PALM SPRINGS — “Cute. Just talk to each other. Laugh. Perfect.”
And, scene, as one of many photographers shooting the gaggle of influencers during last week’s Nicole Richie-hosted brunch at #hotelRevolve wandered off to another group. Elsewhere, one girl straddled a white swan pool floatie posing for a different photographer, while another walked backward along the pool’s edge with a come-hither look into the camera. She suddenly stopped, serious and quickly flipped through the frames. Everywhere else, people were being photographed and make no mistake, these weren’t selfies on a camera phone. These were well-thought-out productions on DSLRs, with none of those kit lenses, and post-editing in some cases.
Welcome to the world of influencer marketing with one company that perhaps helped invent and continues to iterate on the modern-day term: Revolve.
Last year the Cerritos, Calif.-based multibrand e-tailer made waves by taking over a hotel to rebrand it as its own. The company declined to say how much it spent over the course of the weekend, but this year the hotel moved and quadrupled in size to 140 rooms at the V Palm Springs with some 300 guests staying at the all-expenses-paid property, where they could lounge at one of two pools or attend any one of the many events planned across the five-day period during Weekend One of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Guests could nosh on plates from a menu created especially for #hotelRevolve, which included acai bowls, avocado toast with poached eggs, chicken wraps and cucumber salads. Benefit Cosmetics was on-site to do brow consultations and stylings, while Mane Addicts offered help with festival hair styles. The Hydration Room was there from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to provide poolside vitamin IV and injection therapies. More than six other homes were rented out for the overflow guests who couldn’t be accommodated at the hotel, including Richie, Shay Mitchell, Negin Mirsalehi, Aimee Song and Revolve employees.
Most of the guests were influencers — roughly 90 — with the remainder plus ones, boyfriends, celebrities and sponsors. Those who were flown in by Revolve hailed from Spain, Germany, Amsterdam, Canada, Australia, France, Mexico, Sweden, Indonesia, Greece, Morocco, Japan and China.
The schedule was packed: Thursday was a welcome dinner followed by Friday’s House of Harlow x Urban Decay Brunch hosted by Richie and then a Mitchell-hosted party before revelers enjoyed a night-time party offsite done in conjunction with Tao. The next two days repeated: #Revolvefestival at the illustrious Merv Griffin Estate during the day, with performances from A$AP Rocky and 21 Savage, among others, followed by the Tao party. There was also an ever-rotating cadre of Lyft buses shuttling hotel guests throughout the Coachella Valley. The festival, larger than last year by about 50 percent, was estimated to have seen roughly 2,200 guests each day and included some 25 brand partners.
“Of course the main focus for our brand is selling clothes and apparel, but it’s really evolved to be a lifestyle brand,” said Revolve cofounder and co-chief executive officer Michael Mente. “Festivals and hotels are a great thing for us to really create an atmosphere, a mood and a community and really engage with all the people that, a lot of times, we’ll only engage with on trips or digitally. I think one of the coolest things is that it also really facilitates in many different ways where a lot of our closest friends are at this event. A lot of these people, more or less, are good friends or a lot of good friends have met through this. So this is us taking it in a very, very serious way.”
That’s really the rub for not just Revolve, but nearly all of the guests that came to #hotelRevolve. It wasn’t just to take a bunch of selfies and float around on giant rafts in the sun all day followed by booze-induced nights of partying and live performances. It is a business at the end of the day and the ramp in spend is calculated.
“The timing of this is super important for us,” Mente said. “The old-school fashion calendar is spring starts in January and February. For us, it’s a little more buy-now-wear-now. This is when the weather really starts to get a little warmer so we’re lucky this [Coachella] event is the beginning of summer for us and this is also the second peak of holiday season, so Monday would already be our Cyber Monday sales. So from a brand experience that’s why this is so important. It really does make sense and it also does really translate into effectiveness.”
The seasonality and continued shift in the fashion calendar and new modes of doing business were something echoed by Richie as she sat last Friday at her brunch to celebrate her collaboration with Urban Decay — sold exclusively through Revolve, of course.
This marked Richie’s second time playing hostess during Coachella for a Revolve brunch.
“Spring is a very big season for House of Harlow,” she said of the synergies between her label, Revolve and Coachella. “That just comes from the fact that it’s a music-inspired, vintage-inspired brand. I’m a California girl and it’s a California brand so this is a very big season for me.”
Mente sat poolside last week as he spoke with WWD on the night of the Revolve welcome reception. Next to him was chief brand officer Raissa Gerona. A coworker brought the two drinks as they raised their glasses to the start of another festival season and yet another, bigger, badder and more ambitious marketing play by Revolve.
“You can quote us on the cheers,” Mente said, as Danielle Bernstein passes by to say “hi.”
“Do you know Danielle from ‘We Wore What?’” Mente asked.
“WWD just did a story on my swim line that’s coming out,” Bernstein said.
“She’s a mini-mogul,” Mente said.
Indeed. Bernstein reportedly makes seven figures with some 1.8 million followers on Instagram, and just like that, the gravity of what’s all wrapped up in this rebranded hotel, daytime festival and nighttime parties comes back into focus.
Olivia Culpo, the super influencer who has won the Miss Rhode Island, Miss USA and Miss Universe titles, while also recently opening a restaurant with family and set to star in Bruce Willis’ action flick “Reprisal,” was also hard at work doing the circuit of events during Coachella, including Revolve’s events, the Create & Cultivate conference Saturday and countless other parties.
“I packed upward of 20 outfits,” Culpo said. “Yeah, seriously.”
She was sitting inside a bathroom just ahead of a panel she was set to speak on for Create & Cultivate.
