“Coachella’s been marketed within an inch of its life this year,” said Ken Downing, the fashion director and senior vice president of Neiman Marcus, at a recent dinner in Los Angeles. Indeed, the festival, long one of the most high-profile events on the musical calendar, has been co-opted by the fashion industry, with brands looking for more and more opportunities to expand their Millennial clout.
This year, festival-goers didn’t even have to activate their Coachella wristbands to see the likes of 2 Chainz, Chris Brown, Echosmith, or Chromeo, all of whom performed exclusively at parties hosted by McDonald’s, Chevrolet, Hilton, SoHo House, and more during the first weekend of the festival.
Luxury and commercial fashion brands alike are going bigger and bolder each year at the festival, spending more and more aggressively and staging grander and ever more Instagrammable events. Hordes of young, attractive festival-goers strolling hand in hand across the polo fields, or posing with the ferris wheel in the shadow of the sun, have become a image fashion houses are eager to sell—proximity to the actual festival notwithstanding.
The Swedish retailer H&M, currently celebrating its sixth year as an official sponsor of Coachella, upped the ante this year by creating a co-branded, ready-to-wear collection called H&M Loves Coachella. As part of the partnership, H&M installed a retail store on the festival grounds, marking the first time in the festival's 16-year history that an outside retailer has been allowed to set up shop. The capsule collection includes crop tops, a fringe-lined robe, beaded shorts, and floral printed shirts, debuted three weeks ago, and is available in stores in 55 countries, as well as online.
“Coachella is known for its fashion as much at this point as it’s known for music,” said Marybeth Schmitt, the head of communications for H&M North America. She also noted that by selling the clothing online, H&M is “offering Coachella outside of Coachella.”
Inevitably, as festivals grow they have to evolve, but such expansion isn't always popular. In January, the Washington Post proclaimed that “Coachella is dead,” implying that complimentary spa services, DIY flower crowns and celebrity-studded carnivals have usurped it. Although the festival’s always featured a mélange of up-and-comers alongside more established acts, there was a time (in 2006) when the alt-metal band Tool took the top spot on the main stage, leaving Madonna to perform in the dance tent.
Paul Tollett, the co-founder of Coachella, the president and CEO of its parent company, Goldenvoice, and a board member of its partner organization, AEG Live, started Coachella in 1999. He helped Pearl Jam book a 1993 concert at the Empire Polo Club, during a time when the band was boycotting venues controlled by Ticketmaster. After realizing its viability for larger events, he put together a two-day music festival. The first year, the festival lost about $800,000 and almost bankrupted Goldenvoice. But since returning in 2001, it’s grown hugely in size and scope. Tollett claims responsibility for the music while Skip Paige runs the business and Bill Fold directs the festival.