As Connor Franta makes the leap from YouTuber to lifestyle guru, he makes sure to keep himself grounded in real life. For starters, he hasn't succumbed to a Hollywood makeover since moving to Los Angeles more than three years ago from a small town of 4,000 in southern Minnesota.
"I think I resisted for a little bit. I think I still am resisting," he said on Tuesday night at Urban Outfitters, where he was about to launch a collaboration designed by his brand, Common Culture. "I didn't really acquire a fashion sense until I was probably 20 or something."
Now 24, he's staging a little rebellion against L.A. style, which he defined as "really limited." As he put it, "I think a lot of people wear monochromatic outfits and don't experiment in color, not that I am super-experimental in color at the moment. But I think people stay toward muted tones here for some reason and don't experiment with patterns and colors."
For his launch event, the first of four stops that also will take him to Austin, Tex., New York and Minneapolis over three weeks, he sported a distressed Urban Outfitters jean jacket, black Calvin Klein jeans and Topman oxford shoes. From the collection, he pulled on a $24 T-shirt printed with blocks tinted peach and lavender, a reminder of a visit to a museum in Berlin. "I found inspiration in the art I saw," he said.
Certainly, Franta has broadened his horizons since launching his channel on YouTube six years ago. He's endeared himself to his 5.7 million subscribers with videos that captured quiet scenes of Midwestern farmland, offered tips for creating the perfect Instagram and riffed for 13 minutes on pop hits. That spiel on songs tallied over 248,000 views in one day.
Scores of his fans on YouTube followed him to Urban Outfitters in Hollywood. Some waited in line before the store opened at 10 that morning, and each bought something from the five-piece collection so they could have the opportunity to meet Franta in person and grab a signed CD. They didn't mind matching with several others in the $44 slate blue sweatshirt printed with a giant "C" and $49 sand-colored pullover hoodie emblazoned with a broken heart in the front and the phrase "hopeless romantic" on the sleeves.
An hour before their digital hero entered the store, a young man claimed his spot, second in the queue, on a sleeping bag with a bouquet of orange daisies cradled in his lap. A woman behind him wrapped herself against the winter chill in a blanket printed with images of colorful fish.
"They're the sweetest," Franta said of his followers, who number 5.4 million on Instagram and 6.2 million on Twitter. "They somehow trust my opinion on everything. I don't know how I got that trust from them."
He feels fortunate they're willing to stick with him as he navigates his way from the digital space to the physical world.
"It's even more rewarding," he said. "It takes so much longer to do things that are physical. In digital, I can make a YouTube video right now and technically upload it right this second. For physical products, there is so much more that goes into it. And having it be physically represented in so many different locations around the U.S. where people, who may have not met me in person or seen me in person, they have a physical element from me — 'Connor designed this.'"
Before Urban Outfitters, Franta partnered with Junk Food Clothing on some designs. Through Common Culture, he aims to expand eventually to pants, shoes and jackets. "I think a bomber would be really cool," he said. "I love embroidery so embroidered jackets." His design vision excludes heavy outerwear that would survive the Minnesota winter. "The heavier you go, the less fashionable it gets, sadly," he noted.
An advocate for gay youth, Franta pledges to donate all the profits from his tie-up with Urban Outfitters to GLSEN, which works with schools to end bullying against the LGBTQ community. Aware of the challenges facing many kids who are trying to find themselves in the shadow of President-elect Donald Trump, he shared words of encouragement.