This article first appeared in Harper's Bazaar Singapore, the leading fashion glossy on the best of style, beauty, design, travel and the arts. Go to harpersbazaar.com.sg and follow @harpersbazaarsg on Instagram; harpersbazaarsingapore on Facebook. The May 2022 issue is out on newsstands now.
SINGAPORE - Whether Emma Chamberlain is reviewing vegan fast food, prepping for music festival Coachella or getting a nose piercing, her appeal lies in her authentic style of vlogging.
In her videos, the American Internet star speaks directly to her audience, delivering her monologues in a fast-paced, stream-of-consciousness and unvarnished manner. Bloopers not only make the cut, but are also played big for laughs.
It is a winning formula. Since launching her YouTube channel in 2017, Chamberlain now has some 11.4 million subscribers on the platform and more than 15.4 million followers on Instagram. She turns 21 later this month.
A true digital and social media native, she started watching YouTube videos when she was six and soon graduated to making them. At 16, she dropped out of high school to make a full-time career out of YouTube.
"I enjoy sharing vulnerable sides of myself as well as the fun, light-hearted ones, to hopefully make people smile and feel comfortable. I want people to feel understood when they hear me talk, or comforted by it in one way or another," says Chamberlain on what drove her to start making videos and, more recently, podcasts.
As for her decision to leave school, she says: "The thing is, the first few years of school is to learn the fundamentals of being a human being, and then during the last few years of high school and during college, you're learning how to specialise in something so you can get a job and make money.
"I was already starting to make money from YouTube and I took all the classes I needed to take to learn the fundamentals, so all these extracurricular classes were just kind of wasting my time, because I'm not going to use these for a job.
"My job is now YouTube. (Quitting school) was not an impulsive decision. I didn't want to waste my time and school will always be there if I ever want to return to it."
That probably will not be happening any time soon. These days, she is busy realising another one of her biggest passions: coffee.
In 2019, she launched Chamberlain Coffee - a line of sustainably sourced, made and packaged coffee, along with its own range of accessories and merchandise.
"Coffee has always been a big part of my life," she says. "My team and I had this conversation about turning this dream into something when I was 17 and, since then, we've just been researching ways to make it possible. I was obviously very young, but if you have a good idea, you might as well start on it the moment you get it, right?"
Lately, she has also been nurturing her creative side through the world of high fashion. Since 2019, Louis Vuitton has been flying her to Paris for Fashion Week and sitting her in the front row of its shows. It was the first time a major luxury player has partnered a YouTube creator, signalling a shift in the industry.
Last year, the brand signed Chamberlain as a campaign face and dressed her for her very first Met Gala.
"When I started doing my videos, I didn't think that fashion would play any role in what I did at all," she says.
"Sometimes, I share what I'm wearing day to day, but I never thought of it as part of my business. It's just a fun thing I do on the side. I love clothes, but I didn't own anything designer - that was not a part of my life growing up. I was somebody who went thrift shopping all the time, and I still do. I've never been somebody who cared whether something has a logo on it; I don't care about the flexing or bragging part of it."
Attending her first fashion show, however, was a game changer in how she viewed the industry.
"I realised it's not just about slapping a logo onto stuff," she says. "There is an artistry to designer fashion I really enjoy."
She loves Nicolas Ghesquiere, Louis Vuitton's creative director, for how "he combines things in a way that is so unique to him".
She adds: "He might take a futuristic feeling and mix it with a vampy 1980s feeling, and he'll do it in a way I've never seen anyone else do. He takes risks and does stuff that's kind of weird, and with a brand that has the level of history that Louis Vuitton does, I think that's really exciting."
Asked if there have been followers who cannot reconcile the goofy Emma in her videos and the glamorous Emma who attends Met Galas and Fashion Weeks, Chamberlain maintains that it is all the same person and that her fans know this.
"I've been very fortunate that the people who follow me have been very excited for me when these things happen. I think the reason for that is because I've been very honest with my audience about the experience.
"I'm like, 'I don't know why they're inviting me, guys - I'm just as shocked as you are.' These experiences don't change anything," she says. "It's not like I'm going to turn into some sort of diva after I sit in the front row at a fashion show. If someone didn't like me before the Louis Vuitton show, he is not going to like me after the show and vice versa."
Over the years, she has learnt how to deal with haters.
"I honestly have no problem nowadays with just turning my phone off for a few days - not going on social media, taking a break, going on vacation, not posting for a while," she says.
"I used to be really hard on myself about that. I'd force myself to post weekly and never take a break. But that's not sustainable because you get really burnt out."
As for experiences, she does not have hard and fast rules about what is for public consumption.
"A lot of it is on a case-by-case basis," she says. "I trust my instincts, so if I feel like there is something I just don't need the world to know, then I keep it to myself. I tend to keep things to myself when I'm in the midst of them."
These days, she does not have much to complain about and that springs from a new-found place of mindfulness.
"Over the last few years, I've learnt to prioritise quality over quantity with everything - the people in my life and the things I put my energy into," she says.
"Going through the pandemic and having all that time to reflect, I've realised I only want to use my energy on things and relationships that make me feel good."