The business of being Victoria Paris
If money could talk, Victoria Paris' would say "fuck you." The TikTok creator is fuming on a sidewalk in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, outside a shop selling pricey mid-century relics. Fifteen thousand dollars worth of Willy Guhl planters rest in pooling rainwater in the driveway. When we arrived 20 minutes ago, the proprietor observed our little group of twenty-somethings with thinly-veiled disdain. Then Paris purchased one of the shop's more unique pieces: a paper lamp in the shape of a Campbell's soup can. It cost more than my monthly rent.
"That's a 'fuck you' purchase," Paris says, her arms crossed by the street. "I will love it even more because I know why I bought it, and I know exactly how I felt in that moment when he treated me like I was so tiny… looking at me like I don't belong there." She adjusts the shearling-trimmed Jacquemus bag on her shoulder. "I hate people who are judgmental. You don't know people's shit, you don't know how much money anybody has."
The 22-year-old standing before me in denim shorts, high tops, a green trucker hat, and a tie-dye shirt does not fit the customer profile of a furniture store for Brooklyn's artistically minded elite. But look any further than her green-billed brim and you'll find that Paris is a self-built entrepreneur of the digital era, with a million TikTok followers, six-figure deals with brands like Amazon and Anthropologie, and the financial freedom to buy whatever the fuck she wants.
Paris has always been a hustler. Growing up in New Jersey, then North Carolina, she was a gamer girl who liked Yogscast, attended Minecon, and sat on the floor watching her older brother stream on Twitch. As a child, she sold homemade creations to Chapel Hill's local comic store. In high school, she was arrested for racing her car, and learned the business of thrifting while completing community service behind the counter of a Christian thrift store. In the year she spent at Indiana University, she flipped clothes to pay for alcohol and drugs, then upsold vintage audio equipment on eBay to finance her move to New York and attend the New School.
When she was laid off from her role at a fintech startup in the pandemic panic of early 2020, Paris doubled down on driving traffic to her DePop store to make money. She saw TikTok as an untapped fount of opportunity, and made creating videos for it her full-time job. She posted dozens of times a day, drawing viewers in with her stream-of-consciousness relatability and vlog-like filming style. In six months, she had charmed the TikTok algorithm, gaining more than 1 million followers and an audience of fans called Victorians.
Perched on the orange boucle couch that anchors her airy downtown loft, Paris broke down her success: "It's like an equation, and the variable [is] the video, the product. The constant will always be me. And no matter what I change the variable to… they love the constant. And so that takes a lot of pressure away." Her goal now is "just trying new things and staying true to myself. I don't think I am a creative person. I think I'm a consistent person… I just keep creating stuff."
Paris is not in pursuit of perfection. "Most of my shit's bad," she laughs, "I'm not trying to act like I'm some savant, like this is some fucking Picasso shit." She points to her friend, prolific YouTuber and filmmaker Casey Neistat. "He's like 'I won't put anything out there they don't think is amazing and I don't give a fuck how people receive it.' And I was like, 'I don't give a fuck if it's amazing."
The perceived mediocrity of her content, and its subsequent success despite that, was dubbed the "Victoria Paris Effect" by the Embedded Substack. She's had advantages others don't: her college education, pandemic timing, and the fact that "so many massive creators are thin and white," she says. "That is never something that's not always working in your favor; it's always important to acknowledge that. To act like the elephant isn't there is ridiculous."
Still, she feels vindicated by her success. "I was the fuck up, the one that got kicked out of multiple schools…the one who couldn't keep a job. Nobody expected shit out of me. So for this to happen, it's kind of like fuck you guys," she says, holding two defiant middle fingers in the air. "Now it's like, reconciling with that [and] being comfortable with myself and my success and with being intelligent."
Not everyone with Paris' follower count is on their way to making millions less than two years after appearing, seemingly out of thin air, on the world's fastest-growing social media platform. But after talking to Paris about her business, I was struck by her strategic approach to nearly every aspect of her career. She says she never planned to become famous, but I feel like it was inevitable.
You can write that I'm power hungry and want this so badly, which is true, but it's also because I'm good at it.
Within the first 10 minutes of meeting, we're digging into the pros and cons of hiring and dividing income between a team: after her manager, agent, lawyer, business manager, and the government take their share, Paris is left with less than 25 percent of what comes in. But, she notes astutely, "What I do right now costs me the WiFi bill and my phone plan. There's no other business that is as lucrative with zero overhead." She adds, for perspective, that "the average kid in New York City who graduates college gets a job that pays 50 to 80 grand on the high end, right?" Paris is doing much better than that. "My business manager told me that I was one of their most successful 22-year-old clients and had saved the most," she says proudly.
Spending money is hard for her. She’s slowly allowed herself to vacation and eat out, but paying for a cab uptown still makes her nervous. "I had $100 in my bank account the first two years living here [in New York City]," she says. She's already eyeing her own version of retirement in five to 10 years. When I ask her how much money that will take, she replies, almost existentially, "How much do you need to retire? It's just like, how do you want to live?" Her plan as of now is to "develop brands and live off passive income and periodic projects and making videos when I want to."
