The real race lies in who can give celebs the best free stuff

Around the same time that Oscar night became Oscar week, “gift” became a verb.

Swag bags and gifting suites offer the sublime and the ridiculous, ranging from life coaches (does an Oscar nominee really need one?) to custom-designed pearl necklaces that could serve as down payment on a house.

The swag granddaddy is none other than the Academy itself, which first offered gift baskets to thank its presenters back in 1988. Although the Academy’s collection may well be the most lavish of them all — the value of last year’s haul was north of $100,000 — the first rule of the Academy gift basket is you don’t talk about the Academy gift basket.

“It has become annoying to some people that we give out these baskets,” says Academy spokesman John Pavlik. “So we don’t talk about them.” (Basket organizer Sequoia Prods. Also takes a vow of silence.)

That stoicism is unthinkable for other organizers. Like Christmas, Oscar week is often less about giving and more about creating a marketing experience.

“We don’t do agents, publicists or celebrity assistants,” says Nathalie Dubois of the non-transferable invitations to her Diamond Lounge. “We gift everyone well, but they have to be there with their talent.”

In turn, celebrities know they’re expected to wear the loot in public and, if possible, sing its praises.

“They used to come in like a deer in headlights, but now most of them really get it,” says Britt Johnson, whose Mediaplacement creates a “Luxury Lounge” for award shows and festivals. “Brands always want to meet with talent and celebrities (and) celebrities know that wearing items on the red carpet is a huge coup for these companies.”

They also know that all swag is not the same.

“This is the first year that celebrity publicists have been asking me what the value of the goodie bag is,” says Edward Lozzi, publicist for the annual Night of 100 Stars Oscar-watching party at the Beverly Hills Hotel. “Some are being asked by their clients to find out so they can get the best bags.” (For the record: this one is worth about $10,000.)

Some might see it as a fair trade.

“When you pick up an Us Weekly, you see the stars with the product,” says Melissa Lemer, a partner in Silver Spoon Entertainment Marketing. “All of a sudden, everyone wants that gift. And the more you gift, the more you have a chance of getting in that picture.”

Some vendors even find instant gratification. Sue Gabriel, whose Carry a Tune turns CD cases and album sleeves into purses, found herself with overnight coverage on CBS News and USA Today after India.Arie walked onstage at MusiCares praising her James Taylor purse, fresh from the event’s Jewels and Pinstripes gift bag.

Samantha Haft, whose On 3 Prods. Creates the Independent Spirit Awards gift lounge, says a bag can take a year to assemble. “It’s narrowing down thousands of (gift) submissions to less than 100.”

“Gifting” is now taught at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. “It’s better not to have a goodie bag than to have a bad bag,” says Jane Ubell, who is preparing to teach a third semester in the Art of Creating Dynamic Event Goodie Bags. “There are many events where you come away with a magazine and a Tootsie Roll.”

However, one of the best ways to ensure celebrities will want what you’ve got is to promise some of it will go toward a good cause. “A lot of these lounges have a charity element built in,” says Jenna Seiden, a partner in swag-tracking site Swagtime.com. “Many celebrities won’t attend without one.”

To which single-moniker fashion commentator Jayneoni says: Oh, relax.

“Everyone knows that it’s not my way to take it so seriously,” says Jayneoni, whose Boom Boom Room at the Hilton will feature a display of couture Oscar gowns through history, stripper poles (“Vivica Fox told me, ‘I am there for the stripper pole!’ “) and — Charmin.

“I don’t care who you are,” she says. “Everyone needs toilet tissue.”

Variety Weekend‘s guide to the suitest swag
By Rachel Dowd and Dana Harris

These suites bill themselves as a respite from the frenzy of Oscar week, but their sheer number is dizzying. Variety Weekend sifts through the lip plumpers and Swarovski crystals to find the goods worth taking. Note: Parties such as Elton John and the Night Before were not included.

