Coachella may look like a fun-filled weekend of sun, music and partying, but outside of the polo fields, the environment can feel hectic and competitive among brands hoping to capitalize on the annual event. As it's grown in scale and mainstream exposure, the party scene surrounding it has evolved similarly. Gradually, the cool designer brands like Alexander Wang, Mulberry and Phillip Lim — who were among the first to hold buzzy-yet-intimate events for the festival's hippest and most in-the-know attendees — were replaced by mass brands like H&M, Levi’s, Popsugar and Victoria's Secret, with bigger budgets to throw bigger events for bigger celebrities and influencers.
The race to have the best venue, the best sponsors giving out free shit, the best entertainment and the best guest list was palpable at every party I attended, and that resulted in some impressive feats. H&M had a surreal, interactive "house" on the festival grounds that was basically tailor-made for Instagram; Victoria's Secret had aura readings, a Van Leeuwen ice cream truck, a nail bar, a performance by Bebe Rexha and an Angel helicopter; Levi's took over the entire Sparrow's Lodge hotel and had styling rooms for decking out influencers in the brand as well as an airbrushing station, custom embroidery, an appearance by Solange and a DJ set by Virgil Abloh; Moschino had a Candy Crush-branded ball pit and a Lil Yachty performance; and Popsugar had gifting suites from Ulta and Nordstrom, a 360-degree robotic camera, screenprinting, hairstyling and a person whose job it was to direct videos for guests to post on social media. But it was Revolve, the Los Angeles-based, 14-year-old trend- and data-driven e-tailer, that seemed to win that race with the right combination of cool venues, live music and, of course, top-tier influencers. It also literally dominated the weekend in sheer quantity of events: there were six spanning Thursday through Sunday.
As you've likely observed if you follow the retailer or any of the most popular female influencers on social media, Revolve hosts and outfits them on vacations all over the world — and last year did so at a house in the Hamptons for the entire month of July. But Coachella is a tentpole event for the company, not just for generating brand awareness through social media posts, but also for actual sales conversion. And last weekend marked the biggest activation it has attempted.
My journey with Revolve began last Tuesday in West Hollywood, where the retailer hosted an open house for press and influencers to see its newly remodeled and even more Instagrammable Revolve Social Club, sip cocktails on its roof deck and shop (or be gifted items from) its festival capsule collection. There, I sat down with Raissa Gerona, Revolve's chief brand officer and the petite, well-dressed mastermind behind these trips, who explained that Revolve thinks about Coachella the way more traditional retailers might think about Black Friday or the holiday season. "Being an LA-based company, Revolve has become this retailer where festival goers come to the site, so for us it's huge in terms of sales," she said. "A lot of these old-school big box retailers have focused solely on, say, the holidays. But for the millennial customer, those things don't actually matter as much." She called Coachella a "missed opportunity" for ailing department stores, and said the ultimate goal with Revolve's festival activations is "continuously elevating the brand and owning the Coachella experience outside of Coachella."
The following evening, Revolve threw a party at Avenue, a hot new nightclub in Hollywood, to celebrate its new nightlife-inspired collection H:ours, and the morning after, a (probably hungover) crew of influencers and Revolve brand marketing staffers either drove or boarded a Revolve-branded shuttle to Palm Springs. Meanwhile, a private jet transported New York-based guests like Danielle Bernstein and ASAP Ferg. Influencers were also flown in from several other countries. In addition to transportation, Revolve provided accommodations, VIP festival wristbands (for influencers and their photographers/boyfriends), clothing allowances to ensure the influencers' requisite outfit posts included Revolve merchandise and, in many cases, appearance fees.
To accommodate the vast group, Revolve rented out The Arrive, a boutique hotel that opened last year, in its entirety and rebranded it #HotelRevolve. Pink neon signs with clever slogans lined the walls of pool cabanas; there was a colorful Revolve-branded flower wall photo backdrop and an array of Revolve-branded pool floats. Here, Revolve held a casual dinner Thursday hosted by Alessandra Ambrosio (her very festival-appropriate clothing line Ale is sold on Revolve), a brunch Friday hosted by Nicole Richie (ditto her line, House of Harlow) and a Friday pool party hosted by Chiara Ferragni. Each of these events was more exclusive than the parties that followed, and almost surprisingly chill. The intimate group mingled, ate, took advantage of the open tequila bar, cozied up with their boyfriends, got tattooed by Jonboy (whom Revolve also hosted all weekend) and, yes, occasionally took photos of themselves and their surroundings.
Things got decidedly less chill on Saturday and Sunday, when #RevolveFestival took place at the massive Merv Griffin Estate in La Quinta. Both days, I was met with a traffic jam and crowd of people waiting to get in that resembled the entrance to Coachella itself. Even some credentialed guests were unable to pass through the imposing front gate, which was confusing because once I made my way inside, the front lawn (if you can call it that, it was more like a field) had plenty of space for more people, which suggested the crowd control was being enforced by security and local authorities rather than Revolve itself. (I heard, but can't confirm, that Coachella officials made an effort to shut down events with which it wasn't affiliated.)
