Revolve Festival Hints at Necessary Demise of Influencer Events
If all people have to say at your event is that you suck, maybe... don't have the event?
Exciting news about my book ANNA: The Biography! Not only is the May 3 release date less than two weeks away, but also, GoodReads is hosting a giveaway of 100 copies through May 2. For good measure, after you enter that contest, I highly recommend preordering the book. Barnes & Noble is having a sale of 25 percent off all preorders today through April 22. Use the code PREORDER25 at checkout. You can order ANNA from B&N here. Should you need further persuasion, Publisher’s Weekly said this about the book: “What scintillates…are the intimate details about a famously inscrutable subject…as well as the blunt treatment of Wintour’s more problematic sides…. [a] fascinating look at an enigmatic figure.”
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A story made the rounds this week about the “Fyre Festival-Like” Revolve Festival, which apparently is a Coachella barnacle put on by the clothing website Revolve. Anyone who has glanced at Coachella content on the internet over the past eight years can imagine exactly what this is — an event in the vicinity of Coachella but distinct from it, for influencers to drink sponsored cocktails with little flamingos sticking out of them, wearing outfits Revolve may have given them, to pose for photos and TikToks by rosé-colored signs or gargantuan pool floats or whatever other brightly colored lifestyle flotsam twentysomethings are inexplicably attracted to these days. Anyone who has ever glanced at Revolve knows that this makes perfect sense because they sell influencer clothes. Coachella is probably like their second Christmas, as thousands of young women planning to attend hit Revolve to stock up on necessities like bra tops and fedoras.
The Revolve Festival, meant to capitalize further on this desert hottie bonanza, is a giant ad for Revolve, put on in partnership with some events company called H.Wood. It has become so big and such a Thing, apparently, that it serves as the site of yet more branded activations, manifested as bright, monochromatic booths. Because apparently it’s a good idea for one brand to try to siphon clout from another brand’s branded thing. (And maybe it is, what do I know?) I saw photos of a neon green booth for the sunglasses brand Hawkers, and an orange one for Onda, which is apparently a “tequila seltzer.” Other brands glomming on included Venmo, Charlotte Tillbury, Kendall Jenner’s 818 tequila, and Celsius, a “fitness drink” I once bought at a gas station not noticing it was an “energy” drink claiming to “burn body fat” that is one of the worst things I’ve ever tasted from a can in my life. Notable people attending included Kim Kardashian, Kendall Jenner, Timothée Chalamet, Poppy Delevingne, Pucci designer Peter Dundas, Halle and Chloe Bailey, and James Franco. Post Malone and Ty Dolla $ign were among the performers.
The Revolve Festival, of course, is an event for influencers. These rose in prominence in the 2010s when Instagram dictated youth culture, simply having an “aesthetic” could lead to online fame, and static images of something pretty were all you needed for engagement and followers. So brands started throwing events for influencers and media that were designed to be Instagrammed, often featuring millennial pink, cute floral arrangements, and miniature donuts. Those invited could get a nail art manicure and then instagram it while holding a peony from Kylie Jenner’s favorite bush or a free White Claw. In this TikTok-free world, attendees were happy, and brands may have been even happier. The problem is, that all feels very dated in the year 2022.
Revolve probably conceived its festival the way they did influencer events in the previous decade. Held at the Merv Griffin Estate — available to rent from Airbnb for around $28,000 a night — Women’s Wear Daily described the Revolve Festival as a “seven-hour-a-day party.” Michael Mente, co-chief executive of Revolve, spoke to WWD at the festival on Saturday (so, before everything went to shit) about this year’s event’s triumphant return following three pandemic-related Coachella cancellations:
“We had to come back bigger and better than ever… A few hours in, I’m super, super confident that we did.”
Speaking about Revolve as a business more broadly, he continued:
“We were always so known for Revolve Festival, Revolve All Around the World travel, but, of course, we’re not all dressing like that all the time. Throughout the pandemic, our customer started to come to us for a broader range of needs. We had that deep trust with her, that it really gave us permission to sell her more, offer more and more to her.”
Well, one thing all those Hers weren’t offered were shuttle buses from a dusty parking lot in the desert to take them to Revolve Festival in a timely fashion. This is where everything went to hell, as documented on TikTok by influencers whose plans to go to the festival were thwarted entirely by their inability to muscle their way onto a bus. One video that got picked up a lot is by Averie Bishop, who called the experience “absolute chaos” under a banner of vomit emojis. She explained that “the only way you can get to Revolve Festival is if you take their specific shuttles to their grounds.” As for her? “I waited in line for two hours,” she said. “There was pushing, shoving, shouting, yanking people in front of the buses, people standing in between the buses, like, while they were moving, just to get on these buses and get to the Revolve Festival.”
