Opportunities to lounge, scrounge and party down

As Oscar Week barrels toward the 83rd Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday, two themes are emerging as Hollywood’s elite wanders from party to gifting suite to pampering lounges. The first is that the recession is officially over and corporate sponsors are back with the cash to help fuel all the events. The second is that giving back to charity has become a key element of the week’s celebrations.

“Everything we do is plugged back to a good cause,” says Vanity Fair’s vice-president and publisher, Edward Menicheschi. “The giving back is really important. It’s the right thing to do, and the necessary thing, for people to feel good about coming out, in what could otherwise be a very commercial week.”

The mag has already held parties every night this week as part of their Campaign Hollywood 2011, starting with a Chrysler sponsored bash for “The Fighter” on Monday (Communities in Schools benefitted), an Artists for Peace and Justice fundraiser on Tuesday and the Art of Elysium art auction on Wednesday. They’ve got a Vanity Fair Parlour set up in Palihouse all week, where stars can autograph a Chrysler 300; that will be auctioned off to benefit the American Red Cross when the dust settles.

The combo of cash beginning to flow again and giving back was most obvious last night at Leeza Gibbons’ celeb-packed Dare 2 Care/Party with a Purpose, held at a totally transformed Boa Steakhouse (and partially sponsored by Variety). “Last year the event got postponed because charitable donations went down so much last year that they just pushed it and didn’t have it,” says party planner Chad Hudson. “We all feel that people are finally starting to spend money again and starting to give back to charities again, so it made sense to do it this year.”

Global Green held their 8th annual pre-Oscar party on Wednesday at the Avalon, cashing in again on what Nina Storm, the event’s producer, calls “a perfect time” for the eco charity to “take advantage of the fact that there are a lot of big names in town during that week.” And she’s seen a “notable change” this year, in that “we’re definitely up this year in terms of corporate sponsorships from last year.”

Of course, the Elton John AIDS Foundation viewing party has always been about the cause, says Scott Campbell, the foundation’s executive director: “The foundation has raised nearly a quarter of a billion dollars since it began 19 years ago, and close to four million a year comes from our Oscar party.”

Marrying altruism with getting key brands into celebrities’ hands has been the business model for Samantha Haft’s On 3 Productions, who will once again host her Official Talent Gift Lounge backstage at the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday.

“Five years ago we decided that it’d be a really great thing to utilize the gift lounge opportunities to basically raise money for charities and to have celebrities come out in support of something,” Haft notes. “Since then, we’ve raised $500,000 for two charities, charities that otherwise wouldn’t have seen that funding. It really is about using the gifting lounge as a new platform for generating dollars for causes. And of course, there’s the fun part, which is introducing stars to new stuff and helping brands to get their products into the hands of what today are the biggest influencers in the consumer markets.”

At the Roger Neal Style Hollywood Suite held at L’Ermitage Hotel earlier this week, Neal offered up beauty treatments, a gift bag worth $10,000 and a donation of $15,000 to OneMama; at the Shop for a Cause party at the London Hotel on Thursday, Socheec Jewels donated a percentage of jewelry sales to the 1736 Family Crisis Center. This weekend, the Alive! Expo Green Pavilion Luxury Lounge will donate proceeds to Project Green, and famous females are even being encouraged to bring their old brassieres to the shindig, donating them to be transformed by the B.R.A. Recycle Program, which turns them into solid fuel.

Kari Feinstein, who has been hosting gifting suites since 2001, will have the Creative Coalition at her eponymous lounge, filming PSAs with the talent that turns up to collect the iPads and other goodies she’s gifting. “It’s sort of like a ‘must have’ when you do a gifting lounge, to create an element of giving back,” she says.

And no more proof is needed that companies are rebounding from the recession than last night’s super-elite party held at designer Tom Ford’s brand-new Rodeo Drive digs. He showed off both his men’s and women’s collections, and drew Hollywood’s A-listers in droves, all ready to spend some of their cash on something special to wear come Sunday night and beyond.

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