This spring, Lana Del Rey's stylist, a hirsute Brit who goes by the moniker Johnny Blueeyes, ventured to the Fashion District in downtown Los Angeles to pick out free things for his client.
When he arrived at the showroom of Chic Little Devil, a style house that handles publicity for 75 brands, a handful of pricey items had been laid out before him. An employee directed his attention toward a $1,100 pair of black studded leather boots handmade in Mexico by a company called Old Gringo.
"Old Gringo would seriously love to be on Lana," Kate Bedrick, CLD's director of public relations, said she told the musician's stylist. "Feel free to take them. We already researched her sizing, so it's really easy."
But Bedrick wasn't hoping Del Rey would sport the so-called Fatale boots on a red carpet or at an awards show or high-end fashion editorial. She was trying to persuade Blueeyes to put the singer in the shoes for her sets at Coachella.
From the muddy fields of Woodstock to the farmlands of Glastonbury, music festivals have long been free-spirited environments for creative fashion expression. For years, celebrities have treated the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival as a bohemian costume party — spending their time in Indio decked out in elaborate floral crowns, crocheted crop tops and floppy sun hats. It's a vibe that's supposed to feel laid-back and thrown-together, one meant for 100-plus-degree temperatures and dust and sweat.
But ever since celebrity photographers started popping up on the polo grounds of Coachella some five years ago, that laissez-faire attitude has gone out the window. Whether they're onstage or simply lounging at a concert or one of the dozens of parties around the festival, stars know their outfits will likely pop up in an online fashion gallery within hours.
As a result, nearly all of the Coachella fashion regulars — Kate Bosworth, Vanessa Hudgens, Alessandra Ambrosio — hire stylists to help them put together their festival looks.
"The irony is that this very unfussy, free look has been styled to the nines," said Anita Patrickson, a stylist for Harper's Bazaar who dressed actress Julianne Hough for Coachella this year. "It's a tricky balance, because you don't want someone to look at you and say, 'Why is she wearing something that's $5,000 that she's gonna mess up?' It's supposed to look like it has no labels and was found in granny's closet."
Now that paparazzi trail celebrities everywhere they go, the street — or the desert, in this case — has become as important a fashion runway as the red carpet. If she looks cute at Coachella, Hough comes across as relatable, says Patrickson — "the girl you want to be, with an appealing vibe everybody feels they can achieve." Patrickson, in turn, might pick up some new famous clients who like Hough's style.
The brands Hough sports get a boost too. Just four days after the "Dancing With the Stars" veteran turned up in a $24 chambray shirt at a Coachella-adjacent Old Navy party, the celebrity gossip site Hollywood Life posted an item telling readers where to buy the actress' "super chic (and affordable!), button-down shirt by the brand."
"What people wear at Coachella really sets the pace of the summer — a gauge for what stores should order more of," said Cher Coulter, a stylist who works with Bosworth and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.
Of course, not all of the festival's looks will catch on: Last weekend Kardashian sister Kendall Jenner wore a Thin Mint-sized nose ring, while Hudgens showed off a full Native American headdress.
"It all started out so innocent," Huntington-Whiteley said, "this place for stars to go and really get down with the people. But now stars know how much press they get from what they wear, and it sets trends, so it's really important to brands."
So important that some companies are not only willing to give their clothes to celebrities for free, they'll actually pay Coachella-goers to wear them. This month, the New York Daily News reported that Lacoste was paying "Glee's" Lea Michele $20,000 to sport its wares at the festival, while "Spring Breakers" star Hudgens was receiving $15,000 from McDonald's.
Lacoste slammed the story as "completely false," with a spokesman telling The Times "the $20,000 is laughable." And a press representative for McDonald's said the company has no relationship with Hudgens. The Daily News' Brian Niemietz said, "We absolutely stand behind that story."
Either way, Patrickson — who has worked with Emma Watson and Chanel Iman in addition to Hough — says there are plenty of starlets who are willing to serve as walking billboards.
"People definitely do get paid to go to certain parties or wear brands at Coachella," the stylist said. "Some clients of mine are comfortable doing that and say, 'Hey, that means my weekend is free.' They know it's a game and decide to play it. Others don't want to be beholden to anybody and just really want to be there for the music."
Oh, right: the music. The 166 acts playing the festival over its two weekends seem like an afterthought to many, though for others they serve as inspiration for different outfits. Last year, Brazilian Victoria's Secret model Ambrosio attended both weekends, planning her looks down to the musical act with her stylist, Jen Mazur.
"I go to the premium brands and ask what they have that's hippie or Coachella-inspired, and then I bring everything to Alessandra," Mazur said. "We have multiple fittings and decide what would look good for a certain concert or show. It's a big deal for her."
According to Mazur, high-end brands like Christian Louboutin and Jimmy Choo have been throwing Coachella-themed product at Ambrosio for months. But emerging designers are eager to get in on the act too.
At her downtown showroom last month, Whitney Port — best known for appearing on the MTV reality shows "The Hills" and "The City" — displayed items from her fashion line, Whitney Eve, for potential buyers.
"I make these little bralettes," she said, pointing to a stretchy top. "If they have the body, some girls will wear it on their own. Or you can throw a cute little crop tank or graphic tee over it."
She was showing off her 20-piece summer collection to fashion industry visitors in the hopes that someone popular would opt to wear one of her pieces at Coachella. She even penned handwritten notes to certain stars, sending them a few selections from her line as a gift.
"I would love any of those Victoria Secret models that are followed everywhere to wear my stuff," said Port, 29. "Kate Bosworth would be amazing. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley would be so great — or Rihanna!"
But Port, who launched Whitney Eve in 2009, is photographed nearly as much at Coachella as the famous women she mentioned. One year, she worked with a stylist, but for this festival she plans to wear a combination of items from her closet as well as Whitney Eve pieces.
"You get there and immediately people are taking a photo, and everyone's worrying if people are gonna think, 'Is this cute enough to wear to Coachella?'" Port said. "You know it's going to be picked up by so many outlets that you want to wear your line and get it out there — but you don't want to see like you're pushing it on people. But I design what I want to wear. So I don't think of it like selling myself."
As for Del Rey, the singer didn't wear the leather boots during her performance on Coachella's opening weekend. Instead, she opted for a pair of barely there sandals with her babydoll mini.
But Old Gringo hasn't necessarily gotten the boot just yet; Del Rey will take the stage again on Sunday afternoon.