LOS ANGELES — Bright, cheery and highly Instagrammable, the Revolve Social Club opened its typically private doors to the public over the weekend to stock up on festival fashion. A sales associate complimented a shopper who peeked out from a dressing room Sunday as nearly half the store sat in monastic silence scrolling through their phones.
Welcome to retail’s newest selling moment.
The typical lines out the door for doorbusters and deals have been replaced with full-price and aspirational marketing tied to the annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. The demand surrounding anything and everything tied to the event is real and such that inflation across the Valley lifts hotel room rates to obscene multiples, Uber fares surge and sold out passes to the actual event start at $429, with VIP admission going for $999. Less than a week out, retailers over the weekend began preparing for what’s expected to be a ramp-up in sales in the remaining days before Weekend One of the Indio, Calif., festival, looking to bank on an event that only continues to grow in popularity.
“Festival season is more important than ever to our business and customer,” said Revolve cofounder and co-chief executive officer Michael Mente. “It essentially rivals holiday season for us and continues to gain importance year-over-year.”
The ceo went on to say that the company’s activations around the festival, dubbed #RevolveFestival, this year are expected to be the largest to date.
At retail, Revolve opened its Melrose space for consumers to stock up on Benefit Cosmetics and exclusives from brands such as For Love & Lemons, Beach Riot, Lovers + Friends and Majorelle. The company also teamed with influencers, such as contemporary brand LPA designer and founder Pia Arrobio on a “Beauty and the Booze” box retailing for $150. Another box, for $130, included beauty picks from blogger Jenn Im.
“There is no doubt that Coachella continues to be a revenue driver for apparel brands in the festival fashion space, especially the So Cal and Aussie brands, along with premium denim,” said James Williams, head of retail and fashion industry advisory JSW/Strategy and board member at beach chic retailer Planet Blue. “Any client even tangentially connected to the festival ecosystem, whether retailer or direct-to-consumer, sees a significant uptick in business, generally 30 percent to 50 percent or more. That trend is continuing this year. There is undoubtedly some natural lift associated with simply transitioning out of winter and into spring. But we tend to see sales surge around, and in response to, festival messaging and marketing.”
Planet Blue founder and creative director Ling-Su Chinn noted Agolde’s Parker short and Quinn miniskirt, matching sets from the retailer’s Blue Life line and vintage rock T-shirts among some of the retailer’s strongest sellers so far.
Williams, who previously led the Santa Monica, Calif.-based retailer as ceo for a decade, doesn’t see the momentum around the festival subsiding any time soon either.
“Not so much because of Coachella itself, but rather what it represents in the new world order the consumer has shaped,” Williams added. “Coachella has become one of the tent-pole communal experiences of this generation. Irrespective of whether they are actually into the music, people are congregating and using the festival as a platform to broadcast their own individual brand, and fashion happens to be one of the ways their brand is articulated. As long as this cultural phenomena continues, Coachella or mega-festivals, in general, will likely continue to drive results for the fashion brands that are on point.”
Fraser Ross of the Kitson Kitross boutique on Robertson Boulevard, in fact, recently put up a festival-themed window stating “I go for my Instagram, not the music,” which only reinforces Williams’ thoughts on the cultural implications of festival season.
Does Coachella become the next Black Friday? Not necessarily, many would say, but its importance is not something to be taken lightly.
“It really is the Black Friday without the sale for L.A. because we’re not a Black Friday store,” Ross said. “[Coachella’s] the start of summer for sure. It’s helped L.A. tourism enormously for a month that we didn’t have high tourism in pre-summer.”
Ross said he expects his business this week to see a lift of likely 20 percent as visitors flying in from Los Angeles International Airport make a pit stop in Los Angeles before heading out to the Coachella Valley later this week.
The store has so far seen strong sales of men’s swimwear; straw hats bearing sayings such as “Happy Hour” or “Rosé All Day”; sunglasses; denim shorts; sandals; battery chargers; suntan lotion, and fanny packs.
“It’s like when people go to Vegas: they have their outfits already picked and it’s now about buying the accessories,” Ross said.
