At Coachella festival, music and fashion are a natural fit

Los Angeles Times Fashion Critic

As the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival expands from one weekend to two, so do the fashion and music marketing opportunities in Southern California.

Labels such as Levi’s, H&M, Lacoste, Armani A|X, Mulberry and Madewell (J. Crew’s little sister) not only will be targeting the boho masses with free watches and sunglasses, they will also be courting the performers in the hope that they will attend their high-profile events. The labels are leveraging both festival weekends (April 13-15 and 20-22) and the week in between, hosting parties, live performances, backstage lounges and gifting suites. The musical artists get more than free stuff — acts that perform at fashion events get exposure and, in some cases, payment. Even bands that aren’t on the festival bill are cashing in on the swirl of activity.

“Years ago, musicians were not into being associated with commercial companies. But that has changed over the last 10 years, and now it’s part of their business,” says Andy Hilfiger, brother of Tommy Hilfiger and the creative director of rock ‘n’ roll line Andrew Charles, which is inspired by Aerosmith frontman and “American Idol” judge Steven Tyler.


Indeed, today’s market forces have brought music and fashion together like never before. “Florence and the Machine played the Chanel runway show in Paris [last year], and that paid for her band to do several [other] concerts,” says Niki Roberton, owner of Iamsound Records, an L.A. label representing Florence and the Machine,Fool’s Gold, Salem, Charli XCX and others. Iamsound recently segued into fashion event production, playing musical matchmaker for brands such as Madewell and Vans.

“No one is buying records anymore,” Roberton says, “so for the artists, collaborating with brands on events and products is a natural thing.”

It’s all about synergy. Up-and-coming bands are relatively inexpensive to hire for fashion events, and the artists benefit from the exposure and promotion, whether it comes from playing the Coachella-related Madewell party or by partnering on a special bag with Mulberry (which is hosting a pool party and live concert on Saturday at the Parker Palm Springs).

Although they aren’t performing at the festival, Iamsound artists Nikki Lane and Warpaint will be performing at Madewell’s Coachella party at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs on April 21, as part of the brand’s 14-city Denim Road Trip that begins Thursday in New York. An Airstream trailer decked out as a “mini-Madewell store on wheels” will be parked poolside at the Ace, featuring denim and accessories, a “braid bar” (hairstylists offering free braiding services) and denim-inspired nail art. A photographer will be on the scene to upload photos to social media.

Some of the events aren’t being staged in the desert. Levi’s is hosting three nights of parties in Los Angeles, April 17, 18 and 19, featuring Swedish singer-songwriter Lykke Li, DJ Cheapshot and other artists, some who are on the Coachella bill and some who are not.

“L.A. is just going to be buzzing between those two weekends,” says Greg Sato, senior manager, marketing engagement for Levi’s. “The baby bands have to book themselves in L.A. or up and down the coast to fund staying out here for 10 days. And [fashion] brands know that, so they are doing events and giving Angelenos a chance to have Coachella without going to Coachella.”

During the day, Levi’s will have its Hollywood Hills showroom space open for bands to come through, work with stylists and grab some free clothes. “Everyone knows Levi’s, so it’s more about showing them what’s new and telling the product stories.”

In addition to ankle skinny and high-rise skinny denim, Sato will be showing the Levi’s Commuter line. The water-resistant, antimicrobial clothing originally designed for urban cyclists has apparently found favor with rock ‘n’ roll drummers, including John Wicks of L.A. band Fitz and the Tantrums, who is on the Coachella bill, and has extolled the virtues of the pants on the Levi’s blog, saying, “I walk offstage completely drenched from head to toe in sweat. It looks as though I went for a swim. I hang my Commuter Line pants and coat up in our trailer behind the bus and let them drip dry overnight while we drive to the next city. When I take them out of the trailer the next morning not only are they dry, but they don’t stink.”

Up-and-coming musical artists are even starting to inspire the way some fashion collections are being conceived and designed. In February, Kate Spade kicked off a four-city concert tour to promote its spring collection with Brooklyn, N.Y.-based indie band the Vivian Girls, ending with an event at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas. The band was hired with the help of the New York firm Music & Strategy after Kate Spade’s creative team came up with a concept for the spring line of clothing and accessories that revolved around a girl band.

“We told [Music & Strategy] about what our brand is about, that the Kate Spade girl is culturally curious, she lives in Brooklyn and goes to the flea market on Saturdays ... and they helped us find a band that embodied that,” says Lindsay Knaak, Kate Spade’s director of marketing strategy. “We wanted a band with three or four girls with different personalities ... who hadn’t yet hit it big and who hadn’t done anything with another brand.”

At London Fashion Week in February, British fashion brand Mulberry launched the Del Rey bag, named after up-and-coming American songstress Lana Del Rey. They invited her to sit front row at the runway show and perform at the after-party. Even with scathing reviews of her performance on”Saturday Night Live” making headlines just weeks before, Mulberry never considered severing the relationship. “We knew it was just a wobble,” says Vanessa Lunt, communications director for Mulberry.

“[Brands] want to be seen as tastemakers, and to think they are helping their audience discover something,” says Travis York, founder of, a consumer website that pairs up-and-coming bands and fashion brands to leverage their fan bases and sell clothes and music.

“Musicians are the last real style blazers,” says Robbie Myers, editor in chief of Elle magazine. “They tend to dress themselves, and their look is so much about who they are in terms of expressing their personal style and their genre of music.”

Even when they aren’t totally dressing themselves, they do offer lessons in personal style that designers and the public pick up on. Case in point: Kate Spade gave the Vivian Girls free rein to raid the spring collection to choose wardrobe for the brand’s promotional tour. But by the time the band hit its last stop in Austin, lead singer Cassie Ramone was wearing her polka-dot Kate Spade tights ripped, under jean shorts. “Some brands would have been mortified,” Knaak says. “But we never thought of wearing them that way. That was her preference and it looked so cute, and cool and edgy.”