Golden Girl

06.17.13

Lauren Conrad Is The World’s Most Successful Reality-TV Defector

Lauren Conrad has not appeared on a reality-TV show for four years, but her influence over young women continues to inspire mega-successful magazine covers and fashion lines. Misty White Sidell reports.

When Lauren Conrad first hit television screens in 2004 on the MTV reality show Laguna Beach, no one thought that the then-18-year-old would still be going strong at 27—but she is. It’s been four years since Conrad last appeared on one of the network’s quasi-scripted cinematic dramas, leaving Laguna’s spinoff show, The Hills, in 2009. But the consummate Cali girl is still booking major magazine covers: she was just announced as Marie Claire’s July cover girl last week, following massively successful covers for fashion titles like Lucky and Glamour. Last week also marked the release of Conrad’s eighth book, Infamous. And that’s not to mention the sustainable e-commerce site on its way, which will add to her already-successful fashion and beauty lines.

All this makes Conrad something of a reality-star anomaly—and it reflects her exhaustive campaign over the last nine years to get young women to love her. To be sure, she attracts more of the Pinterest kind of crowd than the type of girls found on, say, Bang With Friends. Her fans may not be the world’s edgiest, but unlike her fellow small-screen celebs’, Conrad’s fame is not one built on bitch-slaps and drunken sex-capades. The most controversial thing she has done was outrage literary purists with a DIY video on how to make a “Bookshelf Box,” where she slashed apart the entire Lemony Snicket series to construct a book-binding-embellished storage unit.

Conrad is the button-nosed poster girl for women who dream of dinner parties and white linens. She’s embodied that archetype from the moment she first appeared on Laguna Beach, with her perfect blonde ponytails. “Lauren Conrad markets herself almost as a Martha Stewart,” Katherine Riley, a Los Angeles-based Lauren Conrad fan, told The Daily Beast (she even once wrote a college thesis on Laguna Beach and The Hills’s effect on reality TV). “She just kind of seems disgustingly perfect sometimes.”

‘She just kind of seems disgustingly perfect sometimes.’

With her arsenal of online media channels that span the mediums of beauty, crafts, fashion, and more, the flouncy, dress-loving Conrad has become an all-service lifestyle provider to what Riley calls “an amazing audience of teenagers to women in their late 30s”—better known as a demographic with a wad of disposable income. And who better to trust than a girl they have grown up with on television—a person whose career, relationships, and perhaps most important, sense of style, has evolved along with their own?

Conrad’s idyllic how-to’s have caught fire—women are really listening. With a 3 million-strong Twitter following, 2 million Instagram fans, approximately 480,000 Pinterest followers, seven New York Times bestselling books, Glamour magazine’s No. 1 selling issue in 2012, a beauty brand, and two clothing lines, you can’t exactly say that Conrad is skimming the surface of reality-TV fame. On the contrary, she’s using her on-screen persona, (one that women tend to identify as a cute and kind soul) as a means to become a generational stalwart to an audience that averaged around 3 million in each of her shows’ heydays.

But Conrad’s real key to success is her approachability. On each of her shows Conrad “cried a lot,” said Riley, between her many breakups, hard decisions, internship snafus, and most pivotally, a feud with former BFF (and current plastic-surgery fembot) Heidi Montag. “It actually showed her in a very vulnerable light, and made people feel sympathetic towards her,” she continued.

The same goes for Conrad’s sense of style, which consistently appears both put-together, feminine, and relatable—enlisting expensive items (Chanel bags) and well-fitting basics (James Perse tees). It’s a fashion sense that women find both approachable and aspirational: her expensive items are often considered investment-worthy, while the others could be easily sourced on a variety of budgets. When Lucky magazine decided to put Conrad on the cover of its March 2013 issue (which turned out to be one of this year’s bestsellers so far), the title found her “level of approachability just perfect for us,” special projects director Laura Morgan told The Daily Beast. “Style is sort of the filter for our evaluations here at Lucky, and [Lauren] is sexy but never inappropriate, she is feminine but not too prim, she wears the kind of outfits you can go buy.” As one colleague, a Conrad style devotee, noted, “She isn’t frivolous—I can imagine somewhere in her closet is a top from Forever 21 next to a pair of Louboutins, and that is exactly the stuff everyone wants … it’s exactly the way I would want to look on a Saturday night if I went out with my girlfriends.”

With this deeply attached fan base, it’s unlikely that Conrad’s moment will die down anytime soon. It’s still holding strong four years since her last television gig, essentially a light-year in these rapid-moving times. “I don’t think she is going anywhere,” said Morgan. “She doesn’t need to be front-and-center anymore on a major TV show, she does magazine covers, she doesn’t do too many, but spaces them out so there is still a lot out there about her.”

But Conrad is smart enough to still keep people on their toes. Says Riley: “I just decided at some point that I am just never going to be as perfect as her.”