When I meet Emma Chamberlain for the first time, my eyes instantly lock with her strikingly bright-blue ones, and I feel as though I'm about to hang out with a close friend I haven't seen in a while. It's a weird one-sided familiarity that comes from having watched one too many (ok, basically all) of her videos. I have to repeatedly remind myself that we are two strangers who do not actually know each other, which isn't easy: She's down to earth and easy to talk to; she truly is that girl you've seen on YouTube that you want to be best friends with (even if, as in my case, she's 13 years your junior).
A lot has happened since Fashionista last interviewed Chamberlain back in 2018. The then-17-year-old had just moved to Los Angeles after her year-old, endlessly watchable YouTube channel blew up. Her favorite brands were Brandy Melville and Unif. Today, she's of legal drinking age, runs a thriving coffee business, has been photographed for every magazine you can think of and moonlights as a red-carpet commentator for Vogue. Her favorite brands include Prada, Miu Miu and Bode.
Let's just say we've been itching for a chance to catch up with our well-dressed parasocial bestie. Though Chamberlain and I do share a home city, my old ass does not frequent the same spots as barely-legal social-media superstars (Are they still hitting up Saddle Ranch?), but, thankfully, the brands brought us together. On Thursday, Canon released a new campaign with Chamberlain, who started her YouTube channel with the company's cameras.
Their partnership makes sense: Having successfully parlayed her teenage boredom into YouTube stardom, which quickly begat exciting opportunities in fashion, beauty, coffee and beyond, Chamberlain is the ultimate inspiration for other young people who might think similar success is but one camera-purchase away. (And Canon has made it easy, releasing a new Content Creator Kit alongside the campaign.)
The campaign also gave Chamberlain a chance to reflect on those early YouTube videos, and she's learned an important lesson: In cringing, there is growth.
"Part of me is so grateful that I can look back at everything I did, even as recent as six months ago, and cringe.... Um, but also it hurts," she admits. We laugh. "When it comes to style or it comes to video style or even personality, it is a sign of growth, which I'm grateful for. And so every time I feel this feeling of discomfort when I look back, I'm like, this is actually a good sign that maybe I'm even better now. But I cringe at everything. I cringe at absolutely everything."
That includes the ample public documentation of every aesthetic or trend she's participated in throughout her late teens and (very) early 20s. "I've never really been afraid to just kind of try things, throw it at the wall, see if it sticks, you know, and sometimes that's been an absolute failure."
Luckily for Chamberlain, though, those experiments have yielded a net positive: Every luxury brand with even the slightest awareness of Gen Z is clamoring to dress her, put her front row at their shows and cast her in their campaigns. Cringey outfits aside, her captivation of the fashion world is perhaps even more unlikely because she doesn't come from a wealthy, connected family. (She's no nepo baby.) And that's a big part of what she wants the next generation of fashion-influencer hopefuls to understand. Asked what advice she'd give someone who wants to follow in her footsteps, she emphasized having a point of view over wearing the latest designer goods.
"I think when it comes to being involved in the fashion world, your unique point of view with fashion is appreciated. It doesn't matter if you are a collector of all of the big brands or this or that," she explains. "What happened with me and how I got involved was I always really adored fashion, but not designers. It was not my world. I didn't grow up with, like, seeing my mom's Louis Vuitton bags. She didn't have any, so [high fashion] was such a foreign world to me, but I loved fashion and what was so cool was that that was picked up on [by brands]."
Chamberlain explains that she didn't actually pursue fashion opportunities in the beginning. Even after the big luxury brands did start calling, she wasn't sure that world was for her. It took some time to find her place in it, which makes sense. (If you think about it, the front row of a Louis Vuitton show shouldn't really feel like a normal environment for any well-adjusted American teenager.)
"When I got invited to my first fashion week, I was like, this is not my world. I love clothes, I love fashion, but I think I sort of misunderstood the industry," she explains. "Other than it being an honor and it being cool, I wasn't sure where I fit in it." But eventually, her perspective shifted, and she began to look at fashion as a form of art. "Basically it's an art show," she says, decidedly, of Fashion Week. "What I ended up discovering was, okay, I do fit in here because I think of clothing as art as well." At that point, she wanted to pursue it more.
"Now what I really love about working with brands is being able to be a part of their vision in a way," she says. "And even at times, providing ideas for their vision as well."
Louis Vuitton more or less ushered Chamberlain into the world of high fashion by signing her on as an ambassador in 2021. While they can provide unparalleled access to collections and even custom looks, these types of celebrity-brand deals can also be a bit limiting. Chamberlain, whose Louis Vuitton contract seems to have come to an end, has been branching out a bit more with the brands she wears on and off the red carpet (with help from her stylist Jared Ellner), from Knwls to Miu Miu (which she wore to this year's Met Gala) to vintage Prada. It's refreshing to see, and has exciting implications for her future fashion endeavors.
She's especially into Miu Miu, Prada and Ferragamo right now — her "favorite bag of all time" is Prada's Re-edition 1995 in black (which she wore to the GQ Men of the Year party last November).
She also says she "loves and adores" Gucci, at which point I can't help but bring up a five-year-old video of hers in which she attempts to DIY a then-ubiquitous Gucci T-shirt.
"Well, I also still have that shirt somewhere in my archives," she starts to say.
I continue, "How amazing would it be to do something with Gucci now? Like what a full circle mom—"
"Oh my god, that's so smart," she interrupts, pausing briefly to think. "Oh my god. I I just got an idea. [Chamberlain turns to look at her publicist.] Okay. We'll call them about that. Um, and they will...probably not answer, but, we'll see."
"Emma for Gucci!" I gently proclaim.
"Well see, that [video] was me rejecting it, though," she recalls. "That's what's interesting, I was so against what I thought the ethos of that world was. Truly, I was the biggest skeptic, and rightfully so."
"Just... charging a thousand dollars for a T-shirt," I agree.
"Tough," she continues. "But... I still think that's ridiculous. Absolutely I think it's ridiculous, but I also understand it now. I don't need to buy that then. Some people want that. I don't, I can appreciate their art elsewhere and look at that and still give a little chuckle, you know?"
When it comes to her personal style, Chamberlain has found herself leaning into minimalism in lieu of participating in today's never-ending cycle of micro-trends. "I like a ripped up pair of Levi's shorts or jeans and a white tank top. That's all I wanna wear right now," she says. "I'm so overstimulated by the fashion world and how many things are happening at once that I'm in a place right now where I'm loving simplicity and a classic."
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Intriguingly, Chamberlain sees her future fashion projects following a similarly low-key path, at least in the sense that she wants to do more behind the scenes.
"I have some unreleased design collaborations," she reveals. "I designed one pair of shorts for Levi's, but I have a few more things where I'm designing, coming out."
The coffee entrepreneur has no current plans to launch a fashion venture herself, preferring instead to work with others.
"When it comes to the fashion world, I don't know if it's really something I wanna add to. It seems like there's an issue of too much out there," she wisely points out. "I'd almost rather go and design for a brand that I love and respect that has resources, that has their shit figured out."
She also hints at a deeper interest in another field within the industry: "I also love creative directing anything and everything, especially editorial, like I love putting together an editorial shoot," she explains. "I really love being the brain of something, instead of being in the front. And I really do think I have, I don't know, maybe even something more valuable to add in that way than I do by just putting my face on something."
We can't wait to catch up on it all in another transformative few years.