From Crop Tops to Jimmy Choos: How Coachella Became a Fashion Marketing Hotbed

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As thousands of crop top-clad young music fans prepare their flower crowns ahead of the 17th annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 15, retailers and fashion designers prepare to roll out the runway.

As the fashion industry continues to move towards democratization and increased accessibility, Coachella has become a hotbed for fashion marketing. From Jimmy Choo’s partnership with The Haim Group in 2015 to the ongoing H&M Loves Coachella collaboration and the recently announced Alice + Olivia Grateful Dead inspired fashion show, Coachella’s influence is everywhere.

Since Coachella began in 1999, the Indio, Calif.-based event has established itself as one of the biggest music festivals in the country, grossing more than $84 million in 2015 and selling out its capacity by nearly of 100,000 people every weekend. With a critical mass like this – more than half of which is made up of individuals between the ages of 18 and 24, according to Nielsen data – it’s no surprise that fashion designers and retailers are clamoring for money.

Coachella goes mainstream
Although Coachella was originally more “niche and counter-culture,” according to Alex Cripe, director of strategy at Redscout, the festival has become increasingly mainstream-oriented, a transformation that has been a natural fit for big retailers like H&M.

“Coachella is the epicenter where music and fashion come together,” Marybeth Schmitt, H&M’s director of communications for North America, told Digiday. “The roots of the festival may be in music, but it has evolved into a fashion and lifestyle experience in its own right.”

Coachella declined to comment for this story. But as part of this lifestyle experience, H&M is setting up an on-site tent installation titled “Reborn” that features interactive video sets of a colorful desert landscape, rich with potential for social media sharing. Activation includes a digital photo booth and a 360-degree scene that can be filmed and packaged for social media.

The company has managed to democratize fashion, not only through collaborations with designers like Balmain, but by bringing experiences like Coachella to the mainstream.

“H&M has succeeded in providing access to the latest trends and key designers from the H&M line itself and through its partnerships,” said Jessica Navas, director of planning at Erwin Penland. “Going to these festivals isn’t a reality for many people, but consumers can get a whiff of dreams and fantasy.”

Last year, more than half a million photos were submitted to social media since the festival, according to Pixlee. Retailers included three of the top five social media influencers last year, including H&M, Victoria’s Secret and Forever 21. People Magazine and Nicki Minaj rounded out the list.

Collaborations go upmarket
In addition to H&M’s exclusive line, Neiman Marcus announced this week that the high-end department store is teaming up with Stacey Bendet’s alice + olivia for a see-now-buy-now fashion show, allowing consumers to immediately buy the looks they see on the catwalk.

The impetus for the show came from the results of a Boston Consulting Group study on the future of New York Fashion Week shared by the Council of Fashion Designers of America. The research found there was an industry consensus to move to a format that has more “in-season relevance”.

“I wanted what I showed on this runway to be relevant to what consumers actually want to wear now,” Bendet said in a statement. “I had the idea to organize the show around Coachella and have the looks for the shows be based on clothes that every girl would want to wear to a music festival.”

Ken Downing, fashion director at Neiman Marcus, told Digiday that the alice + olivia collection is indicative of where the industry is heading as brands consider how to avoid “the fashion fatigue that customers experience due to overexposure and confusion of what they see in digital, social and traditional media.

Keen not to be left behind, smaller designers are also on board, including LA-based clothing designer and model Christy Dawn Petersen, who is teaming up with musician Z Berg to design a dress and romper for his line.

“The fashion world is slowly being forced to reinvent the way it interacts with consumers and the timeline in which it interacts with them. Going from runway to pitch to Indio is a powerful statement about how important fashion has become. at this casual everyday level,” Cripe said.

Don’t forget the editors
Coachella has also become a lever for publishers. Last year, Harper’s Bazaar hosted a ShopBAZAAR boutique where guests could purchase looks as seen in the magazine, and this is the second year that PopSugar has hosted an event.

The popular entertainment website will host its second PopSugar Cabana Club, which features brunch with the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the return of the “PopSugar Must Have Box,” accessory giveaways made by high-end designers.

In an effort to boost social media sharing, the tent will include customizable backgrounds for taking photos with friends, tailored to the user’s platform of choice, Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram.

“Coachella has become a cultural phenomenon for this generation and it resonates so much with the content we write,” Lisa Sugar, editor and co-founder of PopSugar told Digiday. “Each year is so different and we love to see what trends arise from that.”

Coachella has turned into “a brand about itself,” Navas said, which she says will only continue to grow.

“We’re so digital now and there’s all the sense of instant access, right there in the moment,” Navas said. “[Retailers] have a captive audience and they can explore and play.

Photos courtesy of Instagram

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