Every era has its store. Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce socialized at Shakespeare and Company; British punks shopped at Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren's SEX boutique; and Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and Heidi Montag shopped and posed for paparazzi at Kitson—a West Hollywood, CA, fashion boutique known for selling overpriced "Team Jolie" and "Team Pitt" shirts. This month, Kitson will shut down for good. The shop's famous clientele views the closure as a symbol for celebrity in 2016.
"It's an end of an era, an end of that type of pop culture," laments Hills star Heidi Montag. "I never thought that Kitson would be ending. Kitson is the celebrity clothing store!"
Like many former Hills stars, Kitson has struggled for the past four years. After Kitson opened 16 more locations in Los Angeles and Portland, OR, the retailer took out a $15 million credit line from Salus Capital Partners in 2013. Then last summer, the Los Angeles Times reported Kitson had to take out another loan, this time from Spencer Spirit Holdings Inc. (the owner of Spencer's gift store) to pay back Salus.
This week, Kitson's economic decay was on display at its South Robertson Boulevard flagship store. Blue mannequins stood in empty white rooms. A sign said, "NOW OR NEVER" on the shop's front windows. Although Kitson once sold a $295 crystal-covered hairbrush, the shop now discounted a $495 cheetah-print blouse for $39.99. Most depressingly, Kitson was offering a ten tote bags for $10 deal. When I picked up one such pink tote, the bag's pleather material crumbled in my hands.
Outside the store, South Robertson Boulevard looked like a scene from a Western movie about a ghost town: an empty storefront and an old woman walking to a doctor's appointment at nearby Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where Britney Spears was institutionalized in 2008. Ten years ago, South Robertson Boulevard was the epicenter of celebrity. "Kitson was at its peak," celebrity blogger Perez Hilton says. "All of Robertson Boulevard was a must-stop destination for any starlet, or anybody, who wanted to be photographed." When Heidi Montag and Lauren Conrad moved to Los Angeles in 2005, the BFFs made a pilgrimage to the clothing store.
"I heard about Kitson right when I moved to Los Angeles," Montag remembers. "I went there once or twice with Lauren before we were famous in the paparazzi world."
Like most Americans, Montag had heard about Kitson from tabloids. Fraser Kitson Ross opened Kitson in 2000, but the store's business only exploded after Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie began shopping at the store following the success of 2004's The Simple Life. "It's where Paris Hilton brought those cool sweatpants into style," Montag remembers. "Paris was really the it girl, and she set all the trends."
Paris became so popular that A-list actresses and singers like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan began emulating her and shopping at Kitson. The celebrity appearances began a cycle: Kitson sold celebrity-themed merchandise, stars bought the items, magazines reported their purchases, and then tourists traveled to Kitson to buy the same items and spot said celebrities.
"The kind of person who shops at Kitson is the person who reads US Weekly and actually buys the things they suggest you buy there," explains Breniecia Reuben, the founder of the notorious celebrity gossip LiveJournal community Oh No They Didn't.
Kitson's wannabe celebrity clientele sometimes became famous themselves, providing inspiration for store merchandise in their own right. After Montag and Conrad landed starring roles on The Hills and went through a friendship breakup on MTV, for instance, Kitson sold "Team Lauren" and "Team Heidi" shirts.
"You aligned yourself with Kitson, because Kitson meant celebrity back in the day," Perez says. From 2004 to 2009, celebrity often meant tacky. Lohan walked around the store in a shirt that said "Skinny Bitch," Hilton walked out of Kitson holding her Chihuahua Tinkerbell, and one of Montag's favorite Kitson accessories was a red bracelet with an eye on it.
"[Kitson] is Spencer's for people who had too much money to go into Spencer's," Reuben says. "What normal person would like [Kitson products]? It's just not a lot of people."
Reuben sees a deeper meaning to Kitson's crassness, though. In retrospect, the store seems like a symbol for pre-recession America. While starlets blew their fortune on overpriced novelty T-shirts, average Americans took out loans on their homes to live lavishly. We perceive celebrities—especially the Lindsay Lohans of the world—to be poor little rich girls, but Reuben points out that there relationship to class is way more complicated.
"Paris Hilton comes from money, but you have your celebrities like Lindsay Lohan," Reuben says. "[Lindsay] will always be a girl from Long Island, even today." And right before the financial crisis subsumed working class Americans, 2007 destroyed the lives of Kitson's most famous customers: Lindsay, Paris, and Britney.
"I like to refer to it as the golden year of blogging," Perez says. "That was when Kitson was at its peak. 2007, if you remember, was the year that all the girls went wild: Britney shaved her head, Lindsay was arrested, Paris was arrested—so much happened that year!"
Kitson's story criss-crossed with the girls. In 2008, shortly before being sent to the mental hospital, Britney asked Kitson to open at 2 AM so she could go shopping. She arrived pantsless, wearing nothing but a white dress shirt, a black tie, and fishnets.
The event increased the store's notoriety. Britney, Paris, and Lindsay's celebrity reign was at its peak and seemed like it would never end, but the recession bludgeoned the girls and the store. When over 800,000 Americans lost their jobs in November 2008 alone, Kitson's excess looked more than tacky—it seemed offensive.
"The financial crisis of 2008 redefined consumer behavior and beliefs, making it extremely tacky to spend money excessively," says Will Rebein, the director of art documentaries about Heidi Montag and Paris Hilton. " was the complete opposite of the Kitson branding and values."
Celebrity didn't get classier. Jersey Shore ruled the first Obama administration, and the Kardashians now overshare their lives 24/7 on apps instead of just once a week on E! "[Kylie is] very much a Kitson girl," Perez says. "Every era has their Lindsay." But he notes that now, even the Kardashians are much more filtered. Celebrities' images come from Instagram posts instead of candid paparazzi photos on South Robertson Boulevard. In 2016, we probably won't have a celebrity moment as iconic as Britney yelling, "Eat it, lick it, snort it, fuck it!" in 2007. As Reuben says, "[Kitson closing] is like when Kim started dating Kanye West, and he threw away all her clothes and made her dress in designer."