"In the conception of my career, people wanted to make me out to seem like this viral, crazy girl who's like running on a rampage and not an actual businesswoman," she tells me. "You can write that I'm power hungry and want this so badly, which is true, but it's also because I'm good at it."
I ask her about a June 2021 piece in The Cut that reduced her to a "strangely-transfixing-if-also-sometimes-annoying everygirl" whose "antics are a kind of charming farce of youthful relatability." The article wounded Paris' trust in ways she's still recovering from.
"This person was so extremely nice to me, acting like my best friend." She takes a deep breath, the first I've heard her take in hours. "It'll be really hard for me to do [another] piece with a male writer… To put yourself in a vulnerable relationship where someone can interpret you, I find that men constantly misinterpret me… Being comfortable in my own skin always rubs men, no matter their sexuality, their identity, the wrong way… When that piece came out, I was reconciling with newfound 'internet fame' and not sure how I felt about it." Now, "I'm so much more settled down and secure in myself."
As we chat about her PH balance, she fishes her laptop out of a large wicker bowl. She has a consulting call, one of a handful she does for large brands and startups every month. Paris uses her phone for everything, including editing her YouTube vlogs and attending meetings. But she noticed that most people on these calls had home offices and worried that her mobile setup might come off as "disrespectful." So she attempts to fire up the laptop. "I haven't used [this] in weeks, I've got to figure out how to get on."
While on the hour-long call, Paris eats two small packs of dried mango, texts her manager, scrolls through Twitter (I can see her liking tweets in real time), looks up call participants on LinkedIn and Instagram, makes savvy, tongue-in-cheek asides to me about the viability of the proposed product, orders a salad (a HarvestBowl from Sweetgreen), and eats the salad.
Amidst all this activity, she will unmute herself and contribute the most incisive feedback of anyone in the meeting, including participants more than twice her age. The voices coming out of her phone (her laptop dies mid-meeting; her charger is at a date's house) sound audibly impressed by the precision of her insights.
Paris has ADHD; multitasking is a way of engaging with the call, her version of actively listening and processing. It's possible that her neurodivergence makes her particularly good at her job. People with ADHD are motivated by pressure, passion, and novelty. "I would not be able to do what I do if I wasn't obsessed with this," Paris explains. "When it comes to something that I'm so overwhelmingly passionate about, it's like…" she makes a noise that sounds like an object breaking the sound barrier. "I can just push through everything."
Paris has wrestled with moderation for much of her life. She has battled anorexia and binging. A self-described "workaholic," she works every moment she's not asleep and even answers emails in the shower, with her phone in one hand and her shampoo in the other. "Creating and producing and always needing to be doing something can be a vice in itself," she notes.
Her most all-consuming obsession is data and optimization. "My friends think it's fucking scary; [if] I'm doing something on my phone, I'm either texting or responding to an email or refreshing and watching this," she leans over to show me her TikTok dashboard. "I watch the data all day long… I see every uptick or downtick. I put a video out, I watch how it trends. And then I'll make another video and see if that trends similarly." Then, she privates the videos that don't do well. She estimates she's made more than 20,000 TikToks, only a third of which are still public.
Many creators will say they create to feel a connection with their viewers. It’s not a motivation Paris can relate to. "I have never been the type of person to follow people religiously. I've never experienced a parasocial relationship," she says. The one exception was with the stars of reality show John and Kate Plus 8. She cried when they got divorced. "I love every single one of [the Victorians], and I would be nothing without them," she acknowledges. "But I've never experienced what they experience. I almost envy conviction and connection because I can be a very analytical, clinical person."
In person, Paris can be surprisingly drawn inward, almost somber. "I'm neutral off camera," she says. "It takes a lot to get to me now or [get] close [with me]." In a recent YouTube video, she said that being a public figure has "stripped me of my emotions. I am working on getting empathy back, and joy."
Strangers feel entitled to her time, energy, and body; they grab her on the sidewalk, follow her in cars, and take pictures of her at the gym or on the street without her knowledge. "No person should be subjected to so many opinions… you almost have to neutralize [yourself] and just stop caring completely," she says. But, "at the end of the day, [the public] don't get to see me when I wake up in the morning, open my eyes, like a partner would. And those are the only people who can really hurt me."
To take back control, Paris started moderating her own video comments. "It's been one of the best things I've ever done for myself," she says. "I've created such a positive ecosystem where the comment[s] section is very constructive or happy." She recently decided to let the Botox in her forehead dissolve ("I don't really fear facial expression anymore"), but she hasn't been able to evade the effect of persistent public scrutiny of her appearance. "It's a reality that you're on camera all the time, and you have to take care of yourself." She pulls back her lower lip and points at a tooth. "I got a veneer because people were like you have a yellow tooth… I've only ever taken care of things because of other people."
Audience opinion also dictates much of her content. "Being an engaged producer [is] knowing what people want from you. Recently, somebody told me, 'Stop doing that ass pose.' And then they're like, 'I kind of miss the ass pose.' And they were like, 'Stop screaming.' And so you turn down the audio a little bit." In that way, content creation feels collaborative, like a game she plays with her audience. "I produce with them."
