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Exit through the gift suite

High end brands look for attention-getting alternatives

It’s always a wide-open race as high-end brands vie for Oscar. Rather than pursue the golden statuette, fashion, spirits, auto and other luxury lifestyle brands strategize to link up with thesps, tastemakers and stylists who can help publicize their products front-and-center on the red carpet.

Lavish gifting suites remain perennial fixtures (such as the upcoming Socheec Suite at the London West Hollywood Hotel) because the stakes are so high: worldwide buzz.

However, to cut through the clutter, brands have adopted some novel marketing approaches, opting out of the crowded gift suite where they must compete with other vendors and into select one-on-one enterprises where they can build relationships.

Fine jewelers have made an art of small, exclusive events and are refined in their targeting of celebrities during awards season. Taiwan-based art jeweler Cindy Chao’s recent two-day meet-and-greet at the SoHo house and StyleLab’s presentation of one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces are among the couture jewelers that aim to build brand awareness via the red carpet.

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Fashion houses are cued into the benefits of exclusivity as well. In December, Irvine, Calif.-based St. John opened a temporary “concept shop” on spendy Melrose Place that’s scheduled to close in early March. (The fashion-forward avenue is also home to the new Alexander McQueen flagship, Marc Jacobs and Carolina Herrera boutique).

St. John’s grand store on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills is well-established but, as George Sharp, St. John’s creative director, explains, the Melrose Avenue shop satisfies two fresh objectives for the tony apparel maker.

“First, it shifts perception of the brand, and secondly, it captures tastemakers on the West Coast when the eyes of the world are on Los Angeles,” says Sharp.

By pursuing an organic approach, potential customers can discover the shop themselves and find the carefully selected items culled from St. John’s collections.

“I’ve taken my favorite pieces and presented them in a more modern, gallery setting,” explains Sharp of the light-filled, 2,000-square-foot corner store. Sharp also selected the residential style furniture: the linen-covered couches, coffee tables, white orchids and even the art books add to the relaxed vibe. Dressing rooms are oversized and diffused with natural light — better to show off the designer wear and spring 2011 samples in actress-size that are only available at the pop-up location.

Traditionally, St. John has been known for their classic knit suits — a coveted badge of status for the upscale femme. Under Sharp’s direction, the line has evolved. Eveningwear reflects the trend towards “a relaxed, modern way to dress for evening,” notes Sharp.

He finds that the pop-store is helping reposition the line. The selections shine in the minimalist setting that has no background noise or diversions — and only a few clothing racks discreetly on view. The innovative setting intrigues passers-by and the stylists who visit.

As stylist Michael O’Connor of StyleLab explains, there’s a trend away from searching for accessories and looks just on Rodeo Drive. Stylists must “create a unique and interesting look; their client can’t be seen in the same pieces, and that goes for clothing and jewelry,” says O’Connor.

And on the most critiqued and analyzed red carpet of them all, the newest pieces that push the style envelope, can catapult a brand into a new buzzworthy realm.

Awards-season marketing plays that forgo tradition

• In association with Film Independent, Irish spirits maker Jameson Irish Whiskey funded a $50,000 marketing and distribution grant to an Independent Spirit Award-nominated film. Docu “Marwencol,” chosen by an industryite committee, received the inaugural award designed to aid distribution efforts.

• Shedding the gift certificate, D.C.’s Capital Grille is building upon the launch of its Los Angeles outlet via a pricey freebie: Top Oscar winners earn a private, fully stocked wine locker at the Beverly Center steakhouse.

• Look for Russian Standard Vodka during the step-and-repeat at a Spirit and Oscar nominees’ dinner or two. As at November’s Gotham Awards, a leggy Russian model will dispense cocktails and shots from a drink cart directly on the red carpet.

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