Fortune has long conferred fame. But recently, our obsession with the fabulously wealthy has spawned a new breed of celebrity: the beautiful and stylish billionaire heiresses. Sometimes called “celebutantes,” these much-photographed trendsetters sit front row at fashion shows, take the most spectacular vacations, frequent the hippest nightclubs like Bungalow 8 (where a few rowdy ones have been known to get into cat fights) and regularly land in the tabloids.
The best-known celebutante is Paris Hilton, who ranked number 56 on our annual ranking of the world's 100 most powerful celebrities. Paris is the gold standard, flaunting her Hilton dollars with aplomb on her “Simple Life” reality show. Great-granddaughter of the hotel chain's founder, Conrad Hilton, she has managed to upstage the family's hotels with her regular appearances in the celebrity gossip rags and occasional stints as an actress and singer.
Other heiresses are creating their own stirs, including Paris' younger sister Nicky, who recently announced plans to open up her own Nicky O hotels and is, with a whiff of life-imitates-art irony, reportedly dating Kevin Connolly of “Entourage” fame.
Paris' old pal Casey Johnson, daughter of Jets owner Woody Johnson and a Johnson & Johnson heiress, made news when she was named as a defendant in a $1 million defamation suit filed by former Playboy bunny Nicole Lenz in 2004. The lawsuit was filed not long after Johnson kicked out her one-time houseguest, supposedly accusing Lenz of borrowing and misusing her clothes, among other misdeeds. Johnson hired OJ Simpson's former lawyer Robert Shapiro; the case was knocked down to limited jurisdiction, meaning that the maximum amount Lenz could seek was $25,000, and eventually settled.
So who are the hottest heiresses these days? We picked a relatively diverse group of ten of our favorites rich girls including several models and business executives, a TV star and an award-winning equestrian.
All of them have ties to New York City. Many of the young women grew up in the Big Apple, several attended one of New York's private all-girls schools like Spence or Chapin. Paris and Nicole Hilton once lived in the Waldorf-Astoria. Others have moved to Manhattan more recently. All hail from billionaire families, which have a combined net worth of $31 billion.
Some may eventually inherit much bigger fortunes than others, but none seems to be hurting financially. Twenty-two year-old Amanda Hearst's reported yearly maintenance cost, which includes spending on clothes, makeup and vacations, is $136,360, matching the annual salaries of many top executives.
In 2004, Anna Anisimova, the 21-year-old daughter of a Russian metals billionaire, paid a then-record $550,000 to rent the Hampton's home of singer/songwriter Denise Rich, whose ex-husband is billionaire financier Marc Rich. She spent about $400,000 to rent a Hampton's house last summer and another $600,000 this summer, though she is reportedly spending some of the summer in St. Tropez. When she returns to Manhattan this fall to resume classes at New York University, she'll move into a new $15 million pad at the Time Warner Center.
This is not to say that some of these heiresses don't earn their keep. If the Russian heiress represents one end of the spectrum, Aerin Lauder, the granddaughter of Estée Lauder, exemplifies the other. The stylish young mother of two has worked for Estée Lauder for 14 years. Now senior vice president, global creative directions for Estée Lauder, she sits on the board of the $6.3 billion (2005 sales) cosmetic company. More recently, she helped orchestrate a big partnership with former Gucci designer Tom Ford and helped snag fellow Manhattanite Gwyneth Paltrow for an ad campaign.
Also in the working-heiresses camp are Ralph Lauren's daughter Dylan, who co-founded and runs a chain of four high-end candy stores, and Ivanka Trump, Donald's daughter, who is vice president of real estate development at the Trump Organization.
Venturing outside the family fold can also be extremely lucrative. The fact that Julia Louis-Dreyfus' father is a billionaire is more of a marginal curio to the fame and fortune she herself garnered during her stint starring as Elaine Benes on Seinfeld. Paris earned $7 million last year, mostly through licensing deals attaching her famous name to a perfume, watches, nightclubs and a videogame. The Hearst cousins, whose four uncles are all billionaires, make some pocket change modeling. And Mayor Michael Bloomberg's younger daughter Georgina, a 2008 Olympic hopeful, has earned close to $300,000 as a top-ranked equestrian.
Still, while some rich women are intent on pulling themselves up by their own Manolo Blahnik shoe straps, society pages will always be rife with those heiresses more content to let daddy, or maybe a butler, slip the shoe on for them.