The IKEA ‘Alex’, and other storage, in Youtube Makeup Collection videos by Hannah Swanwick
Based on her BA dissertation, “An unquenchable thirst for the stereotypically feminine” (Sparke, 2010) A rummaging delve into the world of Youtube Cosmetic videos.
Video by Hannah Swanwick
Until recently, any personal collection remained hidden within the confines of a collector’s home. Collecting was a past time that was only shared amongst certain groups or those trusted within a specific social sphere. However, with the rising popularity of web-based user-created content, Youtube in particular has allowed many collectors to find themselves at the centre of huge viewing figures and extremely devoted audiences. My BA dissertation focused on one sphere of collectors who create online videos – that of the Youtube cosmetics collectors.
A feature of Youtube makeup collections is the furniture showcased in the videos. This includes both the storage furniture and the cosmetic furniture that make up the presentation of a collection. They are typically exhibited in an IKEA Alex unit and MUJI acrylic drawers, although often there will also be a 1970s sideboard, vintage jars and cups, ‘luxury’ empty candle glasses (particularly Diptyque) and a magnifying mirror. Are these things also part of the cult of cosmetics collecting? I aim to establish whether these items, especially the traditionally defined furniture pieces, signify a successful collection, or if they are simply used because of the practicality for storing cosmetics. All too often, these women and their female pursuits are dismissed as not being important, regardless of, in this case, their viewing figures and social power.
The most prevalent is the IKEA ‘Alex’ set of drawers. Rather than merely becoming another means of storing the collection, the Alex has become part of the collection in itself. EssieButton, a makeup ‘guru’ and vlogger , includes the construction of her two IKEA Alex at the end of her vlog ‘Christmas Shopping and Making Things’, remarking “we’re just getting cracking on the first Alex”, and on completion of construction “And the finished product! Let’s see how smooth these drawers are… very well made! Like butter”.  Although meant humorously, it is clear that the arrival of the mass produced chipboard chest of drawers will usher in a new world of organisation for the videographer; In an earlier makeup collection video, she only had one nine drawer Alex that was not solely dedicated to her collection.  In Saulo B. Cwerner’s article Clothes at Rest: Elements for a Sociology of the Wardrobe, the wardrobe is a key item in the realm of fashion that is often ignored:
‘Although the wardrobe is more readily understood as a definitive object, I wish to argue that it also commands a set of distinctive and identifiable spatial practices: forms of structuring, delimiting and organising clothes, as well as the social meanings and identities articulated by these forms. Therefore, singular wardrobes or wardrobe spaces will be understood as elements in a complex web of wardrobe practices.’ 
The Alex has such relevance because of its appearance in almost every makeup collection video. It is clear that each of the women care deeply about the organisational process of their collections, and the overall appearance of the furniture. The IKEA Alex is systematic of this, with its offered choice of either six or nine drawers; the choice of size is reflective of the size of collection, treating the IKEA Alex as an exhibition case rather than a simply a practical form of storage to be filled.
Another example of the importance of storage to both viewer and creator is apparent in a video by Youtuber ‘Lily Pebbles’.  Lily specifically says that her makeup collection video is ‘mainly going to be about how [she] store the bulk of [her] makeup’. She then continuously says the name of a storage item before saying why she likes it, finally finishing by saying what it contains:
‘I store all of my nail polish on the back of my door and this I bought from the Container Store in America. Annoyingly I haven’t found anything similar in the UK but it’s perfect. It hangs on the back of my office door, it’s meant for shoes and it has these clear pockets, it has 24 pockets and I put all my nail polish in and I do it by colour rather than finish because that’s just what I prefer.’ 
Not only does this exemplify how obsessive the beauty collecting community on Youtube can be, it also allows the viewer to feel like they are being let in on personal information. The collectors have an ‘everything in its place’ mentality, and it is within these videos that this ideal is finally visualised. It is often with a pained expression that a Youtuber will admit to having a section for things that don’t fit anywhere else – be that in brand, size or even colour.
