Music festival culture has become so popular over the last few years that it's essentially spawned an entire fashion season, and even influenced runway trends — just look at Chloé, Etro and Pucci's Coachella-ready spring 2015 collections. With a festival taking place seemingly every weekend during the summer, concertgoers have ample opportunities to put on their denim cut-offs, crocheted tank tops and flower crowns, which have become the de facto uniform for these events.
While this formula has certainly made choosing what to wear much easier for attendees, the same can't be said for the talent on the lineup. Artists who are on a summer tour (or the festival circuit) must often pack for months at a time before they hit the road, and with limited space for wardrobe storage, having a solid capsule collection of looks in rotation is key. Thanks to their relationships with fashion houses, distinct points of view when it comes to personal style and, of course, their trusty stylists, packing for festival season isn't as daunting as it sounds for artists like Lorde, Florence Welch and the Haim sisters.
Lollapalooza kicks off in Chicago on Friday, with fashion industry favorites Florence + the Machine billed as headliners. Welch is as well-known for her style as she is for her haunting voice: Not only has she served as a muse for the likes of Karl Lagerfeld and Emma Hill, but former Gucci Creative Director Frida Giannini also designed a series of custom gowns that made up the wardrobe for her "Ceremonials" tour in 2012. Welch has been working with stylist Aldene Johnson since 2009 for both red carpet appearances and live performances, and it's Johnson who can be credited for much of the sartorial magic that happens once the singer takes the stage.
Johnson says that in the early days, she would source vintage pieces for Welch to take on tour (her favorite is Shareen Vintage in New York and Los Angeles), since designers aren't always keen on lending out samples for extended periods of time that will likely get damaged in the festival environment. "I’ve never wanted to compromise on the style, but practicality is essential," Johnson explains. "It's not just a one-off performance — it needs to [last] for the particular tour. At the same time, it has to work aesthetically."
Rebecca Grice, a stylist who works with both Haim and Lorde on their tour wardrobes, echoes this sentiment. "The Haim girls play instruments... so nothing too fluffy is going to work," she explains. "I wouldn’t want to play a guitar, sing and dance in something that’s too straining, just because it could get caught or have something crazy happen on stage." While finding the balance between looking cool and allowing a certain type of movement is tricky, comfort and function are of the highest concern. "The last thing I want any artist to worry about on stage is, 'Will my top fly off? Is the zipper gonna get stuck?'"
Something else that stylists and artists need to consider together is whether there will be a cohesive story or message that the wardrobe will help to get across. Grice says she will meet with her artists before a tour starts to conceptualize the look, vibe and feel of the shows — as well as to discuss the lighting and any projected imagery — and builds a lookbook from there. In Welch's case, Johnson explains that her clothing should fit one, cohesive story; both the bespoke and purchased pieces need to coordinate with each other, as they'll be re-worn in different combinations throughout the tour. For "highlight" shows — like Welch's headlining slot at Glastonbury this year — often one special look will be commissioned that will not appear again. In this particular case, it was a custom tailored silver suit made in collaboration with Merchant Archive.
As artists grow more popular and build relationships with fashion houses, stylists can often collaborate on custom looks that will appear throughout the tour. For example, Grice says that Alexander Wang recut some samples that Lorde wore specifically for her tour, and her finale look was a Giambattista Valli cape that she came out in every night. While loaning isn't as common for festivals due to their messy, unpredictable nature, designers will make exceptions for certain musicians whom they admire, and who could provide a buzzy onstage "moment" for their brand.
Stylists like Grice and Johnson don't often accompany their clients on tour. Instead, wardrobe specialists or personal assistants handle the road cases and make arrangements when pieces need to be mended or dry cleaned on a day off — most often at high-end businesses recommended by their hotels. Just because they're not physically present, there's still constant contact between the artists and stylists, and new looks are often added as the shows go on. (Inversely, pieces can be removed from the roster due to fast wear and tear.)
"I want to make sure that everything is comfortable and everything fits well, so it’s not like once they go on their way I disappear," Grice says. After the first show, she'll check in to see if the wardrobe is functioning properly, that it looks cool and that the client is happy, but she's completely invested throughout the entire run. "If something happens, of course you’ll troubleshoot and make sure everything goes well."
Both Grice and Johnson admit that styling artists for a tour and styling them for the red carpet are completely different beasts with their own sets of challenges, but for Johnson, the latter can be particularly stressful. "They’re both equally important for the overall look and feel for the artist, but the general person is far more aware of what people are wearing on the red carpet," she says. "Every single magazine or blog is commenting on what they wore on the red carpet, either praising it or tearing it apart. There’s that crazy pressure with the red carpet, which kind of makes that in itself harder."