In two mezzanine suites just above the lobby of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel – yes, the one from “Pretty Woman” – about 200 people are jostling each other with “what-can-possibly-impress-me-here?" looks on their faces.
Table after table of high-end goods are laid out, trying to attract the eye of Oscar and other celebrities such as actor Christian Bale, nominated this year for “The Fighter,” composer Hans Zimmer (“Rain Man,” “Dark Knight”), and Michelle Williams (“Blue Valentine,” “Brokeback Mountain.”)
Five pages of other names include Jamie Foxx, and TV celebrities from “Saturday Night Live” to “Glee” – all looking at handbags, Mongolian jewelry, vitamins, hand-made chocolates, aluminum art apples, cosmetics, exotic lodging deals and more.
Lists of Oscar parties are printed in the L.A. Times.
Saturday also included 1) an HBO salute to the movie academy’s documentary nominees, 2) a luncheon for Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, hosted by Barry Diller (“Mr. Diane von Furstenberg,” as the L.A. Times calls him). There’s also 3) a soiree with Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers saluting his favorite films – an event that in the past has attracted A-listers George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie (what a concept!).
All of this is topped by the Governors Ball, mandatory for all statuette winners and anyone else hoping to be a future nominee.
But that’s another story.
“The point here is to get a star interested in your line, get them to wear it on the red carpet, get asked about it and voila … instant fame,” says Diane Lynn, chief designer of Diane Lynn shoes and handbags, standing in front of a table strewn with sequined high-heels.
Sponsored by Secret Room Events, this is a special happening only for invited stars, media, producers and other talent, and it oozes marketing from every pore. Attendees are handed a recyclable “Make love not trash dot com” bag upon entry and walk from table to table garnering free products, many in their own gift bags.
“This is not inexpensive for me,” says Body Language Vitamin Company’s Dr. Michael Seidman who traveled from Michigan to give out 200 bags, each filled with $100 worth of vitamins. Total cost including travel: $15,000.
“I don’t even know how much this is costing me,” says Birgit Brin, general manager and owner of Ligne St. Barth Cosmetiques, handing out bags of $50 avocado face oil. “But this is what you do if you want to get known. That’s the attraction of a gigantic event like the Oscars.”
This event is trying to harness the wealth/beauty/fame aspect of those at the top of the privilege ladder for those at the bottom. The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has a booth here and is accepting $20 bills in a glass jar from every passerby. Some observers say this shows Hollywood has a giant heart beneath the tinsel and glitter exterior. It’s just simple synergy that makes sense, they say.
“The idea that one would try to piggy back onto the enormous Oscar audience that surrounds this global TV event is both natural and worthwhile,” says Robert Thompson, founder of the Bleier Center of Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. “The fact that this is associated with a good cause makes the PR value all that more worthwhile while at the same time giving some of these stars a chance to spread their peacock feathers.”
“This is all about the sponsors getting their products out there, used and worn by celebrities so they have great sales,” says Amy Boatwright, spokesperson for Secret Room Events. One of the best known sponsors of gift bag events, it was given the 2009 MTV Movie Swag Award for Best Overall Variety by the Huffington Post – its third.
“Works for me,” says veteran actress Sally Kirkland (“Bruce Almighty”) who has been attending Secret Room gift bag events for years. “Usually they have wonderful jewelry and clothes. This is a wonderful event because you never get tired of free stuff and looking at other stars.”