Fashion, at its best, is about fantasy. And at its worst—it's about that, too. It fails in the moments where the concept of something supersedes its functionality, its aesthetic merit, or both. Fantasy, if half-baked and gestural, can be fashion's undoing. This is nowhere more apparent than in H&M's recently released Coachella-inspired capsule line, a collection of pieces indebted to empty, broadstroke ideation of '70s boho lifestyle for women and... two-years-ago fuccboi for men, I guess.
Before you say, "But Julianne, this is not real fashion, this is fast fashion, and the true fantasy in fashion comes with designers like Alexander McQueen and the vanguard at Tokyo Fashion Week, and when fantasy in true fashion fails it's because of Star Wars or racism!" To which I say, yes: but fast fashion is the way most of us, at least in the United States, experience fashion, ethical or no. And over the years, as Coachella has established itself as a weekender's playground for au courant Los Angelenos, a certain "Coachella style" has emerged, one that is deeply rooted in Desert Valley bohemian mythologies and an amorphous concept of "being free" that hearkens back to the days your moms were smoking gonzo reefer in Laurel Canyon. It's this style that H&M has mined—trends that Coachella attendees started in the first place, turning crocheted tanks, fringed vests and floppy hats into a kind of uniform. "Coachella style" has become such a shorthand concept that it is exploitable, for profit, by an official union of the Coachella brand and a multinational clothing store, under the tagline "Step Up Your Festival Fashion."
It's no secret that people tend to lionize late '60s, early '70s Southern California, and anyone who's read "The White Album" (the essay) or I'm With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie or know anything about Joni Mitchell or Gram Parsons or The Source Family can tell you why: it always seemed to be sunset and the vibes were high, as were the people. Or, as Vanity Fair's Lisa Robinson puts it in her oral history of Laurel Canyon: "Everyone was single. Everyone was in their 20s. They could all hang out all night long. And, according to Jackson Browne, 'Everybody slept with everybody. It was a time of sexual revolution and pre-AIDS. But it wasn't pre-venereal disease; we had a soft spot in our hearts for the free clinics.'"
It makes utter sense that the clothes these vagabond freedom folkies wore during that time would eventually become synonymous with a free-wheeling, devil-may-care lifestyle. Coachella attendees were wearing Stevie Nicks shawls, micro-hotpants, and flowery sundresses long before H&M came along, but then that's the fundamental problem with "Coachella dressing," the impracticality of gunning for street style pics while plodding around like a sweat bomb with a lit BO fuse in the desert at nigh-top temperatures. When it's not the worst (too hot, too rainy, too crowded), festival spirit is the most exhilarating—I am listening to 2011 Skrillex jams and having an Electric Daisy Carnival-related Pavlovian thirst for a Lime-a-Rita as I type—but the allusions to another time, the empty nostalgia, is what bothers me about this kind of "Coachella style," the idea that young women who go must dress a certain way to get into it. To be that person, fuck uniformity, fuck conformity, and fuck sunshiney nostalgia that erases its dark side.
But maybe that's the point: to look like you're in a '70s cult. I can't think of last year's Coachella without remembering Selena Gomez in a bindi, Kendall Jenner in an Indian nose ring meant for weddings, and any number of hapless hellions in their "Native American" headdresses. But to be wild and young, say the Instagrams and the H&M marketing, is to be carefree. That is: to not care. It's boring, and bad fashion to boot.
Last year, V-Files mocked Coachella style more searingly than anyone else I've seen (which, by the way, shows how played this type of fashion is). In the following episode of Model Files, host Preston Chaunsumlit is hijacked against his will into a twilight zone he calls "Coachella'd." [Disclosure: my loved one has a small part in this video, but he was not paid for his services, obviously.]
It begins subtly, but ominously. A woman walks by wearing a suede vest in the cold New York spring, and a dun-dun sound analogous to the one from Law & Order dings off. "What is she wearing?" asks Chaunsumlit, incredulous. "That's a lot of fringe and a bindi!" Soon, he's practically tripping to a screwed-down, terrifying soundtrack of MGMT, unable to escape the flower crowns and tie-dye. It's the Model Files version of when the Mansons ruin the '60s in "The White Album," when the hippies are eclipsed by the moon.
He meets his end on a park bench, brown-bagging his hangover, mumbling "Skrillex... OutKast... Chloe Sevigny." He has been Coachella'd—but at least he escaped identity intact. Dear Coachella-going masses: you do not have to dress like Jim Morrison to have a good time!
Images via H&M.
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