By Mike Szymanski
I’ve been covering awards shows — many times with Brian Sebastian — since 1985 and one of the strange sideshows of these celebrity-filled events are the Gifting Suites. That is where stars can come in and get lauded with all sorts of things for free, and only for the price of a quick selfie or promotion.
Sometimes the press is allowed in, and sometimes we get gifts, too, and this year, Brian Sebastian and Katerina Cozias, co-hosts of the TV podcast Movie Reviews & More invited me along to chart what they think of this year’s Golden Globe’s Gifting Suite.)
Everything’s got its nickname, and in Hollywood this kind of shorthand is no different.
I was entering the fancy L’Ermitage Hotel (which is officially the Viceroy L’Ermitage Beverly Hills) looking for the gifting suite (officially the Pre-Golden Globes Luxury Lounge) for Golden Globes (officially the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Annual Golden Globe Ceremonies) and looking for swag (but don’t call it’s swag, it’s officially known as promotional gifting merchandise!)
I literally bumped into Khandi Alexander who starred in the recent “Fahrenheit 451” movie, but I remember interviewing her for her first movie, a hip-hop film “CB4” and quickly realize that it was 26 years ago! That made us both feel old.
On the red carpet into this hotel gifting suite, I spot my colleague Brian Sebastian of Movie Reviews & More (https://theartofmonteque.com/movie-reviews-and-more-with-brian-sebastian/) chatting with the host of this walk-through party, Gavin B. Keilly, founder of GBK Productions (https://gbkproductions.com), who has put on these shows since 2000. (He would tell you that GBK stands for “Giving Back Kindly” because of all the charity work they do.)
Brian explained, “The gifting suite phenomenon started in the 1990s and it’s an easy way to get your products into the hands of the stars. Sometimes a celebrity will wear your piece of jewelry or jacket or shoes out on the red carpet and talk about it, and you suddenly have tons of free publicity.”
Nowadays, before a big show like the Emmys, Grammys or Academy Awards, stars could be invited to as many as 10 gifting suites to get their grab-bags of free stuff which could easily run into the six figures.
And don’t call it swag, because it’s much more than that. Swag is like the black rubber rat that was handed to us by Crispin Glover when we went to the 2003 “Willard” interviews, or the lava rocks in a box we got when we went to the screening of “Volcano.” No, this is really good stuff.
This particular gifting event could net you a custom-made suit or sweater, a tooth whitening kit, an electric bicycle, a hand-carved knife, large comforters, and original artwork, among other things, as much as $60,000 worth of swag.
“You walk from room to room and hear the spiel from the companies — sometimes, it’s the owners and founders themselves — and if you like it you walk away with a ton of free stuff,” Brian said.
As we spoke, we saw some flashbulbs go off and heads turned as Brian’s bubbly friend Katerina Cozias (https://katerinacozias.com) brushed in, and she put her hands up to her face and joked, “No pictures.” Katerina, who is a talk show host, best-selling author, and motivational speaker, looked around the first large gifting room that the three of us entered and plopped down into an $8,000 Kahuna Massage Chair (kahunachair.com) where they were unveiling their new $2,250 LED anti-aging mask, which looked a lot like a white Iron Man mask.
“This is so comfortable,” cooed Katerina as Hailie Sahar, a nominee for the best TV drama series “Pose” waited for her turn to try out the chair. Juliet Morris, nominated for best TV musical or comedy “Kidding” said the face mask felt “delicious!”
Katerina, Brian and I then sauntered over to the bar for the JCB Spirits (www.jcbspirits.com) where she tried a specialty French 69 drink with gin while the guys sipped on some smooth Truffle Vodka crafted in Burgundy. The company took 13 years to develop their sophisticated spirits, which now includes three vodkas and one gin.
As we chatted, we watched Chris McDonald (from “Thelma & Louise,” “Happy Gilmore” and most recently the TV show “Ballers”) try on PROSPEK computer glasses (www.spektrumglasses.com) and Scott Michael Campbell (from “Shameless”) talked to the people at Peace 4 Animals (www.peace4animals.net), a non-profit protecting wildlife and promoting a plant-based lifestyle.
