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This Is Why Fashion Brands Bank on Coachella

The Hollywood Reporter, March 31, 2015

By Lauren Sherman

Coachella might be the country’s highest-grossing music festival, but every year it’s looking more and more like a mall. Consider six-time sponsor H&M’s pop-up shop, where showgoers can purchase exclusive pieces from its Coachella-branded line right on the festival grounds. Or luxury fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar’s shop at La Quinta, a resort in Palm Springs, which will carry a breadth of upscale labels including Aurelie Bidermann, Mansur Gavriel, Westward Leaning and Coach.

These are just a few of the many fashion- and beauty-fueled events happening at the two-weekendlong festival, where attendees take as much care with their wardrobes as they do when selecting which acts to check out. Festival fashion — vintage Levi cutoffs, fringed boots, peasant blouses — is a bona fide trend, and fashion companies with big bucks are putting marketing dollars into being part of the conversation. Headline sponsorships at festivals like Coachella typically start in the low-seven figures, according to William Chipps, senior editor of the IEG Sponsorship Report, which tracks deals on an annual basis. (In 2014, brands spent $1.34 billion sponsoring music venues, festivals and tours in the United States.) Even if you’re not a headline sponsor, the price still can reach the mid-six figures. “It’s a hot category,” says Chipps.

Coachella appeals to fashion brands because it attracts more than a half a million people — 579,000 in 2014, according to Billboard Boxscore — as well as celebrities, whose paparazzi shots sell clothes. “Because it’s the first major event of its kind each year, Coachella sets the fashion stage for the other festivals that follow it,” says Michael Fernandez, founder and CEO of New York-based marketing agency Factory 360. A photo of style stars like Kate Bosworth or Miley Cyrus not only can land a brand some recognition on the pages of a glossy, but it also can legitimately move product off the shelves. H&M, for instance, reports that past looks worn by Coachella regulars Bosworth, Sophia Bush and Diane Kruger were brand boosters.

For the fast-fashion retailer, releasing a Coachella-specific collection was the natural next step. “H&M always wants to be where our customers are, and they’re at Coachella,” says H&M spokeswoman Marybeth Schmitt. “Coachella is also a state of mind, so we will also offer the collection globally, so they can buy a piece of [its] spirit anywhere in the world.” The line, which will cost between $5 and $50, hit and 350 stores nationwide on March 19.

While H&M’s partnership with Coachella is long-standing, there are plenty of other brands just starting to tap the market. Last year, high-end shoe brand Jimmy Choo teamed up with Haim at the festival to help launch its Choo.08 collection. And this year, the shopping search engine ShopStyle will host a two-day event at the Viceroy Palm Springs hotel, while Sephora will serve as the event’s official beauty sponsor.

To help kick off the festival on April 10, handbag line Coach — which is undergoing a fashion renaissance, thanks a new creative director and a new look — is hosting live performances as a part of its ongoing Coach Backstage series. We bet you’ll spy some VIPs wearing bags from the brand’s festival-ready “Tribal” collection, which hits stores in May. “From finding influence in the style of artists from the past and present to bringing creative energy to my day, the first thing I do in the morning is turn on music,” says the brand’s executive creative director, Stuart Vevers. "After hosting performances in NYC, Taipei and L.A., I’m excited to bring our fourth Coach Backstage concert to Coachella."

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Right now, Coachella seems like the place to be for fashion brands. But Fernandez advises that companies with smaller budgets — or a little bit of foresight — entertain other options, as well. “At some point, it’ll reach a saturation point where it’s just incapable of setting trends anymore,” he says. “Every day there are new festivals that are being born. Ones that millennials can still afford.” After all, a ticket to Coachella starts at $375. That’s certainly more than an outfit at H&M.