There are few more times you’re confronted with your advancing age than when you have to ask, “Who is that?”
With the popularity of social media superstars, influencers and vloggers translating more into the real world, it’s becoming even harder to keep up with celebrity culture when you’ve aged out of the target demographic. So, after reading a story yesterday on The Guardian about an American beauty vlogger who brought “gridlock” to a Birmingham shopping centre, my immediate thought was, who on earth is James Charles?
Much was made of the fact that the 19-year-old only appeared at the Bullring shopping centre for just 30 seconds to launch his latest Morphe Cosmetics collection, but the frenzy was enough to attract police support, additional security hired by the venue and escalators were shut down for health and safety. A video he posted of the appearance captured a general sense of teenage hysteria usually reserved for boybands.
The internet was abuzz with talk of Charles yesterday, in particular after event organisers and police underestimated his popularity, with many motorists complaining of several hour delays and gridlock in Birmingham city centre as a result. But any teenager you know could recite his biography with ease.
Despite his young age, he has made a powerful impact on the global cosmetics industry, nabbing his first beauty contract with CoverGirl in 2016 and spearheaded a makeup revolution among men, particular among teenagers, nearly all of whom consume…well, just about everything…online. CoverGirl’s decision to introduce its first male ambassador was received well and the company issued a statement of unwavering support for their newest signing, who is “redefining what it means to be beautiful”.
“James Charles is no exception. One year ago, he boldly chose to launch his Instagram to the world, using transformative, dynamic makeup looks to showcase the many facets of his personality, serving as an inspiration to anyone who might have been afraid to do the same,” the statement said. For a brand aimed at the youth market, it was a hole in one.
It also legitimised his business into the mainstream industry, something YouTubers and Instagrammers have long struggled with. Designers are still famously selective about who they invite to sit front row at their fashion shows, still preferring traditional celebrities with just one blogger/vlogger/influencer at the very top of their game (like Tanya Burr at Dior’s Paris Haute Couture Week show). But brands pay big bucks for an affiliation with the right person with the right audience. James has nearly 14 million YouTube subscribers and just as many Instagram followers and even with the fact that there is clearly some crossover between followers, that’s one hell of an engaged audience.
As such, James has a range of hoodies with Sisters Apparel and a custom makeup palette with Morphe. He travels via private jet and helicopter and he hangs out with Demi Lovato, Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian, the latter of whom paired with him to promote her latest KKW Beauty launch. He calls everyone sisters and refers to fans as the ‘sisterhood’ and evokes a message of positivity, confidence and self-acceptance, which is always one worth spreading.
“I definitely do not think of makeup as like a validation type thing,” he told Seventeen magazine last year. “For me it’s a creative outlet and an art form. It’s not like ‘oh my god I need to feel pretty’. It’s like, ‘This is so cool, I just created art on my face’. I’ve always been a very artsy person and I always preach self-confidence and knowing your worth. Although makeup definitely makes people feel pretty — including myself — that’s not the purpose for it.”
He started his foray into makeup by simply posting a few YouTube videos – contouring, fake eyelashes and some seriously shimmering highlighter – and his effervescent attitude quickly garnered him a loyal and ever-growing fanbase. The James Charles Empire grew as all success stories did: out of necessity. He would often do his friends hair and was recruited last minute for a makeup session despite having no professional training and so a love for transformation was born. “I ordered a basic starter set online and I started practicing on clients. Then, when it came for Halloween, I did a skeleton look on myself and that was the first time I ever tried makeup on myself. I really, really liked it. I was like ‘oh my God I wanna keep doing that’. So that is exactly what I did.”