During the course of the two days preceding the 2019 Golden Globes, Academy Award winners like Angela Bassett and Viola Davis as well as recognizable celebs like “BlackKklansman” director Spike Lee, John Savage (“Deer Hunter”), Judd Nelson (“Breakfast Club”), Anthony Anderson (“Black-ish”), Linda Cardellini (“Green Book”) and scary anti-hero “Machete” character actor Danny Trejo would be coming in and walking out with large bags full of gadgets, coupons, vouchers, and samples.
“The celebrities have really reacted well to my artwork, and I love that,” said New York-based mixed media artist Jennifer Contini who makes three-dimensional hearts created out of a secret material she won’t talk about. “I’ve been an artist for 25 years and this is what seems to resonate for most people, but who thought I would be making hearts as a career.”
Jennifer paused in our chat with her to give one of her Pop Hearts, valued at $275, to actress Sarayu Blue from the “I Feel Bad” TV series.
“My husband is in the booth next door,” Jennifer said pointing to a handsome man standing under the Warthers Cutlery sign. “He does the knives, and I do the hearts.”
Katerina gave Jennifer a literal high-five for her artwork, and we walked over to where Jennifer’s husband Steven Cunnningham and Brian from Warther Cutlery (https://warthercutlery.com) based in Dover, Ohio., where Brian actually makes the knives.
The company started in 1902 when 17-year-old Ernest “Mooney” Warther studied ancient Roman techniques on how to make the best knives and created one for his mother for a Mother’s Day gift. She raved about it to her friends and the business was born. The $210 seven-inch French Chef knife they were giving out can be shipped to Ohio for sharpening any time. They make about 100 a day at their small company outside of Cleveland that now has an international reputation.
Every booth has a unique story of entrepreneurial spirit, much like the brothers team of Yot and Mojo who both created Yomo jewelry (https://yomostudio.com). They wanted to create art pieces you could wear with a versatile, light unisex style that both Brian and Katerina loved. Each piece is made out of cement, wood or metal and other raw materials found in nature.
“One year ago, we were walking and my brother Yot and I were talking about making something new, and we came up with this concept,” Mojo explained. “Every day now, we go for a walk, and we come up with new ideas together.”
Originally from Israel, and now based in Boulder, Colorado, the brothers say they want to create a kind of jewelry that is distinguishable and hip, but that also their parents would wear.
“These pieces can be worn with a tuxedo or a t-shirt,” Mojo said.
As we talked, Taylor Cole an actress from the TV show “Salvation” remarked at how light the seemingly weighty earrings felt. “They won’t weigh down on your ear lobes if you wear them all night,” she pointed out.
“This is our first time to do a show like this,” Mojo said. “It is a great way to get our work known to the movie stars, how else would we ever present it to them?”
One of the most unique entrepreneurial stories in these suites was from the three friends in Santa Monica who formed Story Electric Bikes (www.storybicycles.com).
Neither Mark, Matt nor Jason were particularly big on athletics or bike nuts, but they all had an interest in doing charitable work and creating stuff. Mark, a former firefighter, is a natural inventor, Jason loves to travel and is a tech guy who has loved bikes since a kid, and Matt is a retail expert and avid outdoors men.
“We decided we wanted to give away a bicycle for every one that we sold, so we took this trip to Zimbabwe and gave them out in this small village,” Matt explained. “For this one girl, it cut her time to one hour each day each way to school every day, can you imagine that?”
Seeing the proliferation of electric bikes and scooters in the area, Mark helped redesign a more streamlined bike about two years ago and made it “more cool, and appealing to the eye than other bikes.” Their electric bikes run about $1,850 and they were giving them out to celebs who were interested in trying one out.
This month, they’re also launching their own specially designed water bottles made out of bamboo (they got the idea while traveling in Africa), and it makes a nice accessory while biking.
Jason said he hopes the bikes they’ve brought over will help with the continuing drought where they visited because transporting drinkable water was such a problem in the small villages they visited.
When stars see something they like in these gifting shows, they may even jump on board as an investor or collaborator. For example, “Guardians of the Galaxy” actor Chris Pratt and New England Patriots football player Gronk, Robert James Gronkowski, tried the Snow teeth whitening treatment and loved it so much they each now have invested in the company based in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“This is for people who are constantly on the go, maybe they have stains because of drinking a lot of coffee or smoking, or just don’t always have time to brush,” said Yogin Patel, of Snow. “We have dealt with the number one concern than people have and that is sensitivity to the teeth, and this does not cause that, it is perfectly safe and there are no side effects.”