Suite/Swag: Madison & Mulholland’s Ultimate Nominee bag
Value: $75,000
The Standout: $20,000 in plastic surgery from Dr. Faramarz Davidi
And…: Expect an educated gift bag: Jane Ubell has made a cause of literacy and includes books in every M&M bag
No. Served: 30
Charity: All bags are assembled by ARC, a job service for developmentally disabled adults
Location: Delivered to celebrities and nominees in the week prior to the Oscars

Suite/Swag: Everyone Wins at the Oscars
Value: $52,000-plus
The Standout: $27,000 Las Vegas weekend at the Mirage
And…: Bonus: bag contains Lightning Bolt Energy Drink from Steven Seagal Enterprises!
No. Served: All non-winning Oscar nominees
Location: Delivered to recipients March 6

Suite/Swag: Luxury Lounge
Value: $7,800-$40,000 depending on who you are
The Standout: Tahitian pearls from Pearlparadise.com; Cosabella underwear
And…: It pays to be Charlize Theron: PearlParadise created a necklace for her valued at $24,000 more than the pieces made for other best actress nominees
No. Served: 75
Charity: A gift basket is donated to Access Hollywood’s charity auction
Location: Peninsula Hotel, March 2

Suite/Swag: Independent Spirit Awards gift lounge
Value: $35,000
The Standout: LASIK Surgery; Swarovski crystal-encrusted Palm Treo smartphone
And…: Indie film ka-ching: The bag makes up for what the talent didn’t earn on the films
No. Served: 50
Charity: Presenter-signed Harley Davidson Softail Delux motorcycle auctioned on eBay to benefit Project: Involve
Location: Backstage at the Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, March 4

Suite/Swag: Diamond Lounge
Value: $30,000
The Standout: Fileena coral jewelry and an $8,000 vacation package to Bora Bora
And…: With vendors like Boucheron and Giorgio Visconti, this one has an international flair
No. Served: 150-175
Charity: Donating two bags: one to the widow of an Iraq soldier and another to an injured veteran and his wife
Location: Petersen Automotive Museum, March 3-4

Suite/Swag: House of Flaunt
Value: North of $30,000 (for the few who get diamond-studded sunglasses)
The Standout: For the A-list: Emre Italian leather handbags and custom-tailored Hugo Boss suits
And…: Nightly entertainment includes Very Be Careful, Cut Chemist and Merle Jagger. If you don’t have a good time, it’s your fault.
No. Served: 2,000 people over the week
Charity: Flaunt’s casino sponsor, Bodog.com, donates all bets to a different charity every night.
Location: 2321 Castillian Dr., Feb. 28-March 4

Suite/Swag: Reel Lounge Retreat
Value: $30,000
The Standout: Boucheron jewelry and red carpet dressing by Lloyd Klein and Maggie Norris
And…: Round-the-clock gifting: Salon and spa treatments by day, parties at Aqua Restaurant & Lounge by night
No. Served: 50 per day; 350 per night
Charity: Online promotion by Getty Images/ChangeME to fight HIV, tuberculous and malaria worldwide
Location: Point de Vue Salon, 152 N. Wetherly Dr., West Hollywood, March 1-3

Suite/Swag: Kwiat/Kodak Ultimate Luxury Suite
Value: $28,000
The Standout: Kodak EasyShare V570 digital camera monogrammed with Kwiat diamonds; weekend in a Maserati Spider or at the Lodge at Torrey Pines
And…: Gifts are limited to leading lady nominees, host Jon Stewart and Heath Ledger & Michelle Williams (the V570 is a dual-lens camera)
No. Served: Eight
Location: Four Seasons Beverly Hills, Feb. 27-March 2

Suite/Swag: Luxury Resort Fantasy
Value: $17,000
The Standout: $15,000 trip to holistic resort Pueblo Bonito in Cabo San Lucas
And…: If you can’t go to Pueblo Bonito, try drinking one (it’s a frozen pear cactus margarita)
No. Served: 50
Location: Luxe Hotel penthouse, March 2-4

Suite/Swag: DIC’s Diamond Aquifer Suite
Value: $15,000
The Standout: Choose between two nights at the Carneros Inn or the PlumpJack Squaw Valley Inn
And…: $6,300 of the bag’s value comes from plastic surgery gift certificates
No. Served: 50 per day
Location: SOHO House, Feb. 27-March 4

