Why Stylists Say Working Coachella Is More Stressful Than Awards Season

When stylist Marni Senofonte collaborated with Beyoncé on custom Balmain outfits last Coachella, she changed the world. That’s not hyperbole, it’s the simple fact of dressing the biggest artist of our time on a stage live-streamed by a record-breaking 43 million people, and then replayed via YouTube at least 50 million more times. This single set put haute couture’s only black designer, Balmain’s Olivier Roustieg, on worldwide blast. And it made sunflower yellow a major retail trend for Spring 2019, with Gucci, Balenciaga, Carolina Herrera, Marc Jacobs, and Oscar de la Renta embracing the Beyhive’s new hue.

“That was one of the craziest times for me,” Senofonte grinned at a pre-Coachella party. “And much harder than awards season, because not only was I working with Beyoncé, I was also dressing Kendall.” As in Jenner, whose festival outfit — a black bralette, cargo pants, and a belt bag slung around her shoulder — became a staple for fashion fans thereafter. (You know how it goes: “I saw Kendall Jenner wearing army pants and sneakers, so I bought army pants and sneakers.”) The pressure to put together an outfit that’s instantly replicable by followers is high-test for stylists come festival season. Despite what you might suspect, they can’t just whip up a pair of jean cutoffs and call it a day.

“Coachella is definitely more influential than Oscar season,” says Adam Drawas, whose branding agency Walker Drawas connects celebrities and their stylists with Insta-savvy labels. “Because people wear gowns once a year, but people think about street style every day.” In the case of Coachella, it’s more like every hour, as celebs arrive at three to four events (brunch, cocktails, concert, after-party, repeat) in as many hours. “It can be up to five outfits a day,” says stylist Maeve Reilly, whose work with Hailey Bieber regularly fuels Instagram trends, and the purchases that go with them.

“Obviously, the thought and custom artistry that goes into an Oscar dress is a whole different ballgame from anything at Coachella. But in terms of actually preparing for the weekend, it takes an equal amount of work [as the Oscars] … For elevated street style or even really innovative party looks, Coachella is a very important platform — in some senses, it’s the platform.” And though Levi’s cutoffs and $65 Vans are festival staples, runway pieces you’d see at a Golden Globes after-party make it down to Indio Valley, too.

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“We’re definitely pulling designer looks,” confirms Reilly, who also dresses Tinashe and Madison Beer. “Hailey will do Chanel boxer shorts with a matching tank top; we’ve got an Adam Selman dress from the runway … basically, because every [famous] girl in the universe will be at Coachella, we have to make sure everything she has is really unique and really fresh. I have to dig through runway looks that nobody else can get, and hunt down really rare vintage pieces. I love doing it — it’s actually one of my favorite times of year, as a stylist — but it’s a huge undertaking.” Once the Coachella clothing options have landed in Reilly’s studio, she has everything tailored to her clients’ specific measurements — even the hoodies, sweatpants, and tank tops. Casual and effortless as the looks may appear, absolutely nothing is unintentional.

Of course, red carpet gowns need intense tailoring, too. “But a red carpet is happening in a controlled environment,” says Erica Cloud, who styles Kacey Musgraves. “You can re-create the lighting to a certain extent in your fittings, and see how the dress is going to photograph a lot more easily. Coachella is more difficult because you’re in a desert. There’s wind. There’s intense heat, and then intense cold. And also, the lighting changes from one hour to the next so drastically that onstage, a dress could look gold at 6 p.m. and metallic red at 6:45.” (That’s exactly what happened, in fact, with Musgrave’s Balmain couture look this weekend. It was like a mood ring, with a live soundtrack and a $12k price tag.)

Then there’s the simple fact that red carpets require two things: standing and posing for cameras. “The movement that happens at Coachella, whether you’re performing or even just walking from one set to another, it means you have to be really conscious of comfort … so some of the runway looks we love aren’t possible for Coachella because of the extreme weather, which does require extra thought and effort. Nobody’s saying, ‘Okay, it’s 90 degrees and there’s a dust storm; how’s that dress feel?’ when you’re at the Grammys.”

But there is one similarity between awards season and Coachella, though fashion insiders are reluctant to talk about it. It’s the way money changes hands when stars wear certain brands, with stylists often acting as the intermediary. “Hailey’s going to a Levi’s party” for her partnership with the brand, says Reilly. “So obviously she’ll be wearing Levi’s for that.” But Mrs. Bieber is an avid Levi’s model and collaborator; she wears their clothes to Coachella much like Jennifer Lawrence’s Dior campaigns ensure she’ll wear their exquisite haute couture on the red carpet. Less “official” deals are also a factor. Calvin Klein Jeans hosts several Bright Young Things (whose dreamy designer posts are dutifully tagged #ad on their social media feeds) during the festival, or Adidas invites “friends and family” (read: brand ambassadors and press) to their sprawling desert house party. Chloé managed to film a full commercial in stealth mode on festival grounds, enlisting Dree Hemingway and Aimee Song to frolick through the crowds in head-to-toe looks.

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The fashion e-store Revolve even has their own mini-festival, replete with headliners like SZA and Offset, not to mention the mega-influencers (most of them Victoria’s Secret models) who command major sums just to arrive at a party for photos. Then there’s the Great Glam Migration, when hair and makeup artists descend on Palm Springs with more hairspray than a Dolly Parton drag tribute. “There’s tons of money to be made,” Reilly says, “on all sides of Coachella.”  

Is that why stylists and celebrities go all-in on the desert party? “We do it because it’s the most fun thing in the world,” says Cloud. “Yes, it’s a crazy amount of work, but it means we get to help make magic that people will watch over and over for years.” Reilly agrees. “This is some of the most fun we get to have with looks — reinventing how to wear things, getting vintage and runway looks to mash together, giving new trends a huge platform … it’s a lot of work. But it’s also a dream job.”

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