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YouTube tries to get fashionable

A model for Damo Wang walks the runway at New York Fashion Week.Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

It’s not a “collabo.” It’s a “collab.”

These are among the lessons shared by YouTube in an internal five-page document meant to help fashion brands learn the dos-and-don’ts of the video platform, just in time for what the company is terming a “historic occasion.”

On the eve of New York Fashion Week, nearly 15 years into its life span, the platform is finally following in the footsteps of its peers Instagram, Snapchat, and Amazon, and trying to cultivate the possibilities of the style set. YouTube’s big news is that it is introducing a feature that brings together fashion content on one web page, and throwing a big fashion week bash to celebrate.


There are many people, even old ones, who wouldn’t need to be told how to define “collab,” let alone pronounce it. But YouTube — beloved for zits-and-all videos — is right to worry that the learning curve may be steep for fashion companies most comfortable sharing highly produced and well-polished marketing images on glossy magazine pages, glittery runways, and gingerly curated Instagram feeds.

After all, YouTube’s most popular videos tend to focus on music and gaming or day-in-the-life vlogs made by homegrown celebrities who created their stardom through amateur recordings.

But about two years ago — by the time Instagram had established itself as the dominant digital destination for style-adjacent people and companies looking to build and burnish brands through images — YouTube executives began to realize that some of its fashion and beauty creators were starting to attract large audiences.

This would lead to a number of opportunities, including commercial partnerships with luxury brands.

“We thought, ‘If it’s already happening organically, imagine what could happen if we really started to work on this?’ ” said Robert Kyncl, the chief business officer of YouTube.

The person enlisted to translate YouTube to the fashion set is Derek Blasberg, a former contributor to Vanity Fair who is perhaps best known for his Instagram page, which showcases photos of him hobnobbing at parties and on yachts with friends like Karlie Kloss, Gwyneth Paltrow, Katy Perry, and David Geffen.


Blasberg’s Instagram feed has 900,000 followers. He declined to say how many YouTube subscribers he has and has set the preferences on his channel’s home page to not display the number. He has posted 59 videos, and noted he had appeared in lots of other creators’ content, including a zodiac quiz with Zendaya for Tommy Hilfiger’s channel, but that “I don’t consider myself a YouTube creator.”

Rather, his main focus since joining YouTube last June as head of fashion and beauty partnerships has been convincing other brands, designers, and models of the need to become creators.

For example, he has persuaded Victoria Beckham and Goop, among others, to create YouTube channels and to get serious about devoting time to making videos. Their YouTube numbers (105,000 subscribers for Victoria Beckham, 45,000 for Goop) don’t come close to their Instagram followings (26 million and 1 million), but Blasberg isn’t concerned.

“We’re not competing against Instagram, we are a complement to Instagram,” he said in a phone interview while in Venice, where he had attended the Venice Film Festival, after having toured Ibiza, Spain, but before he headed to the Hamptons.

“I speak to members of the fashion and beauty community to manage expectations for the sort of things that do well on YouTube,” Blasberg said. “On other platforms, a pretty girl walking in a pretty dress can do well. Not on YouTube, people. The biggest advice I’ve given people is: ‘Would you watch this?’ No one sits down and watches a bunch of commercials.”


YouTube’s pitch to fashion brands is based in part on the number of people who use the platform. It reaches 1.9 billion people per month, according to company data, and its content is watched by more 18- to 49-year-olds on their mobile devices than any cable TV network.

Reflecting on his accomplishments of the last year, Blasberg pointed to videos posted to YouTube by those he has helped to wrangle onto the platform, including one first played for guests at Marc Jacobs’s wedding in April to Char Defrancesco and Naomi Campbell’s “Emotional Return to the Maison Valentino Runway During Paris Fashion Week.”

With almost 300,000 subscribers to her channel, Campbell is seen as the “breakout” star of the new YouTube fashion set. (She has 7.5 million followers on Instagram.) A video of her cleaning a first-class airplane seat before taking flight has garnered more than 1.5 million views in nearly two months, the most viral video from any of the fashion contributors Blasberg has recruited.

Fashion designer Alexa Chung, who has 3.4 million followers on Instagram, began creating videos for YouTube last spring. She now has more than 165,000 subscribers to her channel.

“We’ve already seen the benefit of it,” Chung said, noting that her videos helped drive American consumers to her company website.