The Strange Swag Stars Get From Award Show Gifting Suites
Join us once more for our annual award show tradition, in which we delve deep into the belly of the gifting suites beast in search of the weird, interesting and actually cool things companies hope to get into the hands of the rich and famous.
Each year, companies pay actual money to give away their products to celebrities in the form of gifting. This typically occurs around any major award show—the Grammys, the ESPYs, the Oscars, and so on—either in the form of a gift bag or a gifting suite. Gift bags are typically sent to the nominees, hosts or other notable celebrities, while gifting suites consist of booths set up by vendors. Celebrities and/or their handlers wander around, perusing the products, posing for photos and nibbling on samples of various GMO-free, all-natural snacks. A bright-eyed entrepreneur can only hope that a member of American royalty—a Beyonce or a Ryan Gosling—will use their non-stick cookware or booty plumping cream, making them the envy of their peers.
The Academy gave gift bags out themselves to presenters and nominees, beginning into 2001, according to Vox. However, after the IRS deemed the bags taxable income, the Academy ceased the practice in 2006. Now, a variety of private companies do the gifting. Celebrities may accept, use, refuse, donate or regift the items as they please. In 2006, George Clooney auctioned off such a bag for $45,000.
In the last two years, we've discovered 24K gold face masks, vibrators, vaporizers, and a "love shot" which injects plasma-rich platelets into your genitals. Ah, how the other half live! But what would 2017 bring us? Well, we found less woo, but a lot more weed.
Our first gifting suite of the season was the Red Carpet Luxury Lounge, which set up inside the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. They had partnered with nonprofit Best Friends Animal Society, who had a booth at the event. Here, we encountered a vast number of skincare products, which only makes sense as the stars are supposed to have flawless skin and never age. A company called Cosmetic Research Lab was offering small packets of STORM Instant Wrinkle Lift Serum for baggy or wrinkly under-eyes, Australia-based company Auspect had a line of serums and other things to smear on your face. DermisRX and Dermesse were two totally different brands with similar sounding names, both offering retinol creams. European Skin and Massage Studio in Santa Monica was offering a facial mask made with actual gold. Parfaire Medical Aesthetics had been doing Botox on-site, yet had run out of syringes by the time I arrived, so it must have been popular.
I declined one of these free T-shirts that proclaimed the wearer as a "stink boss." (Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah/LAist)
But it wasn't all things to put on your face. There were jerky dog treats from Sally Snacks. There was a booth from the Croatian tourism board, touting the many beauties of the country (including the fact that Game of Thrones is, in part, filmed there). There was a nasal inhaler from Dorey Aromatherapy that purported to take one's anxiety away when huffed, like poppers for the soul! Take a big whiff of Moroccan chamomile, bergamot and lavender and let all your worries fade away! There was also a large box called the StinkBOSS. Celebs can put their smelly shoes inside, and a a circulation of heat and ozone will render them tolerable once again. For celebrities with kids, Australian-based Attipas was offering booties that acted as both shoes and socks for young children, which could then presumably go into the StinkBOSS, if necessary.
You could fade out of existence with Allomind, which seemed pretty cool. It's essentially a pair of glasses, similar to a VR headset, that allows one to completely immerse themselves in a film by blocking out the real world. For the viewer, it looks sort of like as watching a film from several rows back in the theater. They seem like they'd be good for transit. Put on an Allomind and some headphones and pretend you're not on a plane, hurtling through the sky, surrounded by human beings. Or maybe you could get a pair for whenever you want to watch something embarrassing. "No, no, I'm not watching Under the Dome, I'm watching a super serious documentary."
There were also several jewelry lines. Cathy Sexton of North Carolina, a self-described "bling-picker" had flown to L.A. to display her Catiques jewelry line. Essentially, Sexton has been scouring flea markets for broken jewelry, which she repurposes into new pieces. She showed her work alongside textile pieces made by her daughter, print designer Holly Guertin's company, Ernie and Irene. Another jewelry line, Forever in my Heart by Mira, offered cremation jewelry, which would enable you to wear a loved one's ashes at all times. Something like that might sound weird, however, mourning jewelry involving a deceased loved one's hair was quite common in the Victorian era. The pendants came in different sizes to accommodate both pet and human ashes. Women nominees were to receive am amethyst pendant from Forever in my Heart, while men received a bracelet that read 'save a life' in sterling silver, as a portion of all proceeds go to animal charities.
Susan Gottlieb of Venice's G2 Gallery was giving away copies of The Gottlieb Native Garden. The vivid coffee table book features photos of Susan and Dan Gottlieb's Beverly Hills garden, which contains hundreds of native plants and animal friends. It is considered a National Wildlife Federation-certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat, and the whole thing exists just a mere two miles away from bustling Rodeo Drive.
