EGOT extraordinaire Viola Davis examines a sparkling piece of fine jewelry from Stephen Silver. Vicki Berlin — who portrayed a luxury cruise’s crew chief catering to the whims of the ultrarich on Triangle of Sadness — tries on a pair of sunglasses from Joe Pesci’s company, Badazz Glazz. RuPaul’s Drag Race star Monet X Change poses for the camera out of drag; her Sibling Rivalry podcast cohost Bob the Drag Queen is scheduled to arrive later in the day, a publicist confides.
This was a snapshot of the GBK Brand Bar, a “pre-Oscars luxury lounge” that took place Friday and Saturday at the Kimpton La Peer Hotel in West Hollywood. It was one of about seven major gifting events that swirled around Oscars weekend. Largely unseen to the public, these happenings leverage the swarm of celebs that take on L.A., providing them with gifts and a quick elevator pitch in exchange for a bit of Hollywood spotlight in return.
The experience is both surreal and VVIP. After one’s car is valeted at the hotel, the tour begins with a red-carpet arrival moment with a photographer. (Photographers are ubiquitous at these events, often stopping guests at each station to pose with products.) Then, a woman with a large black bag guided me through a maze of stations — a bag that grew progressively heavier as the afternoon wore on. When empty, she wore it lightly on her shoulder. When full, she had to drag it down the hotel hallway. One vendor referred to it as “the body bag.”
Of course, there are always hierarchies when stars gather. Different colors of bags and admission bracelets communicated different tiers of celebrity and media. So, good luck taking home a Schwank Grill — a $1200+ portable grill that can cook a steak in a three-minute flash — if you’re not in Everything Everywhere All at Once. (As media, I received a $300 gift certificate for a grill, a common practice with some of the pricier items on display.) A taste of perfectly cooked meat was also its own reward.
Overall, the offerings comprised the kind of random, fantastical assortment of prizes you might see on The Price Is Right: A Cync Full Color Light Strip, which pulses to music in “16 million vibrant colors” ($89.99); a tasting of Cardinal du Four, “France’s oldest spirit” and accompanying history lesson ($399+); the Netvue Birdfy, a smart bird feeder that records and recognizes its winged visitors ($199); a RenPho Eye Massager, which heats and massages the face while playing soothing music ($69+); a gift set from California Caviar, including sample “bumps” of caviar that day; a $300 gift certificate for Read Ended, an apparel company founded by a man with a deep appreciation for the female derriere; a wall of Remington hair products; and a membership to Myavana, which connects folks with textured hair to the right products.
In addition to the magical touch of RenPho, the suite also featured the Kahuna Chair, a full-body massage chair that was a welcome end to the three-hour tour. These elite seats can cost upward of $12,000, so unfortunately, it was not an addition to my little black bag, though the company did offer a handy branded Thermos. For those at the suite seeking a more human experience, Kame Bodywork offered an in-person, 90-minute “intuitive bodywork therapy” session valued at $750.
The suite’s coffers teemed with actual treasures. In addition to the Titanic-sized pieces from Stephen Silver, which were guarded by a hovering security guard, I visited booths for Higher Calling Bracelets, which encode spiritual messages like “all is well” and “miracles abound” into its designs ($69+); and the Artisan Group, a company whose mission is to connect individual artisans with celebrities at gifting events such as these. One of the most stunning stops featured paper sculptures from artist Jeff Nishinaka. The 15”x15” framed carvings were valued at $2,000, although the credit can also be applied to a commissioned piece of a grander scale. A past sculpture of a tree stretched to 20 feet, he shared.
The gifting suite also boasted travel packages. Lush Africa Travels, a travel agency, offered a six-day, five-night safari experience in Kenya valued at $30,000 — although airfare is not included (and sodomy laws make the trip problematic for queer travelers). Sailrock Resort gave out a “$4000 redemption certificate” to its luxurious Turks and Caicos property. But read the fine print — that amount covers only one night of a three-night minimum in a three-bedroom beachfront villa.
Booze abounded. Cardinal Du Four didn’t pass out its pricy bottles, but it did give an “in-home sensory experience” of its Rebellion Armagnac 21 for up to 10 guests. There were tastings of the Debate, a cabernet sauvignon ($149+ per bottle) and an offer to imbibe more in Napa Valley; samplings from the Lorenzi Estate and an invitation to tour its Temecula vineyard; and a tequila tasting with El Cristiano Silver Tequila ($39+).
And then there was my favorite type of station: food. Hibachi House prepared a delish shrimp and chicken bowl on-site. With the proffered $1000 dinner certificate, one can also later host a party for 10 guests, which a chef will cater. Soultox gave out cases of its flavored “water beverage” infused with nutrients and electrolytes. There were samples of VGAN chocolate bars and Core Bars packed with protein and fiber. And Ike himself gave out a $1000 “VIP card” to Ike’s Sandwiches. It was a great social media opportunity for the bald artisan sandwich maker, who posed with actors stopping by for a taste of offerings, some of which were also named after stars, like the Halsey.
There were also areas dedicated to connecting celebs with charity, including Childhelp, which aids survivors of child abuse, and Educating Young Minds, which helps at-risk youth excel in academics and beyond.
Keep in mind that all these gifts are taxable. Some actors may not accept a $30,000 safari, for example, because the taxes to be paid may not fit in the budget. But overall, it pays to have some Hollywood connections during Oscars weekend. And you don’t have to take home a trophy to bring home some gold.