What’s the New ‘Festival Fashion’ Aesthetic?
Coachella is fast approaching, and with it, the inevitable articles, campaigns and Instagram posts on "festival fashion" and the references to flower crowns — or is it chokers — that are associated with it. But as different types of aesthetics start to garner buzz or become mainstream — from streetwear to "basic bitch" fashion — the music festival's signature "boho" look is a little tired — a parody of itself, even (at least, to everyone except #1 Coachella Attendee Vanessa Hudgens). So what styles are brands and retailers pushing now?
It's important to note that Coachella and festival season at large is a massive money-making, brand-awareness-spreading opportunity in the fashion space. Over the years, we've seen music festival culture shape spring trends; fashion photography tropes emerge among festival-friendly lookbooks; brands opt into marketing around Coachella — then opt out; brands capitalize on Coachella before the festival even begins; brands dedicate massive resources to create Instagrammable moments at Coachella; and the beauty business cashing in on Coachella, too.
One retailer that is currently a successful case study for its brand activations around Coachella is Los Angeles-based Revolve. The company has evolved from renting one house and hosting two influencers (Julie Sariñana of Sincerely Jules and Song of Style’s Aimee Song) to taking over a hotel with 140 rooms for this year’s mini-Coachella, complete with a "two-day FOMO inducing party" and music lineup at an offsite location. "It's a huge and heavy sales period for us so the investment really is worth our while," says Chief Brand Officer Raissa Gerona. Indeed, on the Monday prior to #REVOLVEfestival last year, the retailer received 667K visitors to its site, which is 63.6 percent higher than the daily average of an entire Q1.
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"One of the things that we did this year is put together an exclusive capsule range with some of our brands, both third-party and through Alliance Apparel," says Revolve's VP of Buying & Merchandising Lauren Yerkes. The collection, boasting close to 200 pieces, is what Yerkes sees as "not really boho and flower crowns anymore" but a combination of runway trends with plenty of ‘90s-inspired details: graphic T-shirts, high-cut swimwear, sequins or paillettes, and vivid and bright colors. Sure, there are some pieces that reference Coachella's past, like fringe and crochet, but they’re revamped in pastel shades or with playful motifs.
"It's really been elevated over the last couple of years," says Gerona of the Revolve customer's approach to festival dressing. "She is really thinking and investing a ton in what she's wearing and we see our customer planning this out weeks before and having multiple outfit changes during the day, because she's not only just going to Coachella or Revolve's festival, but she's going to other cool parties and nighttime parties."
For Bay Area-based cult online retailer Dolls Kill, festival fashion and culture is embedded in the company's ethos and that authentic association is paying off: Its festival season sales are up 350 percent year over year, growing faster than the rest of its business. "We all grew up going and still go to concerts and festivals — Burning Man, Coachella, all of these places," says Shoddy Lynn, who founded the retail site with her husband Bobby Farahi. "So we have a lot of natural input in what we feel is up-and-coming or over. We take cues from everybody in the office; all of our designers work closely with our stylists and obviously social media also plays a huge role."
Dolls Kill approaches festival fashion by curating collections around specific festivals, from Coachella to Electric Daisy Carnival. It also categorizes its offerings for different "Dolls" or aesthetics: Kandi is a club kid who practices PLUR in kawaii-style clothes; Coco is like a life-size Barbie-meets-femme bot hybrid; Mercy is all things witchy and goth; Willow is full-on hippie; and Darby is a punk-rock bad bitch through and through. Lynn has noticed this array of aesthetics also reflects how music festival lineups are starting to branch out with more varied performers and genres.
"Festival season used to be this bohemian vibe, very earthy. Denim shorts was all girls wore," she says. "And now you go to a festival and you see all these different vibes being represented. At a festival now, or at least the big ones, it has a dark underground techno dance tent, then the more EDM stuff and a stage for bands. So they're feeding into the different tastes and I think that's the main thing that's changed. We've always spoken to each one of those girls."
In the UK, the most well-known name in music festival season is Glastonbury. (Though, the festival is taking a "fallow year" in 2018 for its Somerset, England site to undergo renovations and maintenance.) And according to Topshop's Head of Design Mo Riach, the five-day event also pioneered the boho festival look via Sienna Miller and Kate Moss and their mud-covered wellies from Hunter, of course. But as new music events continue to pop up around the world, Riach's team has adopted a more global approach to designing festival-friendly apparel.
"Our customers are traveling a lot to festivals now, Coachella and Glastonbury being the bigger ones," says Riach. "But there are a lot of festivals around the world that people are traveling to, so we tend to go there as an initial call for research. You want to go to the root of the action and see what tastemakers at festivals are wearing." In the past, Topshop has hosted activations across the biggest festivals in the U.S., UK and Australia, as well as at Good Vibes in Malaysia, Canada's Way Home and Concrete & Grass in China, to name a few others.
Riach sees street style influencing festival fashion more than ever, especially with the rise of urban dance festivals and one-day, city-based festivals, such as Field Day in London. "There's also a bit of a carnival feel, as well, coming through," says Riach. "People are so influenced by different festivals globally now, so the bolder and brighter, the better really. Lots of feathers and multicolored sequins, kind of full-on and glittery. We've definitely moved on from that flower power type of feel."
With Topshop, Riach points out pumped-up military as a rising aesthetic, like embellished camouflage print, as well as DIY details, from customized denim to statement headwear — the latter being mostly influenced by Instagram. In a sea of festival selfies and group photos, personalized and vintage pieces will likely stand out.
"The biggest shift is the move away from boho to a few things that are more urban, more eclectic, maybe more vintage," notes WGSN Retail Editor Sidney Morgan-Petro. "But that also reflects the shift in what festivals we're looking at for inspiration." Over the past couple of years, Morgan-Petro and the rest of her editorial team have been excited about the festival looks coming out of SXSW, Afropunk and Clockenflap out of Hong Kong. "They have a really different style that's super directional," she says.
Though Morgan-Petro and her colleagues are looking less at Coachella for design inspiration, she believes that the new festival fashion aesthetic is leaning more towards streetwear and skater influences. The western look is still a thing, too — unsurprising considering how much of it was trending during Fall 2018 fashion month — but in a more kitschy, funkier way: Say, wearing a pair of chaps similarly spotted on Rihanna, Victoria's Secret models and the Y-Project runway. But what interests Morgan-Petro most is the influence of tech utility and stylish practicality. "Everybody wants to look pretty and have their picture taken at a festival but you also want to be comfortable and prepared for the day," she says. (Think, for example, gorpcore, chunky sneakers, sport sandals and anoraks.)
"You have to look at the evolution of the festivals themselves to see what's going to happen with the consumer," says Morgan-Petro, bringing up her recent reports on wellness festivals and wellness travel, which can also tie into tech-utility trends. "If there's going to be a lot more wellness festivals then I think there will be a shift into more athleisure-based looks for them, so that's definitely one area to watch." Could Outdoor Voices leggings become the new flower crown? We'll have to wait and see.