Coachella 2014: Going native at the festival’s makeover tent

Music fans, some with elaborately painted faces, wait for Kate Nash to begin on the first day of the second weekend of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Here’s a telling statistic about the 2014 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival: On the first of two three-day weekends more than 3,000 people paused to have their makeup or hair styled by professionals.

With approximately 90,000 people attending per weekend, that is, of course, a small minority, but it is a colorful minority. It also in no way reflects how many opt to go the do-it-yourself route. This reporter is no amateur anthropologist, but after a day and a half in the desert it was becoming increasingly clear that the most endangered species at Coachella were soon likely to be those attendees without rainbow adornments on their face or in the hair.

Not wanting to go the way of rock bands without keyboards, on Saturday morning it was my time to assimilate and become a Coachellian. Maybe a little unicorn on my cheek? Maybe some streaks of “Fantasia"-like stars and Pixie dust around my eyes?


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I soon learned I would have to dial down my expectations.

Around 2 p.m., more than 30 people were waiting in line to get made over by the professionals at Sephora Collection Beauty Studio, and I needed to get inside. This is, after all, the first year Coachella has a beauty sponsor. One best get in on the ground floor.

But much like how I felt the first time I set foot in a tattoo parlor, I realized that I would have to ease into this enchanted new world of neon-sprinkled flesh. Company spokeswoman Colleen MacDonald walked me through what has been popular at Coachella. “A lot of color,” she said, fueling my suspicion that I needed some. Yes, color, want.

So, I asked nervously, what would you maybe suggest for me? Sunscreen, she said to my crushing disappointment. Maybe my body and skin tone just couldn’t converse in this bold kaleidoscopic language understood only by the dance tent.

Perhaps recognizing I was let down, it was quickly suggested by the one staffer that I could use a cleanser -- cleansers are always good.

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I spied the eyeshadow table and drifted over, but it became instantly clear this was diving into the deep end. I asked if I could pull any of this off, and I received smiling yet tepid assurances of “Yeah, why not?” Maybe a little hand-holding would help here.

Heeding the warning, I was directed to the table of pastel hair chalk. This wasn’t what I was expecting, as my hair started going at the age of 18 and a decade and a half later that situation hasn’t improved. But stylist Stephanie Smith was speaking my language. Noticing my Disneyland watch, she mentioned she recently visited the park and in moments we were discussing Dungeons & Dragons. That was all I needed to give her complete control of my look.

About a minute and a half later I left the Sephora Collection Beauty Studio with blue and lavender chalk on the sides of my hair. It was somewhat subtle, but still gave me hints of a “Star Trek” alien look I’ve long wanted. If it wasn’t a full on hair dye, I was confident I could audition to join the Knife or perhaps Empire of the Sun.

I showed my hair off to a friend. “A little elfin,” he said. Another, however, instantly remarked, “I need to go there tomorrow,” which sounds like an endorsement. If Coachella is going to show off its true colors, no reason I can’t play along.


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