From crop tops to Jimmy Choos: How Coachella became a fashion marketing hotbed

While thousands of crop top clad young music fans get their flower crowns ready in advance of the 17th annual Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival on April 15, retailers and fashion designers are preparing to roll out the runway.

As the fashion industry continues to move toward democratization and increased accessibility, Coachella has flourished into a hotbed for fashion marketing. From Jimmy Choo’s partnership with the band Haim in 2015 to the ongoing H&M Loves Coachella collaboration and the recently announced alice + olivia Grateful Dead inspired fashion show, Coachella’s clout is ubiquitous.

In the time since Coachella began in 1999, the Indio, California-based event has grown to prominence as one of the largest music festivals in the country, grossing more than $84 million in 2015 and selling out its capacity of nearly 100,000 people each weekend. With a critical mass like this — more than half of which is composed of individuals age 18-24, according to Nielsen data — it’s no surprise that fashion designers and retailers are clamoring to cash in.

Coachella goes mainstream
Though Coachella originally was more “niche and counterculture,” according to Alex Cripe, strategy director at Redscout, the festival has become increasingly geared toward the mainstream, a transformation that has been an organic fit for major retailers like H&M.

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

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

The company has succeeded in democratizing fashion, not just through collaborations with designers like Balmain, but by bringing experiences like Coachella to the general public.

“H&M has nailed providing access to the latest trends and major designers in the H&M line itself and through its partnerships,” said Jessica Navas, chief planning officer at Erwin Penland. “Going to these festivals is not a reality for many of people, but consumers can get a get a whiff of the dream and fantasy.”

Last year, more than half a million photos were submitted to social media from the festival, according to Pixlee. Retailers comprised three of the five 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 upscale
In addition to H&M’s exclusive line, Neiman Marcus announced this week that the upscale department store is partnering with alice + olivia by Stacey Bendet on a see-now, buy-now fashion show, allowing consumers to immediately shop looks they see on the runway.

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 consensus in the industry to move toward a format that has more “in-season relevancy.”

“I wanted what I showed on that runway to be relevant to what consumers actually want to wear, now,” Bendet said in a statement. “I came up with the idea to have the show around Coachella and have the runway looks be based upon things 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 going as brands consider how to avoid “fashion fatigue that customers are experiencing from the over exposure and confusion of what they are seeing in digital, social and traditional media.”

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

“The fashion world is slowly being forced to reimagine how they interact with consumers and the timeline in which they interact with them. Going from the runway to the field out in Indio is a powerful statement on how important fashion has become on that every day casual level,” Cripe said.

Don’t forget the publishers
Coachella has also become a leveraging point for publishers. Last year, Harper’s Bazaar hosted a ShopBAZAAR boutique where guests were able to shop for looks as seen in the magazine, and this is the second year that PopSugar will be hosting an event.

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

In an attempt to bolster social media sharing, the tent will include customizable backdrops for taking photos with friends that are 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 that we write,” Lisa Sugar, editor in chief and co-founder of PopSugar told Digiday. “Every year is so different and we like to see what trends come out of it.”

Coachella has transformed into “a brand onto itself,” Navas said, which she anticipates will only continue to expand.

“We’re so digital now and there’s the whole 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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