The significance of the drawer unit for beauty Youtubers is two-fold; The Alex within collection videos is exactly what Cwerner describes for the wardrobe, being ‘both spatially and temporally, a set of material and symbolic practices that are fundamental for the constitution of selfhood, identity, and well-being’. It not only acts as a vehicle for display that implies care for their collections, but the Alex is also a part of the beauty vlogger building an identity online. Without an established model for the creators to follow for the display and storage of these collections, the creators have the autonomy to define what makes a Youtube makeup collection. Through framing their high- street makeup collection in an IKEA Alex, rather than asserting themselves as individuals, they are asserting themselves as part of a community of ‘beauty vloggers’.
Whilst collection videos are formulaic, there are two in particular which really do exhibit striking furnishing similarities. Essiebutton’s ‘Makeup Collection | essiebutton’  and Zoella’s series of ‘Zoella Makeup Collection’  videos both feature a 1970s teak G-Plan dressing table. Both women explain how they acquired their dressers, clearly expecting it to be a question that will otherwise be asked in the comments below the video – ‘My desk is actually from eBay… it was a complete bargain’ (Zoella) and ‘I got this online. It was a secondhand sort of thing’ (Essiebutton). In Russell W Belk’s Collecting as a consumer society (1995) he states that collectors look for, and towards, others with a similar interest in order to compare and assess where they stand in their collecting sphere, asserting their positions and thus gaining a feeling of accomplishment – an emotion that doesn’t always seem apparent in these videos. It is intriguing that both women have chosen something so similar that isn’t a commonly available piece of furniture from the likes of IKEA. The dressing table is distinct from the ‘Alex’ in both style and usage. The romanticism of the 1970s dressing table allows them to stage and justify their obsession with makeup by framing it in nostalgic femininity. The dressing table enforces physical engagement with the collection, placing the body at the centre of the interaction. For the viewers, the exhibition of the furniture within the collection proves that it is active and not existing only as a mass accumulation.
The similarities continue as the videos progress: Both dressing tables exhibit candles by the luxury candle and fragrance brand Diptyque, vintage-style or secondhand cups and vases for storing inordinate numbers of makeup brushes, and the ultimate beauty vloggers organisational tool, the Muji office storage system, repurposed for storing all manner of cosmetic items . Zoella’s voice is continuously backed with light music and a sing-song voices informs you of different things that constitute her collection, whereas Essiebutton appears to be less entranced by the thought of showing off her spoils. Essiebutton apologises for things that she hasn’t achieved yet; ‘nothing really has a perfect home’ could be appropriated as a telling insight into how she, and other Youtubers, feel about their mass accumulation-cum-collection.
It is assumed such items are chosen because of their practicality – just like the omnipresent IKEA Alex – rather than purely for aesthetic purposes. However, it is questionable how women within this arena have actually chosen the things that furnish their lives – are they all so desperate to have the correct set-up as prescribed by others like them online that they automatically go out and buy anything that is suggested by those within the community? The beauty community thrives on recommendations, evident in the proliferation of these videos and the consistent repetition of their contents. The idea that ’women were consumers of objects; men were collectors. Women bought to decorate and for sheer joy of buying, but men had a vision for their collections… or so the argument went’  (Saisselin in Belk, 1996: 68) seems incredibly outdated as a statement in general, yet when applied to female beauty Youtubers in particular, it seems to make sense. A generalisation that is rooted in stereotypes will never help any group but again, the culture of the beauty community in this instance mirrors this idea. Why else would women allow other women to dictate what they buy without anything to go on except a liking for a person’s online persona?
My own feeling is that the trusting relationship developed between Youtuber and viewer is a valid point of reasoning. A purchase made on personal recommendation is more often carried out in earnest rather than purely suggestion, as with advertising. In 2013, before the beauty industry had recognised the influence of Youtubers on consumers, the format of the vlog framed these videos as sincere, everyday depictions of women’s lives, albeit privileged ones. This is why the IKEA Alex in particular is important within this narrative. It is symbolic of the everyday lives that Youtubers lead, accessible and affordable, set against a domestic setting which in turn the viewers are watching and engaging with. The video interface is a continuation of the viewer’s life, a demonstration of an achievable but idealistic lifestyle.