"When I turn on the camera, I'm very much myself amplified… Filming videos is like acting. Some of the most talented creators are amazing actors [in] their own self-produced reality show… This is a fully operating, functional set," she says, surveying her bright, spacious loft in downtown Manhattan. She moved here in the fall, out of a 10-by-10 foot box of a room in a shared apartment. She could have purchased a house or moved into a doorman building like some "Depop flipper who now lives in a high rise with CB2 couches," she jokes, but "that would have been such a disruption to the ecosystem," she explains, as if describing the fictional universe of a television show. "This is literally my old apartment but larger."
Her vibrant, maximalist style has made the space recognizable to viewers in the same way that Rachel and Monica’s purple door in Friends or Carrie's desk by window in Sex and the City are cultural touchstones. Updates to Paris' kitchen — quirky lime green cabinets and patterned backsplashes and floor tiles — divided her comments section. Now they're part of her brand, one of several rotating backdrops of The Victoria Paris Show. "You will never see that kitchen, even without me standing there, and not think it's me," she says, noting that the videos she makes while traveling perform more poorly than the ones in which the most recognizable pieces of her apartment are on screen.
"My end goal is to be able to operate [my] Instagram without me in it, [to] take a picture of my couch that grosses just as many likes, if not more, and better retention than a picture of me." She recently posted a tongue-in-cheek TikTok bemoaning that an Instagram photo of her lamp had gotten more likes than one of her in a bikini. In reality, she was thrilled. "Over the moon!" she says, "it takes pressure off me as a woman who has gained weight or changed my look or experimented with sexuality that my audience is just as happy with something that's a product of me."
A pile of laundry sits in the palm of a wicker chair, shaped like two cupped hands, that Victorians know well. It was a piece she dreamed of owning in high school but couldn't afford. Last year, she got it as part of a brand deal with Urban Outfitters. I ask why she doesn't just pay to have her laundry picked up and done professionally like other well-off New Yorkers and, of course, Paris has a good reason: Stylized videos of her taking her clothes to a local laundromat perform well. "They're fun to watch because most kids just don't even do laundry, period." By kids, she means 16 to 25 year olds, her largest audience.
"To have ownership of your space as a 22-year-old is a privilege," she acknowledges. "Having a space like this has been crucial to me being happy with myself."
She wants her audience to feel the same way. She hopes to eventually make a line of homeware decor like "peelable decals or wallpaper for your dorm" to empower young people to personalize their space as an amplification of their identity, even if it's temporary or rented. As she talks, the former history major references the parallel mid-century rise of children’s rights and the development of children’s furniture as a consumer category.
Paris thinks that the smartest investment she can make right now is purchasing a house in Connecticut or Long Island. The other investment surprises me: furniture. The couch we're sitting on cost $15,000 by the time it was reupholstered and delivered. She thinks she can eventually sell it for more. "All the time people are like, 'invest in my drink company' and 'let's just set up an NFT project.' I'd rather buy a fucking couch. Just because you can make money doesn't mean you should make money." She opens her Instagram to DMs from Shein and NastyGal. She hasn't replied.
Our last day together is spent shopping for furniture. She gives me an address in Long Island City, and I assume we'll be traipsing through the aisles of a warehouse, drooling over mid-priced mid-century modern gems. Instead, I open the door into a warm, airy showroom that seems, even at 12:30 in the afternoon, bathed in golden-hour light.
Paris and her interior designer Addison are chatting with a salesman who cranes his neck around Addison's tall frame to appraise me suspiciously. He tells me not to touch or sit on anything. I feel so unwelcome that I am afraid to use the bathroom, with its gallery wall and Aesop soap. I look up the price of a vintage cloud-shaped white boucle loveseat and chair set in the corner then quickly close the tab when I see that the set is $20,700.
When we leave, Paris beams under the brim of her trucker hat. “That was so fire!" she says. I note the irony of not touching furniture ostensibly made to be sat on. "These are for houses that you don't sit in," Addison says, mostly seriously. "When was the last time a 22-year-old even went in there?" Victoria says. As I all but cowered in the corner, Paris was having the time of her life. "It was such a fun experience."
Over the next few hours, it becomes apparent to me just how much of a long game she's playing.
"This kind of content [around investment furniture and design], nobody else is making on this level of social media." She notes that YouTube creator MrBeast consistently invests money back into his content. "These [furniture purchases] are like pieces of content." She's also interested in the relationships she can make as she learns about the industry, curating a network of "people that have good style and are experts at what they [do]. Building an amazing business is employing amazing people," she says with the conviction of someone many times her age. "It's all valuable experience."
By the time we get to the shop where Paris makes her Campbell's soup can "fuck you" purchase, I'm not surprised to learn she didn't just buy it to send a message. "That's going to appreciate because of the brand name," she explains. Plus, "while y'all were talking to the owner, I looked it up online." It was the only lamp of its kind available, and she thinks it will hold its value for years.
She pauses to post a branded video to her TikTok, essentially paying for the lamp with the tap of a button. Then she looks up at us, over the whole thing. "I'm hungry… You want tacos?"
Photography by Molly Flores