In days of yore, celebrity endorsement could mean Roger Federer shaving with Gillette, or Lisa Rinna endorsing adult nappies on the red carpet. Now we have the influencer, a job which, from the outside, appears to be endorsing everything from detox teas to fast fashion, assuming you’re pretty or famous enough to vibe with the Instagram algorithm. Even Captain Tom got in on the action, god rest his soul!
You rarely, if ever, see the sausage factory behind influencer content. But a 15 second TikTok of unfathomably beautiful girls in bikinis and festival glitter at a pool party does not spring forth spontaneously on your FYP – it requires someone with a ring light, tripod and top-of-the-line smartphone. And influencers, like everyone else, prefer attending events with their mates.
Enter: the plus one, AKA Ruby Saracino (@rubyrubyrubyrubyrubay). The 22-year-old was invited to the Revolve Festival as the guest of Kit Keenan, an influencer with 371,000 followers on Instagram. When Ruby arrived at the festival, she had around 300 followers on TikTok. After posting six days of “attending Revolve and Coachella as a +1” behind-the-scenes videos, she picked up 11,000 followers. The first video in her series – featuring influencers grabbing freebies at a gifting suite – has been watched over 900,000 times.
Revolve Festival is the lesser-known relative of Coachella, though it hit headlines this year for organisational issues that saw it compared to Fyre Festival. Unlike Coachella, for which anyone can buy a ticket but influencers are regularly sponsored by fast fashion brands to attend, Revolve is an exclusive, invite-only event run by the shopping site of the same name.
VICE chatted to Saracino post-Coachella and Revolve to see what the VIP festival experience is like from an outsider’s perspective.
VICE: Hi Ruby. Can you tell me a bit about how you ended up at Revolve and Coachella?
Ruby: Yes. So Kit – the girl I was plus-one for – and I have been friends since we were five years old. We were in the same kindergarten class. She introduced me to a lot of the influencer world when we were young, like in high school, even. My job is actually in influencer marketing for a dating app and I’ve been working in this field since I was 18, so I've been going to events like this for a very long time.
So what is Revolve Festival like?
I mean, I honestly was referring to it as a production set. Like, they put on this gorgeous large event, which is basically a backdrop for influencers to make content. They're putting on a photoshoot, and the festival is the setting.
There was a word that came up when my colleagues and I were watching your TikToks: “dystopian”. Did it feel that way being there?
I would never have used that word. The way I thought of it is that the pool party was a set with the purpose of content creation. I think it depends on the lens that you look at it through. Would you walk onto a television set of a party and say it’s dystopian?
I get you. It's like a very pretty backdrop for people to make their own media brands.
Yeah. And I mean, I worked in fashion for three years trying to work with influencers to create content – it's very difficult when you don't have control over the background, over the camera used, over exactly how everything is styled for photos and videos. So Revolve creates the backdrop, they create the setting, so that there can be continuity between all of their images, and tell the story they want to tell.
Can you describe being in one of those influencer parties? What was the vibe?
There was definitely a lot of excitement, like seeing old friends and being excited to see everyone. And then something I was reflecting on, was that everyone is so incredibly supportive of one another. In that setting, I felt like people were committed to helping everyone else get the content that they wanted and needed for their own channels.
So it didn't feel competitive in any way?
Not from what I saw.
Something that came up in your TikToks which most people wouldn’t realise, is that the influencers who are invited to these events are working the whole weekend making posts. Are they enjoying themselves?
I think there were many times that we all checked in with ourselves and we were like, ‘Whoa, I can't believe we're here.’ And then there were other points where I even said to them: “Look what working so hard got you. Like, you have worked for this. This wasn't just handed to you.”
That kind of answers another question I had, which is: Do you think influencers are spoiled? An outsider might look at something like the gifting suite video you filmed and think, what the hell?
I wouldn't say that they're spoiled. I mean, I would draw the parallel to movie or TV stars. Would you say they’re spoiled? Like, these are the people in our society who sell products. They have become captivating enough and vulnerable enough to put themselves online. And they have an audience that listens to them. If everyone had it, this wouldn't be a thing. So they've worked for it. And with the gifting suite, it just makes sense for Revolve, having all of the makeup and all of the hair products and all of the nail polish and clothes gifted to influencers so they can tag as many products as possible in any content that is produced.
How do you feel about the consumerism of these kinds of events? Sometimes it looks like there’s a culture of excess for content’s sake.
It's not something that I think about unfortunately, like, I'm a Gen Z kid. It’s not an excuse, but this is kind of what I know and what I see. And as someone who is on the brand side, I have a job because of this industry, right? So I can't criticise it.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.