By Sahil Patel
During its first-ever NewFronts presentation in May, StyleHaul announced its first scripted series, “Vanity,” in partnership with Emmy-winning creator/producer of “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” Bernie Su and his new content venture Canvas Media Studios. It’s an important project for StyleHaul, which is actively expanding beyond the type of content its network is primarily known for — vlogs — to add more traditional premium formats to its repertoire.
“When Stephanie [Horbaczewski, CEO of StyleHaul] brought me over from Paramount, it was definitely in her vision for StyleHaul to enter the creation and production of originals — in the reality and unscripted realm through our partnership with FremantleMedia, and scripted content as well,” says Mia Goldwyn, chief content officer of StyleHaul.
What may seem like a big leap for the company in reality isn’t. As StyleHaul sees it, its core audience — teenagers and millennial women — are already heavy consumers of dramatic fare on television, turning shows such as “Gossip Girl” and “Pretty Little Liars” into worldwide hits. Starting with “Vanity,” StyleHaul thinks it can provide the same.
The series, which was “custom-made” from the “ground-up” by Su and Canvas for StyleHaul, is not too different in style from “Gossip Girl” and “Pretty Little Liars.” It centers on Lily Mackenzie, a young girl who moves to New York City and infiltrates the high-paced world of fashion to find the truth behind her mother’s disappearance. Along the way, she faces unscrupulous characters and struggles with identity.
“What is StyleHaul about?” asks Su, who serves as creator, head writer, director, and executive producer for the series. “StyleHaul is about empowering young women in the context of beauty, fashion, and lifestyle.”
In developing a dramatic narrative based on that core theme, Su says he focused on creating a lead character who was new to this world and could serve as an entry point — but she had to be driven by something more than just an interest in fashion. “I looked at the legacies of some of the great designers of the time,” he says. “What would happen if one of these designers had a long-lost child. What would that be like? If someone figures out who their parents are. What would change then? That is the narrative thrust.”
“Even though it’s a show about the world of beauty and fashion and is set in New York, at it’s core ‘Vanity’ is about an individual going out of their comfort zone — discovering her identity,” Su continues. “That’s what a lot of the great StyleHaul content is about as well.”
For the cast, StyleHaul and Canvas Media Studios aimed for a mix of traditional actors and celebrities and creators from StyleHaul’s network. The series is headlined by Alex Frnka (who plays the lead), Denise Richards, and model Karrueche Tran. Among the YouTuber portion of the cast, a few such as Allie Marie Evans play characters, while others such as Raye Boyce, Stephanie Ledda, and Sophia Chang make guest appearances as themselves.
“We spend a lot of time talking to our talent — what the next step is for them,” says Goldwyn. “While of course all of them
want to continue vlogging and creating the videos that their fans are used to, a lot of them are also interested in expanding into acting, writing, and producing more premium formats. We obviously want to support them in doing that as well.”
And because this is a Bernie Su production, there is more to “Vanity” than the core 12 episodes, each of which run for an average of 11 minutes. Additional, show-related content — both “in-world” and “out-of-world” — will post to YouTube and other social platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr. Snapchat and Facebook could potentially be in the mix as well, according to Canvas co-founder David Tochterman. This content will be posted by StyleHaul as well as YouTubers cast in the series.
As part of its series sponsorship, makeup brand Maybelline has been organically weaved into “Vanity.” “Rather than the usual types of integrations you see, such as someone talking about a makeup palette or lipstick, we built [the series] out so that the main character dares to do something different in every episode — she dares to discover, she dares to come out of her comfort zone, she dares to fall in love,” says Goldwyn. “All of those moments are in line with Maybelline’s ‘Dare to Go Nude’ palette campaign.”
Other elements of the Maybelline partnership include a social activation to help viewers attain “the look” for each of the characters, as well as native how-to posts from StyleHaul beauty stars.
Currently, the plan is for “Vanity” to air every Thursday on YouTube. Episodes will also be made available for purchase on iTunes the day after they air, starting with the second episode, according to Goldwyn.
Beyond the initial YouTube run, though, StyleHaul has already started conversations with its sister company within RTL Group, FremantleMedia, to explore various international distribution options, says Goldwyn.
“It was important to us to make sure this wasn’t just purely branded entertainment,” says Tochterman. “This is an IP play, with a focus on building entertainment brands and franchises.”
“Since we made the announcement, we have had more than 24 million social impressions related to the series,” says Goldwyn. “Our fans are already excited about it.”
“Vanity” is produced for StyleHaul by Canvas Media Studios, a new content business formed by Su and digital video and TV veteran David Tochterman. It’s also the first project for Canvas. Executive producers include Su, Horbaczewski, Goldwyn, and Tochterman, with Allison Vanore and Katie Christian producing.