The Coachella Art and Music Festival’s shift from April to October is minor in the scope of the coronavirus crisis, but for local businesses and event planners, and fashion brands and retailers beyond the California desert, it could be significant.
Located in Indio, Calif., the festival has become a substantial source of income, hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth, for much of the Riverside County area. In fashion speak, Coachella isn’t just about arts and music, it’s a California state of mind that over the past two decades has been used to market everything from Levi’s high-waist cutoffs to Yves Saint Laurent lipsticks.
Adidas, Moschino, Revolve, Sephora, H&M, Rachel Zoe and many more have staged Coachella events and activations targeting not only the 250,000 celebrities and festival goers attending to grab free sunglasses and handbags, but also audiences beyond, who watch the action (and trends — hello, body glitter and fanny packs) online and through social media for spring and summer purchasing cues.
Indeed, youth culture might be hit the fastest by the coronavirus. As the stock market continues to plummet, so do teen retailers like Urban Outfitters Inc., Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle Outfitters, which have had collections inspired by festival style. Shares of Urban Outfitters took a nosedive by nearly 14 percent at the start of Thursday’s trading session; American Eagle Outfitters, which includes intimates brand Aerie in the company portfolio, fell by nearly 9 percent, and Abercrombie was down more than 10 percent.
“Teen and young-adult retailers have the most [near-term] downside, in our view,” Janine Stichter, equity analyst at Jefferies, wrote in a note. “Already, even in the absence of broad U.S. lockdown measures, we are seeing many event cancellations (schools closing, major social events such as weddings and parties, vacations), which is likely to impact event-related spend.”
That includes spring break plans and festivals. Earlier this month, South by Southwest was canceled as a precautionary step. The event drew more than 150,000 people, including retailers, to Austin, Tex., each year.
Since then, several other events that attract large crowds — many of them young people — have been canceled or postponed, including Beautycon, Miami’s Ultra Music Festival and Coachella. Meanwhile, universities (including all of New York City’s fashion schools) have moved classes online, prompting students to stay home and spend less on apparel.
Urban Outfitters has already noted the effects of the virus. On Wednesday, the retailer said traffic and sales have taken a hit in the last week in the company’s Seattle and Milan stores, “as well as a few additional locations.” The retailer would not specify the other locations or if the traffic and sales declines include the company’s other brands Anthropologie and Free People.
Stichter noted that it’s the retailers with the most seasonal product flow and shortest lead times that are most likely to be impacted by the virus. Her firm trimmed its price targets on American Eagle Outfitters and Urban Outfitters as a result. Stichter also pointed out that even beyond the teen chains, almost none of the major apparel retailers included the potential impact of the virus in their forecasts for the year.
Since 2016, Levi Strauss & Co. has been hosting celebrities such as Hailey Baldwin, Bella Hadid and Heron Preston, alongside influencers and editors, at its four-day Coachella marketing blitz, which has netted more than 2.5 billion media impressions for the brand each year.
In addition to using the festival to seed new styles, Levi’s uses it as an idea lab for its designers to observe how guests customize pieces and wear them to the events it sponsors, such as Neon Carnival — one of the festival’s hottest tickets. In its 11th year, the guest list-only after-party has in the past hosted as many as 8,000 people, including Rihanna and Leonardo DiCaprio. True to its name (and reportedly with a million-dollar budget), it’s a carnival full of games, attractions and flowing drinks with lots of social media-ready backdrops.
Come October, the carnival will go on, “depending on the state of the world,” said nightlife entrepreneur Brent Bolthouse, who created and manages the affair. “We’ve had conversations with all of our sponsors lined up for the springtime, and they all indicated that they would absolutely join us again.” That includes Levi’s, he said, though the brand would not confirm to WWD its participation.
“It’s really, really horrible for everybody, because the community and the desert heavily rely upon this time of year to create a tremendous amount of revenue for hotels and hotel workers and people renting their houses,” Bolthouse added.
After Neon Carnival, the fashion set typically heads to Jeremy Scott’s Moschino party, which the designer has been hosting since 2008, and used to launch a capsule collection with The Sims last year. During the day, it’s Revolve that hosts the coveted invite. These multi-sponsor productions are sprawling, featuring known Hollywood faces and performances by music’s biggest names. And both were expected to take place again this year, along with Rachel Zoe’s more chill, Palm Springs-based party. Levi’s was planning a four-night takeover of the Sands Hotel and Spa, while Zoe’s “ZoeAsis” was slated for the Parker Palm Springs.
What do brands stand to lose? Asked for comment, representatives of the companies stayed mum — although a spokesperson for Bustle Digital Group, which acquired The Zoe Report in 2018, shared they “fully intend to host ZoeAsis in October.” (The new dates follow on the heels of Paris Fashion Week, assuming there is a Paris Fashion Week.)
“Stand to lose is a very tough question,” said Zev Norotsky, the chief executive officer and founder of Enter. The marketing incubator handles Rolling Stone’s weekend takeover of the Arrive Palm Springs hotel. Last year, it was done in partnership with Lucky Brand Jeans.
It’s been a challenging time, he said, and the prospect of losing Coachella entirely was “really devastating.” The company also manages a number of events during SXSW and the Ultra Music Festival.
“As an agency that lives against the backdrop of festival culture, South by Southwest is easily one of the top five busiest weekends of the year,” continued Norotsky. “I think we were looking at eight events scheduled this week. We also had a big event planned for Ultra…The last week or so has been pretty eventful in terms of cancellations, and I think from a festival standpoint, Coachella is the biggest and most crucial. While we were cautiously optimistic, the reality is we were prepared for a cancellation…”
Mike Albanese, Galore Magazine’s publisher, agreed. “Coachella historically comes together last minute,” he said. The publication planned its own “takeover” at a motel in Palm Springs. “It’s more last minute than you might think. And with all the news and situation, it’s slowed us all down way in advance. For the last two, three weeks, everyone was stuck in neutral and waiting to see what would happen. The announcement itself didn’t catch anybody by surprise.”
Both Norotsky and Albanese were optimistic, noting the positive effects of more time, including the opportunity for new partners. Rolling Stone, Galore, as well as women’s clothing brand Shein plan to host their events in October. The latter will be at Stagecoach Festival, dedicated to country music. Like Coachella, it’s postponed until October (and produced by Goldenvoice).
“The postponement of festivals has prompted us to rework our activation strategy for the next few months,” George Chiao, head of business development and partnership for Shein, said in a statement.
“And while we face substantial losses on investments we have made on festival-related activations, we feel the health and safety of our customers, talents and partners is much more important,” he continued. “We plan on restarting activations in October when festivals resume, and in the meantime, we are developing several unique and creative campaigns in place of the other festivals…”