Snow uses safe LED wave-lengths to clean your teeth, and do not cause harm to your mouth or body, or cause sensitivity to the teeth. “Our procedure also promotes gum health and we have provided dental care to 25,000 children this past year.” The company is on track to help 80,000 in 2019.
Katerina loved the WEN products (www.chazdean.com) for her hair, and especially the handsome host Pat, who explained how to use the $900 worth of different products that were being given out in their large WEN kit.
Developed by Chaz Dean, the WEN Hair and Body Care promotes shine in hair and hydrates the skin. But, the question was whether they could do anything for someone who already has fabulous hair like Katerina, and what can be done with someone with hardly any hair, like Brian.
“Our products will keep Katerina’s hair looking fabulous and give it a bit more shine and bounce,” Pat explained. “And we have a whole line of products for African American hair care and skin for Brian.”
The guys at Go Donut (godonut.com) explained how they came up with their round simple stand that can hold up any phone or computer device to make it easier to read that they are launching for $90 each.
Succulent Studios (SucStu.com) representative Melissa Murphy explained how the range of cactus succulents in Temecula sends out cute little easy-to-care-for rooted plants that can decorate any home or office with ease.
And, Jimmy Steindecker, the New York representative of Comfitude (www.comfitude.com) comforters explained how his brand of blankets promotes de-stressing and better sleep. They are sending out a choice of design size and color for a free $169 comforter. “This is a blanket that you can sit on the sofa and watch TV, or it will help with insomnia,” Jimmy said. “It comes in three colors.”
Jimmy was excited to spot Erick Lopez from “Crazy Ex Girlfriend” and took a selfie with him.
Other than that, the celebrities could get a free stay at a Fit Farm in Tennessee (https://fit.farm), a $5,500 value; or clothing from designer Nicole Frank (NicoleFrankTWE.com) for value at $400; or $700 of handmade jewelry from The Artisan Group (www.theartisangroup.org).
For travelers, the stars can get a three-night luxury stay in Italy at La Corte Dell’Astore Luxury Hotel for three nights with a paragliding experience and a sailboat trip, or a free stay at a two-story beachfront villa on the Sailrock Resort (www.sailrockresort.com) for four nights valued at $24,000 in the Turks & Caicos islands, but this requires jetting to the islands and then taking a boat or private plane another hour to get to this remote part of the world. It’s for people who really want to unplug.
Little Jeremy Maguire, who plays the youngest member of the “Modern Family” cast, got fitted for a Seraph Design jacket, (www.Seraphdesign.com) and Cole Allen from “Kidding” was fitted for a $995 dinner jacket from Knot Standard (www.Knotstandard.com).
Not all the stops were about giving out or promoting products. Representatives from the Stan Lee Foundation (StanLeeFoundation.org) were looking for notable faces to help speak about literacy for adults and preventing high school dropouts. The godfather of superheroes who died recently set up this foundation to get celebrities to get involved in creating innovative educational programs and get the word out.
After a three-hour tour, Katerina and Brian (and I) were worn out, and carry many bag-loads of goodies.
We stopped one last time to Heitz Cellars (heitzcellar.com) from some not-yet-out red and white special wines from the family that has been creating wines since 1962. National Sales Manager Daniel Vu invited us all up to the Napa Valley winery for a special tour.
Meanwhile, Brian and Katerina summed up the Globe Gifting compared to others they’ve attended.
“As far as things for women, I liked what they had to offer, some of the alcohol was unique,” Katerina summed up. “There were some things I’ve seen before, so not much that was too unique, compared to other gifting suites I’ve been to.”
Katerina gives this one a 6.8.
Brian gives it a few points more, because he liked many of the personal stories that went behind the products.
“There were a lot of great stories, I liked the people making the products, and it’s always nice to meet them in person,” said Brian.
As for me, I loved the big bag of WEN products, and I moussed and sprayed my hair and hydrated my face with Chaz Dean products the very next day.
No, I wasn’t going to a red carpet awards ceremony, I went to my Saturday morning bowling league, but people there told me my hair looked fabulous. [TAOM]