And there’s the pool floats, with updates to last year’s popular and much Instagrammed swan this year bearing a palm leaf print, continuing the momentum around what is Ross’ number-one seller.
“Pool floats are insane,” Ross said. “It’s pool floats central: the unicorn, the narwhal. They don’t want the swan they had in the picture from last year. It’s all about their Instagram. It’s their lifestyle that they’re trying to portray to their friends.”
It’s not even necessarily limited to only people who are actually making the trek to Coachella that are scooping up pieces from festival edits. The imprint of what festival season has done for fashion has generally helped bolster sales around this time of year, pointed out Fred Segal ceo Allison Samek.
“I would say anecdotally it has always been a big deal and it has increased year-over-year. I would say that the actual people attending the event, that piece hasn’t changed. But the idea of festival season being a fashion trend and impacting L.A. fashion in general has increased,” Samek said. “So it’s not about ‘I’m buying this specifically to go to Coachella,’ but I’m buying because there’s fashion festival culture and the music festival look that’s permeated spring fashion. The festivals have picked up enough where there’s this new trend of spring festival fashion.”
Certainly no retailer is able to pinpoint whether each purchase around this time of year is being worn by someone attending the festival. But many would say anecdotally it’s helping in conjunction with other factors, such as spring break and the move out of winter. Fred Segal saw sales last week up 21 percent from the prior week with Panama hats, summer pieces, sunglasses and dresses all fast sellers in more recent days. The retailer will ramp up its marketing around the general music season with a MadeWorn pop-up launched Wednesday, mannequins in store at the company’s Sunset and La Cienega Boulevards door bear “festival attire” and the company’s game plan around Instagram is locked in.
Other companies that have built brands around Millennials and see festival season as their time to shine have also become savvier about marketing.
“[Coachella’s] definitely the biggest moment from a retail perspective, but we definitely continue to see these trends exist throughout the season as other festivals happen through the summer,” said Caroline Sill of Nasty Gal. “We definitely see an uptick in sales in March and April.”
Sales are “in line with where we’ve been historically and everyone is really pleased with the sell-through of the categories,” Sill said of merchandise tied to festival season.
Nasty Gal in March began pushing out a festival range, and on Tuesday launched a capsule within that offering, with a campaign fronted by Anaïs Gallagher, whose father is Oasis’ Noel Gallagher. The 20-piece drop retails from $40 to $240 — the highest price point being a hand-beaded dress with fringe — with Western and rodeo references and vegan leather dresses and separates. Even before Tuesday’s launch, the company began seeing strong sell-through of the typical festival fare, Sill said of the ankle boots, tops with tie-front detailing, and the quintessential festival dress — a vintage, floral, mid-calf — that have all been flying off the site.
The company is also pushing much harder this year in its work with celebrities and brand ambassadors, who will be wearing Nasty Gal at the festival and generating content. This strategy includes ties with Lucy Hale, Amanda Cerny, Violetta Komyshan and Corinna Kopf.
That’s a game plan being employed by Australian fashion e-tailer Showpo, which is also coming out with a bigger strategy around Coachella this year.
Showpo will be taking a team of influencers to the first weekend of the festival, where they’ll be generating content for the company’s Instagram feed in a bid to pick up new followers, founder and ceo Jane Lu said.
“This is one of the major festivals that has a real fashion focus,” Lu said. “That’s why it’s really important for us. It’s perfect for Millennials and very aspirational.”
Showpo was nearly sold out as of late last week of pieces from its 22-item festival edit that included a mix of tops, bottoms and dresses accented with sequins and some boho references. The company also bought heavily into accessories this year.
Festivals in general are becoming increasingly important to Showpo’s business, Lu said.
Last year, the firm offered a small collection designed around Coachella. This year it is ramping things up, with Showpo pushing out three different collections, up from two: one around Coachella, one for European festivals and another for winter events.
“We went big with our investment this year and it’s done really well for us,” Lu said. “Last year was a bit of a test and it was in line with plan so we’re going harder this year.”