Even the losers win big during swag bag season.
As the Academy gears up to celebrate the 85th Academy Awards, most nominees will be celebrating the profusion of free loot strewn about Hollywood. With 10-15 major “swag suites” set up at posh hotels and in private mansions in and around Los Angeles, your favorite celebrities won’t be short of big-ticket gifts this weekend.
Here are a few things you may not may know about these baskets of goodies.
Until 2006, the “official” Oscar gift bag had been handed out to nominees, presenters and performers. But once the IRS got wind of bags valued at over $100,000, nominees risked being forced to claim their abundance as income, so the Academy put an end to it. Now private marketing companies have stepped in with off-site “gifting suites,” offering the latest in swag-merch, some of which is valued in the five figures. And since most of the spoils are in the form of gift cards, the IRS has no way of tracking it.
Some stars can’t possibly maneuver “gift lounges” alone. So they call in Susan Blackmon of the company The Flawless Life. Blackmon calls herself a “mood director.” She helps the stars navigate the “difficult” and “stressful” event of going to the lounges and collecting $4,000 Swarovski crystal-encrusted Kitchen-Aid mixers. “I’m the liaison between the celeb and the brands,” Blackmon says. “They just feel too uncomfortable with the invasion of their privacy.” For her services, Blackmon makes “well over six figures.”
The company Hollywood Swag Bag has recently begun employing the use of a “Swag Truck.” Picture a food truck, only this one goes around delivering all sorts of free awesome to celebs who are too busy to visit the lounges.
It pays to be celeb-adjacent. Even with guides like Blackmon, some swag bags still make their way to the unwashed masses. According to Lisa Gal, CEO and founder of Hollywood Swag Bag, “some A-list celebs don’t even want the bags. My husband [who works in a fancy hotel] was given a bag from a celeb who didn’t want it – and it was a steamer truck filled with thousands of dollars worth of items.”
In 2006, George Clooney donated his bag to auction off for United Way. He’s a nice man.
Lisa Gal says she fields several calls a day from brands that only care about getting their products into the hands of reality TV queen Kim Kardashian – not her future nanny or manicurist. And gift cards are usually non-transferable, meaning only the celeb can use it. Sorry, Gwyneth Paltrow’s friend from prep school.
On Planet Swag, a tweet can make the world a better place. Gal estimates the value of her bags at $2-4K. If a celeb acknowledges the bag with a tweet, thank you note, video, or an on-camera shout-out, then a bag of equal value is either given to the celebrity’s charity of choice or a charity Gal chooses for them. “We encourage the celebs to sign a little bag we include inside the big bag, for us to auction for charity,” Gal says.
The “gifting lounges” are secret, so we can only report a few juicy items. For instance, a Samsonite luggage set ($500), leather handbags by Liucia ($500) and jewelry gift cards by Heart and Stone (from $500-$3,000, depending on celebrity’s status.)
In years past bags have included Rolex watches, a $45,000 African safari lodge trip complete with private tours with a private chef, $500 face creams, teeth-whitening packages, Pilates sessions, a year’s supply of Altoid mints, professional dog photo packages (a favorite of Paris Hilton’s), a $1,645 visit to LA plastic surgeon Dr. Garth Fisher and $1,000 visit to LA’s only “skin behaviorist” Leaine Dehmer. In other words, the key to life in Los Angeles.
Last year one Oscar gift bag was valued at $62,000, a decrease from a few years ago when the value averaged around $75,000. According to Forbes, in 2012 the average median household income of a Los Angeles resident was $53,986 and unemployment was 11 percent.
Ah, and so it goes. The rich get richer, and the higher up the celeb is on the chain (from D to A list), the more swag they get. The rest of us can only wait for our ginger-and-seaweed massages to come courtesy of our own credit cards.
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