Fashion’s biggest names are becoming YouTubers

With Naomi Campbell and Marc Jacobs turning their hands to vlogging, fashion’s VIPs are becoming fully-fledged content creators

You’ve seen it by now: Naomi Campbell, Dettol wipes in hand, scrubbing every inch of a business class plane seat – window, tray table, the lot. Or on her way into Whole Foods, uttering the immortal, instantly meme-able words: “I’ve got Steven Meisel’s birthday, I need to step on it” before she heads for almonds. Campbell, who started her channel this year, is arguably the highest-profile fashion figure to turn to her attentions to YouTube, filming her grocery shop, Met Gala prep, and gym workouts.

And she’s not the only one. This week, Marc Jacobs uploaded a video of himself in neon pink tie-dye and an orange bucket hat learning to drive in a Home Depot car park, before shopping for a Porsche. Both larger than life, Jacobs and Campbell have the extreme good fortune of being as lovable as they are somewhat ridiculous, and so make for easily entertaining viewing. 

Such fashion icons letting us in on their daily lives is not what we’ve come to expect from the platform. While fallen-then-redeemed beauty star James Charles (15m subscribers) went to the Met Gala with Alexander Wang, and Emma Chamberlain (8.1m subscribers) sat front row at Vuitton, YouTube hasn’t given us any legitimate influencers who have successfully crossed over into the industry – despite its glut of haul videos, OOTDs and Get Ready With Me-s. That’s not to say its creators haven’t made fashion videos, but the content they make clearly posits themselves as outsiders to a ridiculous world of expensive things – like the “buy the cheapest item in a luxury store” trend, or Safiya Nygaard (also 8.1m subscribers) spending a week wearing Balenciaga platform Crocs (6.5m views) and thigh-high Y/Project Uggs (6.3m views). PewDiePie, who, with 98m subscribers, is the site’s top personality, roasts Gucci’s balaclavas and babushka scarves in one video with 4m views. 

To be a YouTube star, a willingness to transform every aspect of your life into content, from going to Ikea to getting married, is vital. In fashion, meanwhile, ‘never complain and never explain’ has been something of a manifesto. Perhaps this is why, besides the likes of Karlie Kloss (who is, lest we forget, a tech mogul) fashion’s megastars have generally stayed off YouTube – remaining mysterious seemingly preferable to breaking the enigma with a look at what they carry in their handbags. Take Tom Ford – one of the world’s most charming humans, he does not appear on his brand’s YouTube channel, where one recent upload only has 649 views. Gucci’s profile is populated with glossily produced campaign films rather than a tour of Alessandro Michele’s wardrobe, while Chanel’s primarily features the house’s runway shows instead of Virginie Viard showing us through a typical day in the atelier.

Brands like these are, understandably, protective of their relentlessly polished images. But for someone like Campbell – apparently coaxed onto YouTube by Derek Blasberg, who in late 2018 was hired to lead its fashion and beauty partnerships – the platform allows a sense of agency over her own narrative, a way to break down assumptions people have about her, and show the inside of an industry that remains exclusive. It’s something others in a similar position would do well to take note of, sense of mystery be damned – Naomi Campbell is Naomi Campbell, as her buying a bag of mini Twixes in duty-free shows, even her doing ‘normal’ things translates into exceptional content.

But YouTube is not just for those behind the velvet rope – the site is also a place for fashion fans. Luke Meagher, better known as Haute Le Mode, has a channel on which he discusses fashion in “the most fun sassy bitchy analytical way”. Through red carpet reviews, fashion show recaps, and runway history lessons, he breaks down the industry to his 260k subscribers. His videos are proof that you don’t need to be at a show to have an opinion about it. And, ironically, that those on the outside are often more at liberty to be honest than those working at magazines, where advertiser relationships can curtail free speech. 

The success of Meagher’s channel is that it takes an inaccessible world and makes it easy to understand – and laugh out loud funny, even if his drags can be cutting and contribute to the stereotype of ‘fashion people’ as catty. Meagher does not hold back, his particular disdain for Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri seemingly boundless. On Karlie Kloss’s look for this year’s Met Gala, an event which left him “clinically depressed ‘cause of how bad it was”, for example: “I can’t tell if she was trying to be camp by looking this bad – but also I don’t think she has the forethought to do that, so”. Still, he’s found his niche and provides an often refreshingly straightforward perspective. “I guess my work is more accessible, it’s visual, it’s funny, and it takes itself just seriously enough to be educational but not seriously enough that it feels snobby,” he surmises. 

“To be a YouTube star, a willingness to transform every aspect of your life into content, from going to Ikea to getting married, is vital. In fashion, meanwhile, ‘never complain and never explain’ has been something of a manifesto”

He’s wary, though, that the rise of celebrity fashion YouTubers might take away from those who have been pouring their heart into their content and building a following without fame. “If you look at the history of YouTube, you'll see that the platform goes on to push highly produced content on the trending page and through the algorithm, sometimes instead of the lower budget creators that made the platform so popular,” he explains. “That isn't always true, but I can see being something that could happen as YouTube starts to court fashion.”

As well as its existing community, YouTube has a language – a way of speaking, video formats, behaviours – that’s already in place. Rather than serving up cold, overproduced videos, fashion brands will need to get over themselves if they’re going to successfully pivot to creating content that people actually want to watch, let alone hit like and subscribe on. Okay, so we’re probably not going to have Raf Simons give us a guided tour of his art collection, but who wouldn’t like a get ready with me by Rick Owens and Michele Lamy, or a day in the life of Virgil Abloh?

Ultimately, YouTube has what fashion wants: an audience of young people. It’s the most visited website for Gen-Z, only 15 per cent of which use Facebook. And its personalities have real reach: 9.8m people watched Emma Chamberlain’s Louis Vuitton trip video, compared to the 142k who watched the runway show itself on the brand’s channel. Are those young viewers currently able to afford Louis Vuitton? Probably not right now.

One day, though, they might be.