She offered this message to Revolve: “Sorry, Revolve, but I really hope you take into consideration everyone’s safety and security next year.”
I know what you’re thinking — Boo hoo, influencers couldn’t get on a bus to go take photos of themselves and flaunt how pretty and fun their lives are. I think that myself, but I can also acknowledge that this experience of waiting for transportation with no food or water in the desert for hours with buses spraying dust on makeup and outfits that were applied *just so* sounds truly shitty. Things devolved so much that the police were said to have been called.
The whole thing reminds me of the Chanel advent calendar scandal, where a random girl with a TikTok account became famous basically overnight for pointing out that the $825 item was just cardboard boxes with equally sad things inside, like a dust bag and stickers.
To be clear, this “Fyre Festival-Like” Revolve Festival wasn’t really like Fyre Festival. At Fyre Festival, people paid $12,000 for VIP packages that were advertised as top luxury experiences, only to travel to the designated island and be served a piece of bread with a single decaying slice of cheese on it and find their accommodations were actually disaster relief tents.
But the optics of this are bad for Revolve. The only thing more confounding to the general public than influencers may be the brands who shamelessly fund and hydrate them. You would think, after one girl no one had previously heard of before brought so much negative attention to Chanel, that any brand making it their mission to gather together a large group of people with legitimate social media followings would also make it their mission to ensure that none of those people have an experience that is the opposite of the Instagram ideal the brand aspires to sell customers. Especially when the hot thing to do on social media right now is not to pose with floral arrangements at a press event, but rather complain about brands trying to ply people with such 2015 like-bait.
Brands everywhere trying to market to young people should see this whole story as a sign that events like this designed and put on primarily to be Instagrammed need a giant rethink. TikTok — and Instagram, by promoting Reels and suppressing everyone’s still photos — is changing the medium of online influence. Being beautiful, wearing beautiful things, and being surrounded by beautiful sponsored stuff is often no longer enough to win online attention these days. In a video-driven social media economy, influencers increasingly seem to need to have something to say, and brands need to find a way to help them say things that resonate with audiences, aside, of course, from “this brand sucks.” Because — hello — everyone enjoys hearing about how brands suck!
Going on press trips is no longer enough to stand out on social media. And I’m surprised that brands haven’t figured out how to innovate their in-person experiences given this reality. Maybe the answer is to not have press trips or press events at all, and to just mail people elaborate cakes that spill out Louboutins and purple M&Ms when sliced. After all, everyone enjoys watching a giant gold-leaf chocolate egg being smashed to reveal a bounty of Skims thongs inside. It is an inability to look away from such content that bonds us as human beings.
As for Revolve, well, this is what Mente, the co-CEO, told WWD on Saturday, before all the bad press came out.
“The rest of the year will be pretty packed with a lot of different things in terms of activations, partnerships, old things, new things, category expansion,” said Mente. “We’ve been on defense for a few years, and now, this is return to full offense, and we’re ready.”
Well, I’m no sports expert, but this “we’re on offense now” stuff sort of sounds like Tom Brady saying he’s quitting football and then being like, “Backsies!” Only, instead of Mente saying that himself, Revolve issued a statement that took up about half the real estate of a People.com article:
"With an event of this magnitude, city regulations mandate an off-site location for guest check-in and parking, as well as licensed shuttle transportation to and from the venue," the representative said. "The off-site lot was set up with guest parking, as well as rideshare drop-off and pickup access with added WIFI for car booking, restrooms, shade, water, medics and security."
"As the festival was reaching capacity late Saturday afternoon, shuttle access to the venue was limited in order to remain in compliance with safety requirements causing longer wait times for entry and resulting in some guests not being able to attend the festival," the representative continued. "The safety of our guests is of the utmost importance to us and we will always make that a priority."
"We sincerely apologize to all the guests who were impacted," the representative concluded. "We always strive to provide a great experience and we promise to do better."
If that’s not what defense looks like in 2022, I don’t know what does.
The social media photo for this post is by Taylor Simpson on Unsplash.
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Amy, you write so well and so insightfully. Your dispatches are a pleasure. And hilarious... "the brands who shamelessly fund and hydrate them" LOL
Amy, is your book coming out in audio as well?