The minute Anouk Yve’s new Phoebe Philo bag arrived — five days before its expected delivery date of November 14th — she knew its unboxing needed to be documented. “Yesterday I received my first-ever Phoebe Philo bag”, Yve begins in the 57-second-long video. “This is my honest review.” The bag is labelled small on the website, “but I don’t think it’s a really small bag, to be honest,” Yve says, holding it up to the side of her body for reference. “Remarkable is that there’s no hardware on the bottom,” she continues, turning it upside down to show smooth, supple leather with no protective hardware. “This is just my opinion, but the bag could’ve been made a little more stiff. This is a creative decision, which I respect, but you can see it’s a little bit wavy on the top.” Yve moves the camera to a birds-eye view and points at each side, both of which are already slightly sagging. “The top handle could’ve been made a little bit more bold, if you know what I mean?” she adds. “But overall, it’s a really luxurious bag which I truly love and will cherish for the rest of my life probably.”
Yve’s was one of the first ‘unboxing’ reviews to be uploaded online of the former Céline designer’s eponymous line, unveiled exclusively on phoebephilo.com last Monday. Philo let a select few journalists see the collection in person beforehand (all of whom signed extensive NDAs) and opted for a digital-only release in lieu of staging a fashion show. This meant all customers had were the likes of Cathy Horan’s review for The Cut (dazzling) and Vanessa Friedman’s for The New York Times (similarly positive) to go off when purchasing: no way to touch the fabrics, nor see their movement on bodies. And given these in-depth reviews were released coinciding with the collection’s drop, no time to read those either amid the checkout chaos.
The same week (but in a very different price bracket), Kylie Jenner’s Khy was released in a similar digital-only, see now, buy now format. With Khy, this meant gambling $200 USD tops per piece, but for those purchasing Philo’s collection, it consisted of trusting the new brand’s quality so much that you’re willing to purchase a pair of $5,000 trousers (or a $19,000 dress) through a lookbook image (and fashion journalist’s endorsement) alone. It’s an ungodly amount of money to spend on two items of clothing, but even more so when the items purchased are done so without ever seeing them on a moving body. “As I hit checkout, I kept telling myself, I can always return them if they’re bad,” a friend, who bought a pair of pinstripe trousers and heeled loafers told me. But if they’re as good as she’s expecting? “No shopping – or dining out – for six months.”
It also meant demand for unboxing videos, showing real people wearing both brands, was unprecedented: Yve’s quickly amassed thousands of views and her comments were full. Many took issue with the price point, especially with no hardware at the bottom. Yve speculated it could be so the bag can be worn as a clutch, in which case hardware would “look off.” When another asked her to compare the quality of the bag to one from The Row, she replied that the Olsen-owned brand is “higher quality, I would say.”
TikTok fashion personality Charles Gross has over 1.4 million views on his Khy review that went up four days ago, in which he speaks about feeling like he belongs in one of those “Harry Potter Balenciaga edits” in the statement oversized Matrix-like pleather coat. And no matter how positive one influencer, who was sent Khy pieces by the brand, tried to be in her TikTok wearing the collection, people could see the quality and design flaws with their own eyes: she was swimming in an XS, despite pulling the coat as tight as she possibly could, and the trousers were dragging on the ground. “How is that jacket an XS and why are those pants so long on someone who’s 5’6?”someone asked.
This peer-to-peer review format has long been a trend on YouTube, first emerging in the early 2000s tech and electronic space. Later, young women watched in droves as beauty obsessives reviewed mascaras from their bedrooms and people began typing 'Reddit' after every question they had to hear feedback from an anonymous stranger, rather than experts. The likes of Emma Chamberlain and Devon Lee Carlson were some of the first to create careers out of fashion vlogs, but with the rise of TikTok, ‘unboxing’ and ‘haul’ videos made by anyone and everyone, showing a real person, not a model wearing clothes, have become one of the app's most popular categories.
Yasmin Zahran got over 200,000 views on a TikTok of an unboxing of a white Loewe tank top and over 500,000 on her “dream” Gucci bag a few weeks later. Others, like Audrey Peters, who flew to Paris to see limited Louis Vuitton bags in person (she purchased one in blue), continuously get views in the millions. When Peters decided to go into Chanel to look at a pink bejeweled bag Doja Cat wore, her video confirming as much was watched over 4.4 million times.
Replying to @marrrsbarr @louisvuitton is out to get me I swear not even the Polly pocket shoes were this hard 😭 #louisvuittonvalentines #louisvuittonpinkmochibag #louisvuitton #baghunt #luxuryshopping #designerunboxing #shopping #designershopping #louisvuittonhunt #louisvuittonnanospeedy #luxuryshopping #tiktokfashion #luxuryshopping #designerhaul #designerbag #haul #unboxing #vintagefashion #vintage shopping #vintagefind #greenscreen♬ Spongebob Tomfoolery - Dante9k Remix - David Snell
It makes sense that as fashion and trends have become increasingly democratised and individualised online (try typing any niche trend into TikTok and you can bet there’s a subcommunity for it), people would want to see what others their age, in their climate, with similar interests and body shapes think about an item. Especially when it’s one they're considering buying into. But the popularity of unboxing videos has as much to do with people wanting honest feedback in a capitalist society – where websites make money off advertising partners and affiliate links and, therefore, often give biased opinions – as it does with indulging in escapism: in a similar vein to those tuning in to see how first-class meals on Emirates compare to Singapore Airlines, very little of the 500k people who viewed Zahran’s Gucci bag video are actually in the market for one.
Those who unbox well — and virally — aren't just having their spending validated by strangers. Just as fashion journalists are paid to analyse collections and The Strategist editors carefully curate lists on everything from the best travel mugs to roller skates, people online are creating entire businesses out of unpacking their new items and giving reviews — if they can do it in an engaging way, that is. On many unboxing clips, the hashtag “#TikTokMadeMeBuyIt”, which has 76.6B views, is used as people throw their hats (and bags) in the ring in a bid to reach virality. (There, alongside designer items, you’ll find everything from a plastic poo scraper for cat litter trays to AliExpress Hello Kitty cellphones). And for those unsure of how to film an unboxing, there's even videos with ideas for aesthetically pleasing and innovative ways to do so.
If you're wondering where we go from here, that question has already been answered: videos hashtagged #packingorders currently have more than 13.2 billion views.