Regardless, those who needed to get in did, and guests like Kendall Jenner, Hailey Baldwin, Joe and Nick Jonas, Sofia Richie, Kaia Gerber, Jasmine Sanders and Louis Tomlinson enjoyed 45-minute sets by Rick Ross (day one) and Migos (day two). Leonardo DiCaprio, Orlando Bloom and Toby Maguire also allegedly made an appearance on Saturday, as did Drake on Sunday. The space also had freebies and activations by sponsoring brands including Ciroc, Heineken, Schutz, Orb vitamins and more, as well as a very Instagrammable pink roller skating rink. But the heart of the event, whether during a DJ set or live performance, was around the outdoor stage, which was surrounded by a pool and VIP cabanas. After hours of consuming alcohol (which at Coachella starts flowing before noon) and, uh, some other substances, the vibe got pretty turnt around 4 or 5 p.m. — just before guests made their way to the actual festival. The hashtag #RevolveFestival had nearly 10,000 Instagram posts at press time.
By most accounts, the weekend was a success, and even though Revolve is a Coachella veteran at this point, the company's brand marketing team began planning earlier than ever — eight months in advance — to secure two elements that were new for 2017. First was the "iconic," as Gerona puts it, Merv Griffin Estate, which is in high demand during Coachella given its proximity to the Polo Fields and natural beauty. "It's a whole vetting process, too, so we wanted to make sure we were as active possible," she explained. Second was the hotel. "We had to approach a hotel that was willing to really have us come in and do a whole takeover and rebrand the space." They found Arrive through an influencer they work with regularly, Amy Pham, who had previously deejayed there.
In the past, Revolve would house guests in as many as 10 different homes spread throughout the area. "Having a hotel logistically is amazing and makes things so much easier, but I think from a branding standpoint it's incredibly powerful to have this as an extension of the brand... also, having everyone in the same place and having that fun vibe," says Gerona. "Most of them, if not all of them, are friends and know each other, so it becomes this adult spring break camp situation." Some influencers (Revolve hosted 36 total) like Shay Mitchell and Alessandro Ambrosio were still put up in nearby houses.
Given that the company works with influencers year-round and has been doing so for years, deciding who to invite and getting them on board for Coachella was the easy part. "We definitely always bring influencers that we've worked with in some capacity," says Gerona. "I think our community feels tight, but it feels tight for a reason. We know that we're bringing in a group of women — except Jonboy — who again have that same energy and vibe as the Revolve girl." Still, she gets those asks out early. "We start planning who we want to invite at least seven to eight months out, especially with how competitive the space is now with Coachella, it's important for us to secure the girls we want to work with," she says. "Thankfully we've proven to them that we can provide a good experience so a lot of times it's not really an issue."
That Revolve hosted so many of the biggest influencers at Coachella, including Shay Mitchell, Nicole Richie, Olivia Culpo, Danielle Bernstein, Aimee Song, Rocky Barnes, Jasmine Sanders, Shea Marie, Arielle Charnas and many more, is a testament to this. Barnes later told me unprompted that Revolve is her favorite client to work with, explaining that while the retailer obviously has expectations, the team doesn't pester their influencers, but rather trusts them to post what and when they feel is appropriate and on-brand. They're also cool with influencers working with other brands during the festival as long as they aren't direct competitors. "What makes us the most proud is that we don't really have to enforce [the deliverables] with the influencer. They kind of know their job and we know our position, too, [regarding] what we provide them, but it's taken years and years to get to that point where we have that mutual respect and trust,” says Gerona. "I think a lot of brands probably have a harder time because they say, 'you have to post this, you have to share this many times.'"
Similarly, the company gives them free reign to pick what they want to wear from its 500+ brands. "For us, it's really key for them to feel like themselves, so we are never like, 'you have to wear this,'" says Gerona. Revolve also has plenty of social media influence of its own, with over 1.6 million Instagram followers. "The influencer at this point is extra; our customers are so engaged [with our account]," says Gerona. Barnes even says she gets a bump in followers every time she does a trip with the retailer. That the brand's executives are relatively young and hip, and that its PR and marketing girls are difficult to discern from the influencers themselves (and many have the Instagram follower counts to match), also likely helps in creating this casual, comfortable working relationship.
The company focuses more on creating moments and experiences that its influencers will naturally want to document, whether it's a Migos performance, a stunning backdrop or a floral sign. Don't forget — it's these women's jobs to regularly show their followers all the glamorous things they're doing and what they're wearing while they do it. They're going to do that whether they're at #HotelRevolve or somewhere else.
Something else that set #RevolveFestival apart from other events I attended was that it felt less focused on brand activations and more focused on, well, having fun. The company made a point to invite many of its 700+ employees as well as some of its "high-value customers" to round out the crowd of influencers — some of whom are likely a bit jaded about Coachella at this point, and see it as work, rather than fun. "We want to be able to share that experience with them and we know that they are going to help make the parties super-cool because they're so excited to be there," says Gerona. "I think that energy is something we never want to lose."
While Revolve may have succeeded in having a strong presence in the Coachella party scene, that alone does not guarantee sales, and it invested a lot of money into these events. So was it worth it? Revolve, a private company that does not often release sales figures, is still crunching the numbers for this year. But Gerona did say that Coachella sales always increase significantly year over year, and that it always sees significant conversion on its own social channels, not just influencers'. Thus, it is still feverishly posting content from the weekend. The costs were likely somewhat offset by sponsors and a new partnership with Billboard. Plus, given the frequency with which it hosts similar trips, one would think they have the ROI down to a science. Let's just hope Millennials' eagerness for festival fashion is still going strong.
Disclosure: Revolve provided my travel and accommodations to attend and cover the event.