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Emma Chamberlain and the changing face of fashion

“She got the gold hoops, Prada fit, I’m in love with all of it” sings ROLE MODEL, over the punchy bass line of his latest single ‘Blind’. Fans have been quick to speculate that the song is written about nineteen-year-old YouTuber, Emma Chamberlain. The pair have hinted at their relationship on social media, and it seems the singer isn’t the only one who loves her look. Chamberlain’s signature gold hoop earrings and stylish wardrobe are part of a personal brand that has gained her millions of fans. She was recently listed as one of TIME magazine’s “25 Most Influential People On The Internet”, with The Atlantic dubbing her “the most talked-about teen influencer in the world”.

Chamberlain documents almost every aspect of her life online. She started her channel in 2017 and, in the summer of the same year, struck gold with a video entitled We All Owe The Dollar Store An Apology. In the spoof haul, she models various items for the camera, including a set of ninja-turtle wristbands and a pair of kid’s sunglasses. The video went viral, and she gained thousands of subscribers almost overnight. Today, she boasts more than 21 million followers across her social media.

Her style is colourful, eclectic, and constantly evolving. A scroll through her latest Instagram posts reveals a cross-section of bright fabrics and vintage nineties pieces. In one photo she wears a pair of pink velvet jogging bottoms straight out of Mean Girls, in another, she poses in a leather jacket that echoes Brad Pitt’s iconic Fight Club look. Her interest in fashion is marked by a series of thrift hauls, outfit lookbooks and makeover videos on her channel. Yet, unlike other fashion influencers, her brand isn’t the polished, high-octane product of a management agency or marketing team. In fact, it is the exact opposite.

Chamberlain frequently appears looking bedraggled and bleary-eyed in front of the camera. She films everything from glamorous photoshoots to Sunday’s spent in bed. In a recent vlog, she tries on a pair of lime green tights and poses awkwardly in front of the mirror: “Wait, that’s kinda fire actually … I feel like I could kind of make it work”; then, five minutes later, “Forget about the green tights, it didn’t happen”. She experiments with what she wears and doesn’t take herself too seriously. Her willingness to film the times when it doesn’t work out is a welcome dose of reality in an industry so often dominated by unrealistic images of perfection. By embracing the fun in fashion, she inspires her viewers to do the same.

Estimates suggest that she makes anywhere between $120,000 to $2 million from her videos, on top of earnings from sponsorship deals and other business ventures. Her weekly podcast, Anything Goes shot to No.1 on the podcast charts in fifty countries when it was launched last year. She has also started a successful clothing line and a coffee company with the tagline: “Zero bullshit. Just coffee”. Like her coffee, Chamberlain’s brand is simple; she is the cool, funny girl you wish you were friends with. Her videos are edited like a last-minute school project – the camera zooms in as text appears and dissolves in wiggling lines of Comic Sans. Sometimes, the shot pauses as her voice echoes to illustrate a particularly dramatic point. A New York Times article described “an entire subgenre of videos that mimic her style, and a host of YouTubers who talk, or edit, just like her.”

Unsurprisingly, Chamberlain’s status as a trendsetter has caught the attention of the fashion industry. In 2019 she made her fashion week debut with Louis Vuitton and has since collaborated with supermodel-turned-YouTuber Karlie Kloss in several videos. Last month she appeared in Vogue’s Beauty Secrets series on YouTube, where celebrities talk through their skincare and make-up routines. Previous episodes have featured the likes of Rihanna, Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner.

Chamberlain’s collaboration with Vogue signals that the fashion industry has begun to appreciate what internet stars have to offer. Recent findings published from a study on social media and consumer attitudes revealed that “Americans trust recommendations from actual people significantly more than they trust advertising and promotion from brands”. Influencers wield increasing power when it comes to promoting products, and deals like Chamberlain’s recent endorsement of Bad Habit Beauty are lucrative. Sponsored posts can receive millions of likes, generating huge sales without the production costs of a traditional advertising campaign.  

For image-conscious companies, however, working with influencers can be a double-edged sword. In July, Chamberlain was one of several LA influencers to attend a party in Hollywood Hills for TikToker Larri Merritt’s birthday. Videos from the event showed guests mixing freely without wearing masks, in a clear violation of Covid-19 guidelines. The Hollywood Fix suggested that there were at least 67 people at the party, whilst crowds of people queued to get in outside. Those involved faced major backlash from fans and other influencers. Fellow YouTuber Tyler Oakley took to Twitter to express his anger, writing: “if your favourite influencers are at huge house parties during a pandemic (& are dumb enough to post it on social media)… they are bad influences. unfollow them.” Chamberlain has yet to release a statement.

At the time of the incident, infection rates were rising rapidly in California. It was the first state to report more than half a million cases of Covid-19 and Los Angeles County was one of the worst-affected areas. In August, fellow influencer Bryce Hall was charged with violating the area’s safer-at-home order for hosting a series of parties like the one Chamberlain attended. He faces a fine of up to $2,000 (£1,500) and a year in jail if found guilty. The charge is a timely reminder that influencers can’t escape the consequences of their actions, no matter how many followers they have. 

Over the last five years, Emma Chamberlain has become one of the most popular creators on YouTube. Her style is instantly recognisable, and her content resonates with millions. She has also been involved in an incident that many won’t forget. As the fashion industry embraces a new generation of internet stars, brands face a dilemma. Influencer’s personal lives are out of their control but closely linked to their image. Going forward, they will have to strike a balance between revenue and reputation. In the chorus of his song ‘Blind’, ROLE MODEL sings, “I’ve never seen something quite like you”. His words are fitting. The changing face of the fashion industry is new and unfamiliar; the only certainty is that influencers like Chamberlain are here to stay.

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