All Hail the Crop Top: Is Coachella L.A.’s Unofficial Fashion Week?

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Doesn’t it seem like every store has a Coachella section these days?

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Screenshot from Brandy Melville’s homepage. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Anyone on Instagram knows that Coachella means the onslaught of photos featuring young women in fringe, floral prints, flowing skirts, crop tops, Native American headdresses and other signals of ’70s flower power fashion. Brands and designers now devote ready-to-wear lines exclusively with the festival-goer in mind; it’s good business.

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For Love and Lemon’s festival collection. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Laura Hall and Gillian Rose Kern are the owners of For Love and Lemons, an Arts District-based clothing company, and they are one of many brands that is using the popular festival as a springboard for business. “We wanted to create something that we knew a girl had to wear at any festival throughout the summer. It’s basically an extension of our normal clothing line, it’s just a little easier to wear, it’s light, airy, sheer-looking pieces,” said Gillian Rose Kern of their festival line.

About three years ago, the pair noticed a bump in purchases around the time Coachella rolled around and saw that their customers were posting pictures of themselves wearing their clothing on their social media profiles at the popular festival.

Hall and Rose Kern, Wyoming natives, have never actually gone to the festival but have benefitted tremendously from its influence in style-conscious circles. And there are many opportunities now for companies and designers who want to host fashion events at the festival itself. L.A. native Cynthia Vincent is one such designer, and her presence manifested itself in the festival for the second year in a row in a number of ways. She hosted bloggers who ran her social media campaigns, created a bungalow space filled with her designs, she lead a popular DIY workshop where people could make pouches for themselves and she hosted a poolside brunch for several fashion bloggers.

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And like For Love and Lemons, Vincent also has advertised some of her clothing through the lens of Coachella. There’s a section of her website dedicated to “festival styling” for shoppers looking for the perfect festival outfit. Festival styling, she says, fits in within the context of her annual spring collection. “When I design a collection, it’s broken down into seasons, and the spring season really is three deliveries of spring. So the third delivery is that starting point where for us on the West Coast, the weather has changed, it almost feels like summer, so it’s that transitional place that is essentially festival,” Vincent said.

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Accessories from H&M’s H&M Loves Coachella Collection. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)
Screenshot of tunic from Free People’s website.

Big companies have also gotten in on the game. For the first time this year, H&M devoted an entire collection and interactive website to the festival called “H&M Loves Coachella.” Free People, an obvious choice for people seeking bohemian attire sells a Coachella Valley Tunic on their website, and the first thing you see on Brandy Melville’s site is a slideshow of young women wearing their wares at the festival.

“In the case of H&M, they’ve been a sponsor of the festival for six years, so I suppose if anyone is entitled to brand themselves alongside with the festival it would be H&M. They have also really led and contributed to the trends that appear there year after year which in a lot of ways are very much inspired by this Woodstock, Americana nostalgia,” said fashion and pop culture journalist and historian Rose Apodaca.

Laura Hall, Gillian Rose Kern, Cynthia Vincent and Rose Apodaca all agree that social media has been a game-changer in the heightened obsession with dressing for Coachella that has emerged in recent years.

“People are much more aware of the fact that they are not only being photographed for magazines and style blogs, but also for everyone’s Instagram account that they come across. You look at all of the fashion related hashtags for Coachella, and it’s astounding,” Apodaca added.

The promotion and press that fashion companies receive around Coachella translates into real sales. Aside from the healthy hike in sales that these designers see each year, big on-stage moments can also become cash-cows. Last Sunday, after the infamous kiss between Drake and Madonna, suddenly everyone wanted the “Big As Madonna” shirt Madonna was sporting. According to Pat Monahan, who runs Private Party, an LA-based clothing company that makes the shirt, sales took off.

“Merchandizing and rock and roll have gone hand in hand since day one, but what we are seeing here, it’s being done beyond buttons and t-shirts,” Apodaca said.