Actress and influencer Claudia Sulewski joined Fashion@Brown for a virtual conversation Wednesday evening. The event, which was free and amassed hundreds of viewers, was moderated by Alexandra Vitkin ’24. Sulewski joined the Zoom event from her home in Los Angeles.
“With nearly 5 million followers on Instagram and YouTube combined, Claudia Sulewski has captured the zeitgeist of fashion and beauty today,” said Reeno Hashimoto ’22, one of Fashion@Brown’s directors of industry programming, as she introduced Sulewski.
Sulewski started off by discussing her eleven years of experience on Youtube. When she was 13, she sought out the platform as an “escape” from the chaos of her family in order to “find a thing (she) could call (her) own.”
“Sometimes it can be difficult to feel like you are understood and heard and seen for all that you are at the time,” she said. When she was exposed to YouTube, she had a “visceral” reaction where she thought “I want to do this.” She noted iJustine, Michelle Phan and Blaire Fowler as early YouTuber inspirations who pioneered entertainment on the platform.
“I thought, oh my gosh, this looks like so much fun,” she said.
When Sulewski first started her channel, the “community felt so small and nice, it just felt like a group of friends. It felt very comforting.” As her channel grew, she faced a “whole new angle” of opinions and criticism –– both good and bad.
“You build thick skin because you’re kind of forced to,” she said. “I’ve made so many friendships with YouTubers along the way … we sort of are each other’s support system.”
Sulewski emphasized her commitment to authenticity on YouTube and social media, saying she strives to be “as truthful as I can with who I am in that moment.”
“If that means that I'm going to be a little bit embarrassed of my old videos of mine,” she added, “it's okay.”
Sulewski said it was difficult to document everyday experiences online without letting it disrupt her life. She said that she makes a rule of filming only when it helps “create a memory” or is easy to ignore.
“The goal is just to make it feel really seamless and not too forced,” she said. “Otherwise you're just kind of messing too much with the present moment.”
At age 18, Sulewski became the host of Teen Vogue’s official YouTube Channel. As she looks back on that time now, she views it as “such an honor.”
“Here’s something that I’ve never done before and for some reason, all these grown-ups are trusting me to do this,” she said of the opportunity.
During her time as the host, Sulewski was able to conduct red carpet interviews, go behind the scenes on “different shoots” and conduct other interviews, “on the side,” where she helped come up with questions.
“Doing that for a year taught me ‘okay … I’m so glad I have this in my belt and I want to keep challenging myself,’” Sulewski said, adding that her time at Teen Vogue gave her the confidence to transition toward acting. She started taking acting classes,found an acting coach and started auditioning more regularly.
In the coming week, Sulewski will have her first major feature film debut in the upcoming film, “I Love My Dad,” which will premiere at the 2022 South by Southwest Film Festival. “I've kind of been dreaming of acting my whole life,” she said.
“It sort of feels like this kind of beginning,” said Sulewski. “I’m really excited to see what life that movie lives on and what that possibly will lead to.”
Sulewski has explored some of her other interests, including a partnership with Nordstrom BP in 2019 where she collaborated on a clothing collection. She described the experience as “so much fun” and wishes to do more creative work in a hands-on capacity in the future.
“It was very fun to be able to collaborate with a group of women that knew what they were doing,” said Sulewski.
When Sulewski considers partnering with a brand, she focuses on whether she actually will enjoy the opportunity.
“It’s so important to align with brands that have the same morals as you and I think that has become even more important to me as I’ve grown older,” she said. Currently, Sulewski’s dream partnerships would be Pat McGrath’s cosmetic line and Google Nest.
“I feel very fortunate in that I’ve worked with a lot of companies that I would have never thought in a million years I would get to do so,” she said.
During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sulewski and her boyfriend singer Finneas O’Connell started a podcast entitled “We Bought a House.” The inspiration came from staying at home everyday and feeling “anxious,” “paranoid,” “helpless” and “worried.”
“We ended up creating something that I think we needed at the same time,” she said.
The podcast, she said, brought “life” into their household.
“It was so wonderful and sweet to read comments or reviews or anything about it,” she said. “It seemed that it really resonated with a lot of people.”
Though Sulewski and O’Connell decided to end the podcast in recent months, she doesn’t see herself stopping from creating new content on YouTube. Instead, she believes the format of her videos continue to evolve as she changes.
“It’s a really easy way to connect with people and that is so powerful,” Sulewski said.
After Vitkin finished her questions, Sulewski received an audience question about the “most positive part” of being an influencer, and responded that meeting new people has been a valuable experience for her.
“I've met my chosen family online, my best friends and the people who have shaped me into who I've become,” she said.
Another audience member asked Sulewski about the inspiration behind her current sense of style. “I'm very much in a 90s vibe right now,” she said, adding that recently she’s spent time on Pinterest looking at photos of runways from the era.
In the coming weeks, Fashion@Brown will host 17 more speaker events leading up to their runway show on March 17.
Rebecca Carcieri is an arts & culture editor. She is a senior from Warwick, Rhode Island studying political science.