Fashion and cannabis combine for Coachella buzz

Fashion brands have a long history of leveraging the party scene around the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (which this year runs April 14-16 and 21-23) into brand-building buzz, but this year, the likes of Jeremy Scott, Levi Strauss & Co., Sephora and Hudson Jeans will find themselves in the company of upscale California cannabis brands trying to reach a coveted consumer base.

Because festival rules forbid drugs (including, according to the event's website, cannabis use by medical marijuana cardholders), most of the canna-branding is set to take place at private (and undisclosed-to-the-public) events taking place within 20 miles of the Empire Polo Club grounds in Indio, where Coachella takes place. However, at least one company has hinted that it might engage in a guerrilla-style giveaway of pre-rolled joints to over-21 festival-goers. (E-mails to festival organizers seeking confirmation of the policy and comment on the presence of cannabis brands at and around the festival were unanswered as of the morning of April 13.)

One such event is Green Oasis, a cannabis gifting experience organized by Susan Soares. "My audience is the Town & Country audience, the Vanity Fair audience," Soares said, explaining that she works directly with band managers and agents to get cannabis-related brands face-time with some of the festival's top talent. According to Soares, one of the bands that stopped by in 2015 came right from the festival's main stage and, in 2016, British band the 1975 were in the house to learn about product and policy.

This year's Green Oasis is scheduled for the second week of the festival (the past two years, it's taken place on the first weekend), and Soares expects to be at capacity, gifting 300 C.A.R.E. (Cannabis Awareness Research and Events) packages filled with about $2,500 worth of merchandise, including marijuana in its various forms (flower, vapes and edibles) and accouterments. One of the SoCal brands on board is AnnaBís, a handbag line aimed at the upscale female cannabis consumer, which is gifting its $245 Lady G festival-appropriate bag.

(Soares said gift-bag recipients are required to have valid California medical marijuana paperwork, which can be obtained on-site.)

Soares said the goal is simple. "I want to influence the influencers," she said, and that the brands she works with "want to get their brands in the hands of influencers and possibly get endorsement deals." A music festival like Coachella, she said, provides a lot of opportunities. "My tiny little circle is a tiny little circle," she said, "but these [influencers] have millions and millions of fans in all these different genres."

Another company boarding the festival bus is Beboe, an L.A.-based cannabis brand launched just last month by tattoo artist Scott Campbell and Clement Kwan (whose luxury brand experience includes stints at YOOX Net-a-Porter and Dolce & Gabbana). Their two debut products - rose gold, pre-filled, single-use vaporizers and THC/CBD pastilles - are going into gift bags at Weedmaps Oasis, a marijuana-centric event, which is taking place during the first weekend about six miles from the festival. (A Weedmaps representative declined to share any specifics about the event beyond describing it as a one-weekend-only "marijuana lifestyle experience.")

"We're working with Weedmaps on their thing," Beboe's Scott Campbell said. "But I've also tattooed a lot of musicians over the years, so we're also sending product to a few different dinners and after-parties and everything up there. I don't know if our accountant will say giving stuff away to 300 people at Coachella is justifiable, but we're just launching and philosophically. I like the idea of just setting it loose in the world and giving it a chance to speak for itself."

Santa Barbara-based grower Lowell Farms, which earlier this month received a cease-and-desist letter from festival parent company AEG for offering packs of Coachella Blend pre-rolled joints (and giveaway floral headpieces festooned with cannabis), isn't just going to have its cannabis crowns and product on hand at the Weedmaps event. In a deft bit of marketing, it's rebranded the AEG-offending pre-rolls as the Weedmaps Oasis Blend.

Canndescent, a cannabis cultivator that's actually based in the Coachella Valley - its grow operations are in Desert Hot Springs - is using that place name on a limited-edition product it's billing as Festival Flowers, that will only be available until May 1 through Palm Springs Safe Access dispensary and the X-Factor Organics delivery service (both of which require valid medical marijuana documentation).

Canndescent, which prefers to pitch its pot using effect-based descriptions instead of strain names, is offering five different types of flower suggested for a different activity (for example, the language on the bottle of Coachella Valley Calm reads as follows: "When the sun is coming up and it's time to wind down, soothe your mind and body with Coachella Valley Calm.").

The company has also outfitted the orange boxes it uses with rolling papers, hemp wick and matches for those on the go and enlisted fashion photographer and brand stylist Michael Haber to create one-off festival bags and cannabis carry-alls.

Canndescent's chief executive, Adrian Sedlin, said the music festival unspooling in his own backyard presented a unique opportunity.

"Coachella is a festival, but it's just as much a pop-culture happening," Sedlin said. "And it's a higher-end, fashion-forward event [with] a higher-priced ticket, which is my market.

"These are open-minded cannabis users with big discretionary incomes. So we need to be there."

For more musings on cannabis culture and commerce, follow me @ARTschorn.
adam.tschorn@latimes.com

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