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Unboxing fashion on YouTube

To date, more than 8.3 million people have turned in to the 1 600 or so videos featuring premium merchandise, according to ZEFR.

To date, more than 8.3 million people have turned in to the 1 600 or so videos featuring premium merchandise, according to ZEFR.

Published Nov 27, 2014


Washington - The YouTube video begins with a pleasant story about going on holiday to Madrid. The narrator, a woman with a lilting British accent, does not whet listeners' appetite with her memories of plates heaped with paella or paint a verbal picture of the city's geography.

Instead, the only thing filling the screen is an oversize white Prada shopping bag with its matching rope handles tied together with a silky white ribbon printed with the luxury brand's moniker.

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All of these details are important because this is a video that is all about the details. Tedious. Precious. Beloved. The video, practically pornographic in its extreme close-up voyeurism, is produced by a Londoner named Eleasha Ajadi. It is a celebration of fashion, a paean to consumerism, a dream come true. Here, in the cultural swamp of YouTube, the experience of buying a $2 600 (about R30 000 handbag is lovingly celebrated in six minutes and two seconds.

This is an unboxing video. And it is precisely what it sounds like. A much anticipated purchase is removed from its packaging. It is inspected, admired and discussed in a lengthy Consumer Reports sort of monologue.

Born within the ranks of geeked out techies ripping open the latest Apple devices and soon embraced by sneakerheads and toy aficionados, unboxing videos have also become an enthusiasm among the devoted consumers of Chanel, Hermes and Louis Vuitton.

They have become a mainstay of YouTube. And during the holiday season, their popularity spikes and the thrill of the reveal ripples through the heart of millions of fashion's most enthusiastic, aspiring consumers.

The genre is “a monster,” says Dave Rosner, senior vice-president of marketing of ZEFR, a technology firm that analyses YouTube content. This year, 316 000 unboxing videos on Youtube racked up 2.6 billion views. (In comparison, the ALS ice bucket challenge sparked 245 000 videos that attracted 1.4 billion views.)

To date, more than 8.3 million people have turned in to the 1 600 or so videos featuring premium merchandise, according to ZEFR. The brands featured most often are international, and the trend appears to be too.

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Emilie Clarke unboxed a Chanel jumbo flap handbag in beige caviar leather. Viewers do not see Clarke's face in the video; folks only hear her voice. Occasionally, one hears her husband's, too — sweet soul that he is — who is serving as her cameraman.

The eyes follow her fingers, with their berry-coloured manicure, as they dance across the surface of the box. She discusses its significant heft, the beauty of the white artificial camellia that adorned the top and the fact that the tape holding the tissue paper lining together was printed with the Chanel name.

The camera zooms in as Clarke pulls out the little white envelope containing her receipt — an unboxing ritual to verify that this was indeed an authentic purchase from an actual Chanel counter and not a used bag from eBay.

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The dust cover is described. The virtues of the double-flap style over the single flap are assessed. Clarke shares that the bag's chain shoulder strap might damage the leather if stored improperly. And then, the bag is admired like a piece of sculpture handcrafted by Degas.

This seems like a good moment to pause and address the question. The obvious question: Why? Why would anyone bother to create and upload a video of herself unpacking a handbag and more importantly why would anyone spend time watching it? The reasons are both practical and existential. They speak to a desire to brag, a need to know and an enduring belief in the power of fashion's magic.

“I like to be someone's source,” explains Clarke, 27. “Before I buy anything, I see if there's a video on YouTube. I love watching that stuff.”

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She began contributing to the YouTube information pot a couple years ago after purchasing a Louis Vuitton Speedy handbag. Clarke does not rehearse what she is going to say, but she is adept at extemporaneous commentary because she is, by trade, a disc jockey for a local radio station in Vancouver, where she was born. “I try to keep (the video) so that it is what it is. If you're going to fumble pulling the box out of the bag, you should show that. I remember watching girls (in other videos) struggle to open that double flap and I did too.”

Authenticity is the key to any successful video, Clarke believes, and even more so for unboxing ones.

As with all things online, there are unboxing videos populated by characters whose flamboyant charade is a thinly veiled audition for their own reality show. The comments under those videos read like verbal hand grenades launched to do maximum psychic damage. But there are other videos in which the enthusiasm is palpable. “Enjoy!” “God bless,” read the comments. - The Washington Post

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