’m one of those people who find a lot of beauty in the evolution of a face over the years. As in every wrinkle, there is a story to be told. But my perspective changed when I saw him feeling so beautiful and happy. Who am I to say? Working with other people, you learn even more what beauty is, because it is such a big word and has a different meaning for everyone. By listening to each other, we learn how we can embrace different kinds of beauty.

It is an expression. What is the most extreme treatment you have done to make you feel beautiful?

Kylie: Probably my breasts and my body. I haven’t done much. I haven’t touched my face. I got my lips done, but people think I have reconstructed my face. That is probably what I hear the most about me, which is really interesting, and I haven’t spoken out about it because you can never win with the internet. If I say something then I am just going to be deemed a liar. To me, it was more when I was 19, I was influenced and having fun – it wasn’t so much that I was insecure. I don’t like to live with regrets, but a lot of times I find myself thinking: ‘Why would I ever touch my body? I was perfect before.’

Haider: We cannot have one definition of what beauty is. Beauty is subjective, it seems not everyone fully understands this concept, as we can see through social media. I find that very unfortunate. It is deplorable that so many people feel entitled to pass judgment. It is too violent for me, and I would like to say to all those: stop doing this because it isn’t a beautiful gesture.

Haider, what is Kylie’s most beautiful quality?

Haider: Her smile is so endearing. Her generosity is enchanting. Her true kindness is absolutely disarming.

And Kylie?

Kylie: I feel the same way about you. When I first met you, I felt this ability in you to make me feel so comfortable around you. I feel so safe when I’m with you. I just think about your personality and your openness.