“Oh, my gosh. I have to be honest sometimes I’m so tired because I work so much,” she said. “This is my job, but I always have to remind myself how lucky I am. I get to do what I love and I have such a fun job. I’m surrounded by so many people who I love so much and who inspire me so much. I feel so lucky. Obviously we can all get tired but I never throw myself a pity party.”
Culpo recently teamed with Marled by Reunited on her first foray into apparel — a collection of fashionable, yet sporty separates, some of which bore the phrase “GRL PWR.” The line saw 80 percent sell-through in 48 hours. The first delivery of the 13-piece capsule, priced from $58 to $148, sold out. The second delivery has already seen the collection’s white dress, white bandeau top and a “Grl Pwr” sweatshirt sell out.
Again, another reminder that there’s a business to be had for those savvy enough — and hard-working enough — to find the opportunities.
“I think people underestimate the importance of really trying to avoid the hate,” Culpo said. “A lot of people can get really turned off by people not even agreeing with what they are putting out there. When you are putting yourself out there on such a big, massive platform for everybody to judge and say whatever they want, it is really scary and something that I wish other people would take away who are trying to make it in this industry is that you really have to learn how to filter that out.”
“So many people look at my industry as you just take a photo and you’re selfie-ing all day,” said beauty blogger Andreea Cristina, who is originally from Bucharest with a bachelors degree in finance and time spent in the private banking world. “That is just so wrong on so many levels. One photo takes half a day of brainstorming — especially if it’s a collaboration. You want to know what the brand is trying to achieve, what’s your audience? How can you merge the two in an authentic way that stays true to you and what the brand needs.”
Last week was Cristina’s first stint staying at the hotel. The influencer, who has been operating her blog for roughly four years, said she also worked with Revolve when the company did an event in the Hamptons.
“The way [Revolve’s] doing most of their events, they do it in a way that inspires you to create content without having to. It’s a natural occurrence,” she said. “That’s part of the reason why you get so much content. They don’t force us to. Everything’s so cute, you want to, as a creative person, take it upon yourself and just do it and that’s the best type of collaboration.”
Pamela Allier, of her namesake blog, said she was posting pictures throughout the weekend. On Sunday she was sitting at a table near the pool, recovering from the prior day’s activities. The fashion and lifestyle blogger has been linked with Bulgari, Salvatore Ferragamo, Nike and Tous and splits her time between Los Angeles and Mexico City. For Allier, the blog and maintenance of her social media channels is a full-time job and one she hopes bears out in an eventual fashion brand, considering her major was textile design.
“People think that everything [with blogging] is easy,” Allier said. “They don’t see the hard work to take the pictures. Usually when you arrive somewhere, it’s first take the picture, edit, put it on Instagram, do InstaStories, tag, whatever and then have fun. Then you relax. It’s not like a normal person that just arrives [on a trip].”
“They think you’re literally having fun and showing it off when it’s actually really hard. It’s work,” said Paola Zurita, a Mexico-based lifestyle and travel blogger with a bachelor’s in marketing and a master’s in digital media.
The ubiquity of blogging is such that consumers are well aware of the transactional nature of what’s turned hobbies into full-blown brands and businesses. Yet Revolve somehow continues to keep followers engaged.
“We have zero posting guidelines in the sense of say this or do that,” Mente said. “Our goal is to really create an event that we’re excited to go to that if we weren’t here we’d be so bummed and have so much FOMO. I think if you can do that, which is probably the hardest thing to do, then I think the rest of it falls into place. Our guests are all people we really want to be friends with. This is us and our friends going to Coachella.”
“Whether it’s #Revolvefestival or Revolve Around the World [a separate marketing program], everything that we like to do is because we want to make sure that we’re enjoying it ourselves and everyone that we’re bringing really enjoys it too,” Gerona said. “I think that’s a huge part of the brand and why it feels authentic and organic. We’re never trying to fake it and we’re never trying to tell influencers you need to post this and you better stand right there. They’re creators; they know exactly what they need to do and we just need to provide the best experience and hopefully this weekend will be the best yet.”
In fact, the genesis of #hotelRevolve is perhaps as organic as it can be. The first one, in 2013, was literally Mente, Gerona, Aimee Song of Song of Style and Julie Sariñana of Sincerely Jules going out to Coachella with boyfriends and friends.
“It was just like ‘Let’s go. It’s going to be good content. We’ll have a lot of fun,’” Mente recalled of the trip. “We thought maybe we could turn this into a work thing or a marketing opportunity where the company can pay for it and it’s not just us going as friends. The next year we had maybe 10 influencers.”
As most companies tout authenticity constantly, Revolve’s influencer marketing playbook, when distilled, really does appear to be a bunch of friends hanging out. That’s how the business was founded – by two friends: Mente and Mike Karanikolas, who is also co-ceo of the business. Mente and Gerona were also friends who had started the line Lovers & Friends together before Gerona was brought on as the head of brand for the Revolve group.
“It’s selfish because Michael and I have to think, ‘Where do we want to go next?’ What’s fun because we’re constantly researching and seeing what experience can we provide,” Gerona said. “We spend so much time at work that we better have fun and enjoy it.”
It’s a constant tottering back and forth between work and play — splashing around in a pool to nab the perfect picture in optimal daylight hours, listening to a bunch of live music at a private luxury estate in La Quinta while getting the perfect post or partying with friends as they run a business soon set to hit $1 billion in revenue.
“We have the most fun, best jobs ever because we get to do what we genuinely think is fun and exciting on a bigger scale. Who’s here,” Mente said as he gestured around the pool at the #hotelRevolve welcome reception. “It’s people we would hang out with just for fun. There’s just a natural sense of connection. If you don’t feel it, it’s going to translate to the customer like trying to fake it, or it’s too transactional. But if someone comes and has the time of their lives, that’s going to translate on a deep level.”