Culture

From Steampunk to Sex to Sweets: Inside a Hollywood Luxury Gift Lounge

Courtesy: Tiffany Rose/Getty Images

One of the perks of being famous is getting free stuff — but it’s not always entirely free. Celebrities pay with their own famous faces, which businesses then use to promote their products.

Around the time of every major award show in Hollywood and elsewhere — along with other celebrity-centric events — “gift lounges” spring up, usually housed in hotels, supplying a variety of products to celebrity guests. In exchange, the celebs get their pictures snapped and pose with the products, benefiting both the businesses and the lounge promoter.

On Saturday, Jan. 9, I dropped by the GBK Celebrity Gift Lounge at the W Hotel in Hollywood, held a day prior to the Golden Globe Awards (with title sponsor Pilot Pen).

Image Credit: Kate O'Hare

Image Credit: Kate O’Hare

In a series of rooms off a corridor with light-wrapped trees and a bar, products and services were on display. Among those who got their picture taken were Viola Davis (“How to Get Away With Murder”), Gina Rodriguez (“Jane the Virgin”), Anthony Anderson (“Black-ish”), Dule Hill (“The West Wing,” “Psych”) and Gilles Marini (“Devious Maids,” “Switched at Birth”).

There were health and beauty items available, from LifeCell to TheScienceofEating.com to Au Bone Broth. Burke Williams Spa offered skincare products and massages; and Ike’s Place had t-shirts and sandwiches.

Fashion also had a place, with Hale Bob, which featured “vegan” leather and faux-fur outerwear on one side of the display, and real leather and fur on the other.

Several of the smaller businesses had hand-crafted products of some kind, or offered a service to make custom creations. Gift lounges allow these entrepreneurs to get access to high-end consumers — and celebrity endorsements — that might be impossible to get otherwise.

Image Credit: Kate O'Hare

Image Credit: Kate O’Hare

Porfi Gonzalez was there with Enchanted Sweet Shoppe of Anaheim, California, and a stunning assemblage of individually designed and decorated cupcakes, cookies and caramel apples, along with gift boxes with a Golden Globes design.

Image Credit: Kate O'Hare

Image Credit: Kate O’Hare

“We’re here to promote our products,” he told PJ Media. “We use these for marketing purposes, to make connections to a different market that sometimes people don’t exactly have access to. You look around, there are electronics here” — for better or worse, Gonzalez’ display was directly across from one featuring a variety of colorful sex toys — “there’s luggage, higher-end types of items.”

“I’ve received orders from people who’ve come here to the show.”

Gonzalez’s confections weren’t the only handcrafted items on display.

Down the hall, BoomCase turned vintage suitcases (including ones supplied by customers, if they like) into one-of-a-kind speakers.

Image Credit: Kate O'Hare

Image Credit: Kate O’Hare

In another room, frequent gift-lounge participant The Artisan Group was representing juried jewelers, fabric artists, soapmakers, photographers, candlemakers and so on — many of them moms who’ve started at-home businesses — offering them a showcase for their wares, beyond their own online or physical stores.

One of the most striking displays was from family-owned-and-operated American Hat Makers in Watsonville, California, near Santa Cruz, with a wall of handmade toppers, primarily made of leather.

Image Credit: Kate O'Hare

Image Credit: Kate O’Hare

Among the company’s all-American-made offerings are styles ranging from sun protection to Outback, Western, Vodoo (top hats with such exotic designs as Roadkill and Death Grip), and Steampunk Hatters, with top hats evoking a blend of punk, Victorian and H.G. Wells.

So, while gift lounges are catering to the rich and famous, they’re often benefiting artisans, entrepreneurs and the small businesses that are the backbone of the American economy.