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.
"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."