Fashion's Latest Trend? Cashing In on Summer Tours

Adele - SSE Arena Belfast on February 29, 2016- P 2016
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Brands aren't simply focused on what the biggest stars in music are wearing onstage — they're sponsoring the shows themselves.

There’s nothing that grabs — and holds — millennials’ attention quite like seeing their favorite artists on tour, and increasingly, fashion brands want in on the action. In the last month alone, Burberry announced it would exclusively wardrobe Adele for her tour in support of 25, Gucci signed on to dress Florence Welch for her How Big How Blue How Beautiful Tour and Calvin Klein stepped up as the apparel partner for the North American and European legs of Justin Bieber’s Purpose Tour. The lattermost will involve a level of integration not commonly seen: The singer and his backup performers will don the brand’s logoed skivvies nightly, while videos from Bieber’s next underwear campaign will run before the show and between sets; pop-up shops featuring Calvin Klein merchandise also will appear at select venues.

In many ways, it’s a natural evolution of a long and mutually beneficial association. The bell-bottomed jumpsuits Bill Belew designed for Elvis Presley made them both famous, for example, while the collarless suits Pierre Cardin designed for The Beatles introduced the designer to a younger crowd. Though fashion brands have sought product placement in music videos during the past decade, live events are becoming important for engaging younger consumers.

Spending on sponsorships increased 33 percent between 2010 and 2013 and grew another 4.4 percent in 2014, according to IEG. "Brands are on the hunt for new places where people are actually paying attention, because attention is fragmented today," says Kenton Langstroth, director of partner integration at IPG Media Lab, a marketing and technology integration firm. Sources say these deals typically top out at about $1 million cash, plus an endorsement fee and media spend if there’s a campaign involved.

Wardrobing an artist on tour is by no means unchartered territory for fashion brands, but lately, the frequency and scope of these collaborations have mushroomed, say industry sources. While historically an apparel brand might have lent or created one-of-a-kind costumes, today they are seeking broader partnerships that span exclusive wardrobing rights, behind-the-scenes video access, merchandising opportunities and, in the case of Rihanna and Puma or Kanye West and Adidas, creative collaboration at the product level.

In fact, wardrobing an artist for a tour is usually "the least important component" of the deal, says Marc Beckman, CEO of advertising and representation agency DMA United. "Where you can command six- and seven-figure deals is where you can secure content and generate impressions," he explains. "If you wrap it together with a merchandising deal, then you really have something."

Not all partnerships are lucrative, though: Many artists still aren’t paid for wearing a brand’s clothing onstage, and costume collaborations are often born out of an artist’s admiration for a designer or vice versa.

As fashion focuses less on clothing and more on branding, "we’re going to see more of these sponsorships," says Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan. One day, a collaboration on the level of Bieber and Calvin Klein may look like the norm, not the new frontier.

This story first appeared in the April 2 issue of Billboard magazine.