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"A penny for your thoughts"

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Celebrities Showered With Gifts

Check out the luxe gifts major recording artists picked up for FREE this Holiday season.


Paris Hilton

A criminal record has done nothing to dim Hilton's luster with merchandisers. At Sundance, she was "loaned" two Meyers watches, one encrusted in sapphires and diamonds, worth $15,000, and another, stainless steel with diamonds, worth $10,000. She also received the new collection of Lia Sophia jewelry ($12,000), $4,500 in Dillon Rogers jewelry and an entire line of J & Company jeans. "She's beautiful, chic--and she's in US Weekly," says publicist Lara Shriftman.


Kim Kardashian

The E! network reality vixen cleaned up at Sundance. Indie film favorite? Not so much. But she's sure to appear in the tabloids. A sampling of her swag: two $150 icepods (luxury jeweled cases) for her iPod, $800 worth of leather belts and bracelets, $500 worth of Ahava skincare creams, $10,000 worth of Lia Sophia jewelry, and a $2,500 mother of pearl Meyers watch.



The Texas rapper bagged a $2,000 Lia Sophia gold-plated chain necklace, a $400 gold-plated icepod (a luxury jeweled iPod case), $500 worth of Ahava skincare products and a set of Klipsch speakers.


Jessica Alba

Alba might not have wanted to pose with her freebies, but she took them anyway. A $7,000 Meyers watch, J & Company jeans for herself and "baby daddy" Cash Warren, $450 worth of leather dog collars, and a $10,000 voucher for the Aquapura Douro Valley Resort & Spa.


Sarah Jessica Parker

Parker is so inundated with freebies that she refused gifting at the Hollywood Life House lounge in Sundance, but she took up other offers: Dillon Rogers jewelry (including a diamond-and-leather bracelet sporting her husband's and child's initials), and several pairs of 4 Stroke and J & Company jeans.


Mischa Barton

Barton is best known for the defunct TV soap The O.C., but she's still a fixture in the tabloids. Swag included Balenciaga and Stella McCartney sunglasses, two Andrew Marc leather jackets, a $1,300 diamond-encrusted Michele watch, a JetBlue Airways voucher, and a year's worth of AMC movie passes.


Nick Cannon

The actor bagged a Hard Rock Hotel & Casino "Rock Royalty" card (which includes free flight to Vegas, a luxury suite and bottle service at the hotel's clubs and restaurants), Onitsuka Tiger sneakers, a $1,300 Michele diamond watch, a JetBlue Airways voucher, an Andrew Marc shearling coat, a year's worth of AMC movie passes, a year's supply of Evian water and Rocawear's entire winter line.


50 Cent

The rapper, who performed at Sundance, scored serious swag: a personalized Dell computer, customized Havaianas flip-flops, and a Hard Rock Hotel & Casino "Rock Royalty" card, which includes a flight to Las Vegas, a luxury room and VIP service galore.

Why give Colin Farrell a $10,000 vacation to a five-star resort in Portugal or wrap Paris Hilton's wrist in a $15,000 sapphire- and diamond-encrusted watch (both of these giftings occurred at Sundance)? It's good business.
Even after coughing up a fee of anywhere from $25,000 to $300,000 or more for the right to give their stuff away, the economics make sense, vendors say. Farrell could now be name-dropped in press releases and media mentions for the resort. Hilton will be photographed wearing the watch, so it will appear for millions of readers in magazines like US Weekly and People.

"To be able to say Jessica Alba uses a certain product … it's essential," says a rep at Sundance who was handing out beauty products (including to Alba) from

Lawrence Rubin of Swiss watch company Meyers, who was "loaning" diamond watches to celebs like Hilton at Sundance, estimates the resulting publicity is worth $750,000. Rubin says the watches are returned in several months and auctioned off for charity.

For celebs, the appeal is obvious. Even little-known names can clean up. "This is the best day of my life!" crowed Jonathan Montoya, guitarist for the metal band Saliva, upon hauling in Sundance loot valued at $30,000, including $1,000 worth of Burton snowboarding gear and a three-day vacation at a Park City, Colo., resort.

Montoya isn't likely to be featured in the pages of US Weekly, but vendors must establish relationships with up-and-comers, hoping that brand loyalty will follow the talent into superstardom.

One name many vendors agreed they do not want associated with their brand: Britney Spears.

"Britney has some, err, trouble these days," says Marjorie Kitzrow of Marjorie Midgarden Fragrances, gingerly explaining why she wouldn't gift the wacky warbler (who was not at Sundance) with a two-ounce bottle of perfume worth $150.

A publicist handing out beauty supplies was blunter: "I'm not sending Britney anything but well wishes."

Hilton, on the other hand, is a favorite. "Paris can make a product, and she always says 'thank you,'" says Lara Shriftman, a gifting veteran whose publicity firm Harrison & Shriftman started "swag lounges" at Sundance in 1997. Now, Shriftman feels the scene is out of control: "It's just a free-for-all. There's no strategy," she says. "The press is focused on the gifting and not the films."

The often disparaging media coverage ("Which Swag Sister Was the Greediest at Sundance?" polled OK magazine) could be swag season's undoing. Some stars, such as Jessica Alba and Eliza Dushku, shy away from posing with freebies.

Others just avoid the scene altogether. "Brad and Angelina don't go gifting," says Jodi Simms Hassan of Alison Brod public relations. Others often have to refuse swag, lest they end up breaking contractual obligations by promoting a brand competing with one they're endorsing.

An even sterner judge than OK magazine has infiltrated the scene: The IRS. Last year, the agency decreed that recipients must pay taxes on their loot. But Sundance vendors seemed oblivious. "Let [the celebs] handle it themselves," said one.

A recent trend, called "reverse swag," has vendors trying to inject a hint of beneficence into the orgy of materialism.

Timberland, handing out $160 boots and $200 jackets at Sundance's Village at the Yard lounge, had recipients first listen to a spiel on the company's eco-friendliness. Diesel allowed stars to pick out an outfit--and have it sent to a needy child.

Other lounges had areas where celebs could put their swag-strained arms to do-gooder use by signing a petition for Amnesty International, filming a public service announcement for Rock the Vote or joining the Humane Society.

"This way," says Christopher Robichaud of public relations firm BNC, which headed up Village at the Yard, "You walk away thinking, 'There's a brand that has heart.'"

Um, sure.


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