On the surface, the transformation of the Hilton hotel heiress from bubble-headed nightlife fixture and unwitting porn star to mainstream celebrity and multimillion-dollar brand seems a sad statement on a culture where fame is often achieved accidentally and for all the wrong reasons.
But scratch one perfectly manicured, highly lacquered nail beneath the surface and it becomes clear that Paris Hilton's metamorphosis was as meticulously orchestrated as a Procter & Gamble product launch.
And you ain't seen nothing yet.
The craftier-than-she-appears Ms. Hilton recently assembled a team of high-powered handlers on both coasts to turn a firestorm of publicity into a sustainable career.
Hollywood power agent Ari Emanuel of Endeavor, Rob Shuter, a publicist at Dan Klores Communications, and Los Angeles attorney P. J. Shapiro will work with Ms. Hilton's manager, Jason Moore of Untitled Entertainment, home to Demi Moore, Hilary Swank and Naomi Watts, as well as her father, Rick Hilton.
As part of her plan, Ms. Hilton left behind United Talent Agency, celebrity PR firm PMK/HBH, and, ostensibly, her wilder days. Her engagement to Greek shipping heir Paris Latsis, announced last week, followed her public statements about wanting marriage and children.
"She wants to focus on both career and family," said Jeff Vespa, a friend and Wire Image photographer who's traveled extensively with Ms. Hilton for the past five years. "She wanted to step it up a notch. She's a major A-list celebrity now and she needed to be represented like one."
Her new handlers refused to comment, but Endeavor, where Mr. Emanuel is a partner, has a group of agents across its TV, film, commercials and marketing divisions working with Ms. Hilton. The agency has helped guide the careers of such performers as Chris Rock, Ashton Kutcher and Matt Damon, while its corporate-marketing unit works with American Express, America Online and Martha Stewart Omnimedia. Mr. Emanuel is a formidable deal maker said to have inspired the hard-edged character played by Jeremy Piven on the HBO series "Entourage."
Mr. Shuter, a senior VP at Dan Klores, works with Sean Combs, whose business prowess Ms. Hilton has said she admires, and Kimora Lee Simmons, also an entrepreneur.
The team won't have free reign. Ms. Hilton brushes off "heir-head" criticism, and has said she's smarter than she lets on. Though she's hearing ideas and direction from her handlers, she's not conceded decision-making to them, Mr. Vespa said: "She's become very savvy about what she should be doing and how she's presenting her image. She's instrumental in making the final call."
Ms. Hilton has already stretched in a number of areas, opening the sprawling nightclub Club Paris in Orlando, Fla., with Miami and Las Vegas on the horizon. There's a popular jewelry line with Amazon.com and a namesake fragrance for women. A men's version is looming, as is a cosmetics line from the same company, Parlux Fragrances. She's mulling a handbag line, apparel, an energy drink and boutique hotels.
Her TV series, the Lucy-and-Ethel-esque "The Simple Life," is in its third successful season on Fox, with a fourth Hawaii-based version planned. Ms. Hilton has distanced herself from former best friend and "Simple Life" co-star Nicole Richie and is considering a different celebutante for future shows. She has a CD coming out later this year, produced by Li'l Jon, who helped make Usher's "Yeah!" a multi-platinum hip-hop anthem.
Her resume also includes a stint as a Guess? spokesmodel and star of the now-infamous Carl's Jr. ads, as well as a best-selling sexcapades video shot by a former boyfriend. Ms. Hilton's former attorney has said she profited from the video's sales, though she has publicly denied it.
Ms. Hilton has a handful of movies in development, some that she's involved in producing, after co-starring in this spring's horror remake "House of Wax." She's working on a deal for mobile content, from ring tones to wallpaper.
Mr. Vespa, whose 12,000 photos of Ms. Hilton for his photo service could be considered a vital part of the brand-building machine, is working on a Paris-themed diary for young girls. It's expected to be out in the fall from Simon & Schuster. He shot all the pics for her best-selling book, "Confessions of an Heiress: A Tongue-in-Chic Peek Behind the Pose." A sequel is possible, and there's talk of making a feature-film version of "Confessions," starring, natch, Paris.
That's hot, as Ms. Hilton is fond of saying. But Tom Duncan, director of integrated marketing communications at the University of Denver, wonders for how long. "What happens after she's done all the wild things she can think of?"
Figuring that out is the role of the new Hilton handlers.