How Coachella killed festival fashion

Coachella 
Coachella 2018  Credit: Timur Emek/GC Images

Last night on my way to dinner, I walked along Oxford Street. The big high street store windows including Forever 21, River Island and Topshop all had one thing in common.

Mannequins styled in denim hotpants, fringed skirts and cropped crochet tops, whilst giant glitter embossed lettering scrawled across the glass read: “Festival Edit.”

Over the past five days I’ve received over a dozen festival-inspired press releases from various brands asking me if I have my “festival aesthetic ready?” and one telling me it was time to “Get lost in the essence of free-spirited babes.”

The latter’s product guide includes transparent plastic trousers, a faux fur trimmed bikini top and a mesh bodysuit. How this equals a free-spirited babe was certainly lost on me.  

Festival fashion has become a bit of a dirty word but it wasn’t always like this. When Janice Joplin and Jimi Hendrix appeared on stage in Woodstock in 1969, the former in tie-dye flared trousers and a silk jacket, the latter in a white leather tassel top and bell bottom jeans, little did they know what their looks would still be informing trends nearly half a century later.

 Supermodel Alessandra Ambrosio Credit: Timur Emek

The 400,000 strong crowd gathered in upstate New York- a sea of smock dresses, flared jeans, embroidered waistcoats, peasant tops, orange tinted sunglasses and flower crown- was also just as influential. In the UK, the '70s saw similar looks appear at festivals including the Isle of Wight and Bardney. Marianne Faithfull and Joni Mitchell were poster girls but the focus still remained the music.

Fast forward to Glastonbury 2005 and when Kate Moss was pictured in a gold shimmering shift dress worn with wellies and a low slung leather belt, fag in one hand, can of Red Stripe in the other, the festival style scene was changed forever. Throw Alexa Chung in denim hot pants and Sienna Miller in an embellished waistcoat into the mix and suddenly “festival fashion” was a term on in everyone’s lexicon.

I’m not going to lie, as I’ve packed my backpack for various festivals over the years, denim shorts and a silk dress have featured. But just like Chung’s Hunter wellington boots or Moss’s 2010 khaki jacket, these were already items in my existing wardrobe. I didn’t specifically go out and buy them. Sure, I’d had Moss and Miller in mind when I thought about what I was going to wear but I also packed a waterproof parka. Moss et al encouraged a very British way of dressing. Take the Barbour you’d usually wear on a weekend in the countryside and team it with a dress you’d wear on a Saturday night in west London and you’d nail it.

Kate Moss at Glastonbury in 2005  Credit: Geoff Pugh

In 2019 it's a completely different story. And there’s one festival to blame. Coachella. Held in Indio in the Colorado Desert, it’s a two-part,  three-day successive weekend affair which this year is expected to attract over 100,000 people for each of those six days. Everyone from Prince in 2008 to Beyoncé in 2018 has performed, and this year’s festival line-up includes Ariana Grande, Childish Gambino and Janelle Monáe.

I use the word festival lightly here as anyone who has been to it will tell you it’s the antithesis of an actual festival, certainly a British one. It’s so hot people stay off-site in fancy hotels or Airbnbs then drive into the festival site once the sun has cooled in the late afternoon. Drinking is only allowed in designated penned off areas in which you’re only allowed to buy two drinks (starting from $16) at a time. Can you imagine this happening at Reading?

Whilst Glastonbury may take a wary approach to brand partnerships, Coachella welcomes them with open arms. Combine this with the rise of social media and it’s become globally known and commercially bloated. With its naturally Instagrammable setting - think palm trees, cacti, and golden sunsets at 4pm, not to mention purpose built “Instabait” including a giant ferris wheel - Coachella has become a content mecca.

Naturally, dozens of fashion brands have maxed out their marketing budgets on events and parties both on and off-site including H&M, Moschino and Levi’s with guest lists featuring Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, Rihanna and countless celebrity style influencers flown in from all over the world. Poppy Delevingne teamed up with Superdry to host her hen party dubbed "Popchella"  in 2014.

