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“Rain starts play,” says Alasdhair Willis, creative director of Hunter. It does for the wellington boot brand at least.
Summer is a time when a wet weather brand’s sales would traditionally fall off. But such is the demand for outerwear at the music festivals that take place around the world during the summer that Hunter now claim the months between April and September as their biggest retail period. The upswing begins with sales of lightweight jackets for the warm weather festival Coachella, in LA, and continues over the summer period as the festival season moves to Europe — and the weather becomes more unpredictable.
Festival style has become a major commercial story for many brands and high street retailers, and understandably so. According to Google’s analytics, the most common search terms used globally around the festival season are “what to wear to a festival” and “Hunter boots festival”. The searches peak in August when British events including Reading and Leeds and the V Festival (the latter which celebrates its 21st birthday this year with a line-up that includes Justin Bieber and Rihanna) absorb every weekend.
In anticipation of the annual rush, Topshop has transformed the ground floor of its Oxford Street flagship store into a dedicated festival shop, selling clear plastic macs with glittery pockets, denim hotpants and leather bumbags. Many websites, including Asos, Selfridges’ and Harvey Nichols’, also have specific festival categories: in the past month, Asos has had more than 96,000 searches with the word “festival” on its site.
So committed is 160-year-old British brand Hunter to the market that it has now refocused its entire business towards the fashion conscious festival-goer: the brand announced last December it was stepping away from showing at London Fashion Week after only four seasons to focus solely on festival engagement. Its final show, for SS16 in September, staged in a giant marquee at King’s Cross, saw models stomping through a slop-covered runway in lightweight windcheater jackets and wellingtons to a soundtrack that included the Stone Roses and Oasis.
The collection, in stores now, was designed with the warm-weather festival consumer in mind — and the ombre shaded Haze zip-ups and bomber jackets were subsequently worn by the singer Ellie Goulding, model and actress Suki Waterhouse and model Binx Walton at Coachella. The gamble paid off: sales are up 50 per cent on last year, and 290 per cent on 2013.
But when did brands become so closely aligned with the festival circuit? And how did a wellington boot brand come to dominate that market? Kate Moss’s endorsement of the classic 28-part boots at Glastonbury in 2005 was the turning point for Hunter. “Until that point, the brand wasn’t necessarily associated with fashion. Kate transformed it into something very different,” says Willis. US stockists subsequently bought into the brand as a fashion product.
Likewise, British brand Barbour’s fashion kudos came via similar associations. “Alexa Chung brings out her classic Bedale waxed jacket for festivals every year,” says Ian Bergin, director of menswear and accessories for Barbour. “It’s a fantastic endorsement,” says Bergin who is building out the brand’s festival range: “We’ve launched a new capsule called Spirit of Adventure, which has everything one might need for the festival season, from waterproof ponchos to quilted picnic rugs.”
This summer, many brands will be banking on a washout. But, Willis insists, no amount of rain can dampen a true festival spirit. “When it starts raining at a festival, it’s not a disappointing or miserable moment. It’s a kind of exuberance and release.” Just don’t forget your poncho . . .