Very sneaky. (Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah/LAist)
One company offered a bag for sneaky drinking. At first glance, Vivajennz's bags appeared to be the perfect accessory of the lush on the go. They come in a variety of styles, including a purse and messenger bag. The user loads up a three-liter reusable, BPA-free bladder with the liquid of their choice, then zips it into a secret compartment in the bottom of the bag. The liquid can then be poured out of the bladder via a carefully concealed spigot. You are not advised to drink directly out of the spigot, and Vivajennz also offers reusable, silicone cups that are easy to clean and store. Yet creator Dr. Jennifer Thomas-Goering, an anesthesiologist from Ann Arbor, Michigan, revealed that though the most obvious liquid to sneak into the bag is liquor or wine, that's not why she invented it. Thomas-Goering has a son with autism who is very particular about what sort of beverages he can consume. She found that widely available beverages, such as sodas or juices with artificial dye, cause her son to behave aggressively. Yet she was having trouble bringing her preferred brand of juice to movie theaters or zoos, as the rules do not allow patrons to bring in their own food or beverages. Necessity being the mother of invention, Vivajennz was born. Thomas-Goering said that since she began marketing the bags, she has been told by some buyers that college-age women are now using them to take their own tamper-proof drinks with them to parties. A celebrity might use one of her bags to drink at the Oscars, perhaps, where booze is only served at the bar outside the theater, unlike the very boozy Golden Globes.
All of this could be yours, if you had been nominated for Best Director, of course. (Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah/LAist)
While the first gifting suite had a few interesting products, nothing was too absurd. So, I next headed over to chat with Lash Fary of Distinctive Assets in Mid-Wilshire about what his company was giving away. Now, Distinctive Assets is unique because they only give their "Everyone Wins" bags to the nominees of five categories: Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Director. Also of note, these bags are valued at six figures (actual dollar amount not revealed), and the bulk of that value is comprised of lavish trips to gorgeous places such as Lost Coast Ranch in Northern California, or Golden Door, a luxury resort and spa in San Marcos. These items are all donated by the companies, and are not paid for by Distinctive Assets. Other items in this year's bag include a mat that, when sat on, is said to reduce cellulite; a Haze vaporizer suitable for marijuana or e-liquid; and Elvie, a "pelvic floor exercise tracker" that Fary said is like "FitBit meets kegals." There was also an Oomi, which is a smart-home device that can turn on lights and other devices, and, if using an Oomi bulb, change the color of the lights. Kind of like the Christmas episode of Black Mirror, but with less dread and abject misery. They were also giving away boxes of Opal apples, which I sampled. They are, in fact, delicious.
Anyhow, Fary said the price tag is not the point of the bags. They're just about really nice gifts. "I don't think Emma Stone is going to care that [the value of this year's bag] is more than the one she received before," he mused. Probably not, because Emma Stone is already rich and famous. (Stone received her last bag via Distinctive Assets when she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in Birdman.)
Distinctive Assets has also distanced itself from the Academy, after the Academy accused their bags of drawing negative attention. This is because certain products—such as a "vampire breast lift," the marijuana vape, and a $250 vibrator—were among the most talked about gifts. Sure, the Academy gave a statue to a man accused of sexual harassment, but heaven forbid someone give Meryl Streep a vibrator! This year's press release came with the disclaimer, "Neither the Academy nor Distinctive Assets want there to be any association between the ‘Everyone Wins’ Gift Bags and the OSCARS® or the Academy."
The Distinctive Assets give bags will be delivered to the eligible celebrities, not suite wandering required. In the past, some have chosen to donate their bags to charity.
Soap. Shaped like poop! And geodes. (Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah/LAist)
The last suite of the season was the Celebrity Connected suite, located within the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. This was perhaps the most challenging of the lot, as, at a certain point, vendors just began shoving things in everyone's hands and whisking them into awkward photos without any concern for who was actually a celebrity. This was very uncomfortable for me, as I am not a famous person, and my most impressive role was standing behind Jon Hamm in a season seven episode of Mad Men after signing up for Central Casting while unemployed. Actual celebrities including Joe P. Harris (This Is Us), Nate Torrence (Zootopia), choreographer/dancer Ian Eastwood, Donnell Turner (General Hospital), bassist Nik West, and Matt Peters (Orange is the New Black). We did not, as in previous years, see Wink Martindale or Martin Landau.
Yet this gifting suite did have quite a items of intrigue as well as a fair amount of nonprofits.
