It was just after 10 a.m. on a Thursday morning when I found myself staring deeply into Kris Jenner’s eyes.
Her all-knowing, chestnut brown pupils were framed by thick black eyelashes. A hint of twinkle came from the center of her eyes that matched the shine on her sticky-looking lip gloss.
Amped on coffee and with Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” blasting through a sound system so loudly I could barely hear my own intrusive thoughts, Jenner’s eyes became a very zen focal point.
OK, so I wasn't locked in a staring contest with the real Kris Jenner. I was plopped in front of her new wax figure at Madame Tussauds. The Times Square institution just opened a new exhibit uniting all six of the Kardashian-Jenner women’s mannequins for the very first time.
Kris and Kourtney, the two most realistic of the figures, are brand new to the tourist trap, fresh from a sculpting studio in the United Kingdom.
A goth version of younger sister Kendall sits nearby in a director’s chair, with straight black hair falling over a dark mesh dress.
Makeup mogul Kylie, dressed in a gold sequin gown, is on loan from the Tussauds in Dubai. Khloe, serving looks in a sparkly bodysuit and black skinny jeans, has been trucked in from a Vegas satellite.
And then there is Kim. She's been at Madame Tussauds since 2010, and looks it. In a boxy blazer dress with harshly-parted hair, it's no surprise that Kim's been collecting dust in Times Square for almost a decade.
As I was lost in the oracle that is Fake Kris’ soft, almond-shaped eyes, a cavalcade of preteen girls entered the room, took a look at the scene, and screamed in unison.
The squeals did not cease as the students, on what appeared to be the greatest class trip of their lives (sorry, Intrepid Museum!), ran down the stairs and begin taking selfies with the figures.
As T-Swift continued to shake it off, the girls broke into an impressive type of Gen Z line dance. They queued around each wax figure, snapped a selfie, then did the same with next one, and the next.
“Guests absolutely love them,” Tom Middleton, general manager of Madame Tussauds, told me inside a tucked-away corporate office. “As you can see, putting them all together is this almost impossible moment that you would be hard-pressed to find in the real world.”
Middleton got his job after doing time working in a call center for the U.K.’s National Health Service. “I thought, what better way to replace people calling me up being sick than working somewhere where people only talk to me about having a good time,” he explained.
Though Middleton told me that tween screaming is “normal,” and that the Kardashian-Jenner exhibit is partly the result of public demand, not all visitors were easily charmed.
“There they are,” one Swedish tourist growled upon seeing the women together. I asked him his opinion of the display. “I don’t like the Kardashians, so I am not the right person to ask,” he said, turning to ogle a nearby Tyra Banks replica.
The moody Swede might feel better knowing that none of the Kardashians were paid for their likeness. But Middleton said all women were closely involved in the creation of their mannequins, per Tussauds usual process.
“We want to make sure that talent is happy with their figure, and take into account everything they would like as well, from what they’re wearing to their hairstyle,” Middleton said. “It’s a two-way relationship.”
During a private unveiling on Wednesday, Middleton said that Kris Jenner was “delighted” with her figure. “She FaceTimed Kourtney when she was here, which was just fantastic,” he explained. “When the people that you’re making have that much energy, it’s nice to see them happy.”
Matthew Hilshorst, studio manager at Tussauds, runs a team of six artists who do daily checkups on all the gallery’s figures. From 6 a.m. until the museum opens at 9, the studio staff peruses all five floors, making sure the replicas look their very best.
“We’ll all go out with our baskets that have different tools and check everything,” Hilshorst said. “We look at their hair, eyes, eyelashes, and check for scratches. See if anyone has ripped off their clothing—they get a ton of handling.”
Middleton compared the $300,000 wax figures to “masterpieces in a museum.” But unlike the Met, there is nothing separating visitors from the mannequins.
“Most people are very cautious, and know the figures are expensive works of art,” Hilhorst offered. “But then there are some people that just go to town.”
Guests put their arm around the pieces, hug them, and even pick their noses. (“We get that a lot,” a Tussauds PR rep groaned.) In February, one disgruntled guest pushed over Sean Combs’ likeness, decapitating the rapper.
Recently, the studio team has had to replace many fingers—especially on Lenny Kravitz's figure. “For some reason, his hands always get broken,” Hilshorst said. Sometimes finger thieves strike on purpose, other times, “people hit it, realize they broke it, and are terrified, so they take it with them, like ‘That didn’t happen!’”
Staff expects the Kardashian-Jenner women will require a few costume changes over the course of their summer together at Tussauds. According to Hilshorst, “Their outfits get a surprising amount of wear. They will deteriorate.”
That means a few of the models might need to be re-styled, a complicated process that includes getting approval from both the British sculptors and mammoth Kardashian PR team.
But despite the bureaucratic back-and-forth required to ultimately get these figures in the same room, there is a quiet intimacy that comes with caring for the life-size dolls every day.
“You definitely develop a relationship with them,” Hilshorst said of his team. “You feel precious towards them, definitely. When I get frustrated with them, I will talk back to them. Call them names, for sure.”
For months, the various parts of the Kardashian figures have been sitting in various studios, not fully painted, their disassembled wax the stuff of nightmares. For Hilshorst, seeing the end result of every fully-formed model for the first—or seventy-first—time never fails to elicit a visceral reaction.
“To see them on the floor and to have that dance music playing really loudly, that is a real thrill,” he said. “They're so real, staring right at you. I don't want to say it’s an out-of-body experience, but I get this, ‘This is so weird, but I like it’ feeling.”