When speaking about online retailers that have mastered the art of influencer marketing, the first company to roll off your tongue is likely Revolve. Thanks to its massive network of top-tier "superinfluencers" — Chiara Ferragni, Aimee Song, Danielle Bernstein, Negin Mirsalehi, Camila Coelho — who represent a wide range of international markets, Revolve has turned activations at Coachella, branded houses in the Hamptons and group trips to far-flung locations (where followers and shoppers can see products worn in context) into a booming business model. In fact, according to WWD, Revolve expects to close in on $1 billion in sales by 2018.
Revolve is also the parent company to Forward by Elyse Walker (FWRD), a luxury boutique that stocks the likes of Vetements, Off-White, Acne Studios, Givenchy and Rick Owens, putting it in the same league as European e-tail powerhouses Net-a-Porter, MatchesFashion, Farfetch and MyTheresa — albeit on a smaller scale. Revolve also owns Alliance Apparel, a design and production house where it develops its own brands. While FWRD's designer wares come at a much higher price point than the in-house labels carried on Revolve, they're also curated with a keen eye for what's new and what's next among millennial customers, which is what helps to set it apart in the crowded online landscape.
"It's like luxury for the next generation," explained Revolve's CEO and co-founder Michael Mente during Paris Fashion Week earlier this month, highlighting the importance of balancing discovery of new, buzzy labels with heritage brands that are evolving to suit the needs of younger consumers. "Y/Project is a perfect example of a [new] brand that is so important to us that our customers love," he continued. "Very early on, we knew they were right for us. But even working with established brands that are rebuilding for newer generations... Oscar de la Renta is a brand that, from an American perspective, has been around forever and is so iconic, but is now in transformation with the new creative leadership [Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia]. They're appealing to the next generation, and I feel like that's exactly where we are."
This is precisely why FWRD called upon its influencer family for a week's worth of events in Paris, all coordinated using the designated hashtags #FWRDTRAVELS and #LOOKFWRD. Of course, high-profile guests were dressed in product from the celebrated brands — with several items created exclusively for FWRD — that are shoppable on the website, in case onlookers were inspired to purchase something right away. Amid PFW's already-packed schedule, FWRD hosted no less than five events, including an opening party in honor of Oscar de la Renta and Monse at the swanky Peninsula Hotel (with designer Laura Kim in attendance); an intimate, late-night dinner with hip, LVMH Prize-nominated label Y/PROJECT; a dinner for Revolve-owned denim brand GRLFRND that brought out the likes of Elsa Hosk, Romee Strijd and Chanel Iman; a joint party with streetwise brand RtA and Anna Dello Russo; and a PFW closing soirée at the Ritz.
Because of the influencers' packed days, the events ran late into the night, and unlike in the Hamptons or at Coachella, they didn't all stay together under one highly Instagrammable roof. But this was not a deterring factor for the FWRD team. "There are not a lot of people that can go five days in a row [and draw] the same crowd and that's something that I'm personally proud of that we're able to do," said Raissa Gerona, the Chief Brand Officer of Revolve. Mente echoed her statement: "We have this upstart entrepreneurial energy — social media influencers have to work so hard to gain credibility in this world, and we as a company and organization have to do the same. So it's a balance of that, and doing it our own way, where it's super-important for us to just really enjoy ourselves. Of course we all work hard, but it's really important for us to have fun, not take ourselves too seriously, but [still] be as serious and focused as everyone else."
Many of FWRD's competitors were on the ground at PFW, too, but even if they dressed influencers or loaned them product for the shows, their footprint was not nearly as organized — meaning that followers didn't get as cohesive of a story or the same feeling of community that Revolve is so skilled at building. With a fast-growing international market (China and the U.K. follow the U.S. in terms of FWRD's largest customer bases), spreading the word about FWRD's offering was key, but not a particularly daunting task. "Even when we're in the Hamptons, one weekend half of our guests will be from Europe, and they have such a [large] audience in the U.S., but also diverse global audiences," Mente said. "On the flip side too: A lot of the U.S. based influencers have half of their followers in Europe or Asia. So it's really hard to not build this global awareness, because it's just the world we live in now," Gerona noted.
So how does FWRD plan to capitalize on that international attention and keep those shoppers coming back instead of turning to the Net-a-Porters and Farfetches of the world? "It's an interesting challenge for us, because on the international side we're working a lot on logistics and operations to make sure that the global experience is as good for Revolve and FWRD as it is in the United States," Mente said. "We're getting ahead of ourselves because the consumers are coming to us, but we're not quite as prepared [for them] yet, and we're making investments to make sure that the experience for them is just as strong."