Forget the music, Coachella’s focus is the festival fashion. It’s a genre that’s practically become another retail season, with drops starting in March in preparation for the actual event. Even if you’re not in Palm Springs, you can still shop like you are. 

Erika Fox, a New York based blogger, has attended both Coachella and some of the events which take place around the festival for the past four years. “It has definitely turned into a 'business trip' almost for me at this stage. It's great for networking and yes, engagement is usually much higher during the festival so it's good for exposure. I think people love to see the outfits & the behind the scenes of the festival,” she says.

And just like the' more ridiculous, the better' genre of street style that exists during fashion week, Coachella has spawned a whole new way of dressing. From lace bodices to strappy high heels and PVC hotpants, over the years we’ve seen it all.  There's plenty of contouring, inflated glossy lips and immaculate blow-dried hair. And don’t even get me started on the cultural appropriation. “Becoming more inspired for Coachella with this amazing Native American headpiece,” wrote the supermodel Alessandra Ambrosio on Instagram in caption accompanying a photo of her in a feathered headdress in 2014. 

Last year, Vogue.com scrapped their best dressed Coachella gallery, the first time in the website’s history. Writing at the time explaining they said:  “It wasn’t so much the lack of taste that struck us, but rather, a depressing lack of imagination: ironic slogan tees emblazoned with slang epithets (i.e.“ratchet”), bandanas that would have been better left at the rodeo, bikini tops spray-painted with sparkling body paint, a trend more popularly known as “glitter boobs.”

This year isn’t looking too hopeful either. Worryingly for 2019, the global fashion search platform Lyst are reporting that there has been a 2250% increase since mid-March in page views for Y/Project’s “Denim panties.”

Essentially high rise denim bikini bottoms, just the thought has me reaching for the Canesten. Lyst has also discovered a 350 per cent increase in search for rainbow cycling shorts whilst sequin bikini tops have generated 40 per cent more page views.

A key player in the Coachella market is Revolve, an American based fashion e-commerce site that also ships to the UK. 

This year marks the fourth the #RevolveFestival, which they describe as a “week-long curation of star-studded aspirational style, beauty and entertainment experiences, dynamic brand partnership activations, special guests appearances and surprise performances.”

Invite-only, last year the company is said to have hosted over 90 influencers from over 14 countries including big players like Aimee Song and Danielle Bernstein plus styled over 450 others, using its variety of in-house brands. Past performers have included A$AP Rocky and Snoop Dogg alongside high-profile guests.

Think Emily Ratajkowski, Kendall Jenner and Joan Smalls. Revolve have essentially created their own stand-alone mini festival designed for sharing on Instagram.

Search for #Coachella and photos of girls either at the #RevolveFestival or wearing clothes from Revolve dominants. According to Fashionista.com in 2017, the company generated 4.4 billion social impressions.

"This was our best week ever: Monday [before Coachella] beat our Cyber Monday," Revolve's CEO Michael Mente has said.

"Holiday season, for a lot of people, is very discount/sale oriented and, for us, this is just, like, the best stuff — and everything's full price."

With multiple outfit changes, and a schedule full of #spon events it all sounds slightly exhausting. I mean don’t get me wrong, if someone wanted to pay me thousands of dollars to pose in front of a branded flower wall wearing clothes from said brand’s website, then I’m sure I’d muster the energy.

Iggy Azalea attends the FentyXPUMA Drippin event launching the Summer '18 collection at Coachella Credit: Getty Images North America

However, I do worry that these influencers and their followers may think this is how a real festival works. I do worry that they spend all day in a flap about whether they’ve got enough content rather than just feeling content. After all, a festival is meant to be about escapism.

A chance to leave your day to day reality behind and just dance in a field. You shouldn’t have to care about what you’re wearing or that your phone has run out of battery so the only photos you have are the ones you’ll remember.

Let’s face it, a waterproof mac and packet of Dioralyte are the only festival essentials anyone should really ever need.