Suite/Swag: Silver Spoon Hollywood Buffet
Value: $2,000-$15,000
The Standout: Diamond ring from Beverly Hills jeweler Verrago; bags from Charlie Lapson
And…: One person will receive a Segway Human Transporter
No. Served: 300
Charity: The Alzheimer’s Association
Location: Hollywood Museum, March 2-3

Suite/Swag: EXTRA Awards Lounge
Value: More than $12,000
The Standout: One hour on XOJET’s Citation X, which can fly from L.A. to N.Y. in four hours
And…: Your dog will get Oscar-shaped biscuits from Chi-Chi Couture
No. Served: 75
Charity: Autographed gift bag to be auctioned online to benefit Race to Erase MS
Location: Le Meridien Hotel, March 1-2

Suite/Swag: W Magazine Hollywood Retreat
Value: $12,000
The Standout: Raymond Weil clocks
And…: With sustenance from Patina and Veuve Clicquot, it’s hard to go wrong
No. Served: 50
Location: Private home, March 3-4

Suite/Swag: Revlon, J. Mendel and Graff
Value: More than $10,000 (if you’re the celeb who opens the jewelry box with diamond earrings)
The Standout: Personal selection of Revlon products chosen by makeup artist Kristofer Buckle
And…: Good-luck notes from nominees’ well-wishers (but wouldn’t they have sent them, anyway?)
No. Served: 75-100
Location: Raffles L’Ermitage, Feb. 27-March 1

Suite/Swag: Boom Boom Room
Value: $7,000
The Standout: That stripper pole is hard to beat
And…: Charlie Sheen has a kids’ clothing line. Who knew?
No. Served: 150-175
Charity: Los Angeles Jenesse Center, the oldest domestic violence intervention program in South Los Angeles
Location: Beverly Hilton Hotel, March 3

Suite/Swag: L’Oreal Exclusives Suite
Value: North of $6,000
The Standout: Best-actress nominees receive a Lambertson Truex crocodile clutch
And…: Word of mouth and under the radar; no product flogging required
No. Served: Under 50
Charity: Ovarian Cancer Research Fund
Location: Four Seasons, Feb. 27-March 3

Suite/Swag: SWAGG (Sustainability, Wellness and Green Gifts)
Value: $5,000
The Standout: A trip to Mexico’s eco-resort Loreto Bay
And…: Green with envy? The gift bags are only available to celebs taking Toyota and Lexus hybrids to the Acadamy Awards.
No. Served: 20
Charity: Each company that participates in the gift bag must donate “significantly” to Global Green
Location: Presented inside the hybrid Oscar rides of their choice, March 5

Suite/Swag: Platinum Guild International’s Red Carpet Jewelry Preview
Value: $3,400 gift bag; $16 million in platinum jewelry on display
The Standout: One celeb receives a Platinum Vertu Solitaire Diamond Phone; everyone can queue up for a laser neck-tightening treatment
And…: It’s the journey, not the swag: transportation to and fro in a chauffeured 2007 aluminum Jaguar XJ
No. Served: 70
Charity: Celebrity-signed, platinum-threaded Gekko jeans to Clothes Off Our Back
Location: Won’t disclose for security purposes, March 2-3

Suite/Swag: Ryan Black’s Red Carpet 2006
Value: $2,500
The Standout: Marc Ecco watch; Ole Henriksen Truth Serum-Collagen Booster
And…: Three times a charm: favors for the famous at the fashion show, party and suite
No. Served: 700-800
Charity: Dream Foundation
Location: Scandia, March 1-4

Suite/Swag: Frederic Fekkai and Victoria’s Secret
Value: $2,000
The Standout: Custom lingerie by Chantal Thomas; Botox injections
And…: Beauty is skin tight: thongs, bras and bustiers meet blowouts and botox
No. Served: 250
Location: Frederic Fekkai Salon & Spa, Beverly Hills, March 2-3

Suite/Swag: Evian Detox Spa
Value: Over $500
The Standout: Evian detoxifying reflexology
And…: With fruit and Evian for refreshments, it’s all about the detox
No. Served: 450
Location: 9411 Little Santa Monica Blvd., March 1-25

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