If you've been anywhere near your laptop or phone in the last 36 hours, you've almost definitely seen people talking about First Kiss, the video that features 20 improbably attractive strangers make out with each other for the first time. As with most feel-good viral videos, not all is as it seems: the short film by rookie director Tatia Plleva is actually from Wren, a clothing brand based in New York. But by racking up 24 million views – and counting – since it was put on YouTube at around 2 PM Monday, some people are already deeming First Kiss to be an "unprecedented achievement" for a fashion film. In fact, it just might be the most successful fashion film ever made.
It's not the first time a fashion film has pulled in huge numbers of online viewers, but First Kiss is unique in that it doesn't rely on a huge budget or big names to do it. A lot has been made of how the people in the video are actually musicians, models and actors, including French singer/actress Soko and model Langley Fox, sister of Dree Hemingway. So far, Wren founder and creative director Melissa Coker has maintained that the cast in the film are actually her real-life friends and colleagues. They're just, you know, super good-looking. Obvs.
But the central conceit of the film – that none of these people have met prior to the shoot – appears to be real. Coker told Fashionista that she paired people up based on “who aesthetically would be a nice pairing” as well as “who are my guy friends who my girl friends would think are cute.”
"Action was never called, so a lot of these people didn’t necessarily know if they were being filmed or not, so you see these real moments," Coker explains. First Kiss just captures the natural interaction of two incredibly attractive strangers as they encounter each other for the first time.
On one hand, it's difficult to gauge the success of this film. Despite the "Wren presents" text that opens the film, it's only now that its association with a fashion label is coming to light. Most people weren't immediately aware it was branded – certainly, none of the 20 or so people I saw posting the video on Facebook knew that they were inadvertently promoting a brand. The clothes aren't exactly the focal point, either.
But if you're going to gauge success by audience reaction alone, First Kiss blows every other fashion film out of the water. First Kiss doesn't rely on celebrity sponsorship, elaborate sets or big-name directors – and it's shot in a simple studio, too. While labels won't usually disclose how much it costs to shoot a video, you can bet it often goes into the five or six figure sums. Louis Vuitton's latest film, L'Invitation au Voyage, took four months to get to 33 million views – and it featured hundreds of extras, Arizona Muse, a Venetian palace, and – oh yeah – David Bowie. Karl Lagerfeld's film for Chanel, Once Upon A Time, cast Keira Knightley as Coco and demanded a painstakingly detailed recreation of the designer's first ever boutique in Deauville, circa 1913. (It currently has less than 110,000 views on YouTube.)
This isn't a diss of big budget videos, of course, which have their place in the seasonal promotional cycle for a brand. Films can qualify as successes on their own artistic terms, too: Candy, Wes Anderson's uber-charming Parisian short with Lea Seydoux for Prada comes to mind. But the success of First Kiss suggests that sometimes, a breathtakingly simple concept can triumph about all else.
But judging from the response to the video – people have told Wren that it "restores their faith in love" – First Kiss has managed to elicit more emotion in three and a half minutes than any of its big budget contemporaries. Whether or not you're a cynic about the advertising motives behind the video (or just worried that some of these people are going to get glandular fever from all this kissing), that's definitely something to think about.
Follow Zing Tsjeng on Twitter here @misszing