There were numerous sweets to eat. Carefully decorated cupcakes from Ohana Cupcakes, pretty vegan desserts from Canada's Sorelle and Co., truffles from NYC's Twizzles Tasty Treats, tea from Kung Fu Tea (there's one opening up next to Southland Beer and Little Tart in Koreatown), and Something Sweet edible cookie dough, which we would highly recommend for spooning directly into your face while watching This is Us. Collettey's Cookies was perhaps the most interesting dessert company, founded in 2011 by the eponymous Collette Divitto. Divitto has down syndrome, and said she was told numerous time she was not a "good fit" for the many places she applied to work. So, given her love of baking, she founded her own company and works to help others like her find fulfilling employment too. And her cookies are awesome. Conveniently placed next to the truffles was a diet Ultrasine Hardcore, a diet pill that promised to burn as many calories as 70 minutes of yoga.
There were, as usual, numerous skincare and beauty products, including shea butter brand Kiss My Butter (good pun), My Real Earth and their natural lotions and body butters; New York's Dome Beauty, which focused on being simple and easy to apply; and Balm, a brand new skincare company formed by four sisters who sought out natural products after losing their mother to cancer. Of note were Booty Perfect and Ameri. The former one is supposed to apply to their buttocks once or twice a day, while the latter is meant to be applied to the breasts twice a day. These proprietors claim that their products will lift, plump or "remodel" both areas. For optimal results, both advise rubbing in a circular motion.
You'll be the "NV" of your constantly tucking friends! (Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah/LAist)
For the fellows, who may not be inclined to plump their busts or booties, there were NV Holders, which allow a man to clip his dress shirt to his thigh, enabling him to do jumping jacks and the wave to his heart's desire without ever needing to retuck.
Another booth, Kalayaan, consisted of all-natural soap. The bars come in a variety of fun shapes, including geodes and emojis. For some cognitive dissonance, try cleansing with a bar of soap shaped like a pile of sentient poop!
Marijuana products were on the scene, given California's recent vote to allow recreational cannabis use, including Hemp Kitchen—a hemp and/or cannabis subscription box—and Privee, a private cannabis social club. I was told by one vendor that certain celebrities were not allowed to pose for photos or be seen visiting the cannabis booths. Bummer for them!
Have you ever had a cup of tea or a cocktail and wished it was attracting more attention, perhaps like some kind of beacon? You're in luck with Glo Drinks, a new company that produces plastic "ice cubes" that light up whenever submerged. The light goes out whenever the cube is not submerged, meaning a practical application would be at a bar with music so loud bartenders didn't even know you were thirsty until they saw your light go out. Or to convince kids that drinking their milk is fun!
Across the way was Unstick by Daughkun is a cooking aid that functions as a non-stick sheet which can be used in a pan or baking sheet. I watched a demonstration of how easy it was to grill cheese, then just wipe the sheet clean. Because when you are rich and famous, you don't want to waste your time cleaning pans. Wait, wait. You don't want the help to waste time cleaning pans!
For fairy use only. (Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah/LAist)
There were also several products for children. Kukkia Kids, a Japanese company, was offering wooden toys, including sandals that leave animal prints in the sand. TicTocTrack was a smart, GPS-enabled watch that, when worn by a child, would allow a parent to monitor the child's whereabouts. The watch can also receive calls and messages from trusted phone numbers, and issue an alert if the wearer strays out of predetermined safe zones. Also good for stalking, though not advised for that purpose. And if the Elf on the Shelf is a little too creepy for you and your brood, why not get a Fairy Door! These plastic doors can be installed into any wall, bookcase or cupboard as a means for fairies to travel from their dimension into ours! They're actually quite popular in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where an artist who had been installing them in his own home began placing them around town in 2005.
For those of you who enjoy puns, Joe Cans partnered with Barbells for Boobs for the event. Barbells for Boobs was inspired by Cecy Morales, who noticed a lump in her breast at age 26. When she went in for a screening, doctors told her to return at 40. However, she persisted and was diagnosed with Stage 0 breast cancer. Barbells for Boobs was founded by Morales' best friend, Zionna Hanson, who owns a CrossFit gym. works for everyone, regardless of age or insurance, to receive access to cancer early detection services. At the suite, they were giving out various roasts of coffee with names like "Big Titty Blend" and "Tough B*tch." Nearby, a booth was offering copies of Kim and Mike Becker's book, I Promise to Put My Lipstick on When I Get There, written as a guide to makeup and wig care for women with cancer.
Global Imagination was actually a pretty neat company. They make a big sphere that plays a 360-degree video, which practically, could work well to show a video intended for VR to multiple people at a time without the need for a headset. It could be ideal for a classroom or a showroom, or you could just put one in your house to impress your friends. A man who was not affiliated with the company stood very close to me to tell me several times how cool it was, so I guess it must be cool! Below, you can watch a man in a Pac-Man suit talk to Global Imagination's founder, Mike Foody.
And that's about it for all the luxurious, strange and surprisingly practical items we found at this year's celebrity gifting suite! You might not have one an Oscar, but you can console yourself by slowly rubbing creams all over your body in a steady, circular motion.