October 20, 2008 - 9:00 pm
Sometimes, rich people don’t have to spend money, because people give them so much stuff for free. Witness last week. Celebrities came to Las Vegas to perform at two big charity events, and in return, they went home with giant gift bags full of goodies.
Celebs collected free Xbox 360s; a thumbprint security system for their computers; diamond-and-ruby-encrusted iPod holders; and paid vacations to a resort near Palm Springs.
Celebrities didn’t just take, they gave. They donated performances for Andre Agassi’s “Grand Slam for Children” and then at Justin Timberlake’s “Benefit for Shriners Hospitals for Children.”
While here, they stayed for free at hotels enveloping them in sumptuous service. Timberlake, for instance, walked into a lush layout at Red Rock Resort to find, among other trappings personally tailored to his tastes, a red velvet, cream-frosted, “Southern Bell” Cupcakery cupcake, placed delicately atop his regally fluffy pillow.
Timberlake didn’t visit his own event’s gift bag room at Planet Hollywood Resort, because (I was told) his lucrative endorsement deals frown upon being photographed in possession of competing products.
But Boyz II Men, Chris Kirkpatrick of *NSYNC, Donny Osmond and other celebrities from the Shriners event took strolls through the Timberlake gift bag room at the Planet Hollywood Resort. Once there, gift room workers, who were weighed down by giant duffels slung over their shoulders, escorted each celebrity to table upon table, to scoop up freebies.
Some other high-end goodies in their Santa bags: Bratz dolls; Gunnar Optiks eyeglasses to cut TV glare during video gaming; exquisite robes; Tyler candles; enviro-friendly H20 water “bottles” made of paper packaging; Gamila Secret “soapless” cleansing bars made partially of hand-picked herbs; and Mega Hot hair dryers and hair straightening irons.
Bigger-ticket items, like free trips to Rancho Las Palmas in the Palm Springs area, were given more discreetly to stars in their rooms.
Singers and comedians who attended Agassi’s event picked up similar gifts, because both events (Agassi’s and Timberlake’s) were bagged by the same guru of gifts: Lash Fary of Distinctive Assets in Los Angeles. Yes, his name is Lash Fary.
Fary says events like Agassi’s and Timberlake’s charities don’t pay for any of this. Instead, product businesses pitch him, and he pitches businesses, to supply gifts. Product companies pick up the tab.
“They actually pay me to give the stuff away,” Fary says.
His clients told me their goal is to create buzz among stars and the media, such as this column.
“Basically you just hope that your product falls in the right hands,” a representative for a hair dryer said.
Stars clearly enjoy collecting their things.
“Nobody NEEDS it. They just come by because it’s fun,” Fary says.
And this is, of course, a dream career for Fary, who product-tests and keeps any item. His favorite gifts over the years have been jewelry, facials and clothes, but also:
“My 20-20 eyesight,” he says.
Yes, in a previous Fary gift bag, stars were offered free Lasik eye surgery.
It is instructive to look back on Fary’s past to see how he self-actualized himself into being a gift bag entrepreneur. A decade ago, when he was in his early 20s, he decided to sell clothes. He didn’t have a shop. He set up a showroom in his home in Los Angeles.
Fary was acquainted with owners of small, struggling clothing companies, so he asked them — and he asked larger companies, like BCBG — if he could try to get their clothes worn by actors on TV. They said yes. TV producers said yes.
“It was a very unusual business model,” he says.
Fary quickly gained trust and business. Soon after, he realized that, even though the Oscars had given gifts to stars for years, the Grammies did not. So he convinced the music awards show to set up a Fary gift room.
“We said, ‘We’ll do it. It won’t cost you a dime.'”
Fary’s first Grammy bag contained $5,000 worth of freebies. Now, Grammy bags are worth $68,000, including “$10,000 hotel stays,” Fary says.
With expansion, he now supplies gifts at events through the year, from Las Vegas’ Academy of Country Music Awards to Spike TV’s Video Game Awards.
As you often see with entrepreneurs, other entrepreneurs follow the wake of the leader. One of Fary’s clients, the company Heelarious, makes high-heel shoes for babies ages 1 day to 6 months.
Heelarious, which was not a client in Vegas last week, was started by two women friends who thought faux-high heels for babies was a good, funny idea. Babies don’t stand in the decorative shoes, obviously, and the heels are soft and collapsible. They come in hot pink, leopard, zebra and black. Recipients of Heelarious shoes have included Nicole Richie, Elizabeth Rohm and Lisa Marie Presley. Make of that what you will.
Another burgeoning entrepreneur client of Fary’s is an American distributor of clothes made by the Euro company, Golf Junkie. At Planet Hollywood Resort, a Golf Junkie table was run by the husband-and-wife distributors. Their clothes were a huge hit. One guy from Boyz II Men decided on the spot to slip behind a wall to change into Golf Junkie pants.
Fray doesn’t accept every product pitched for his bags. He frequently turns away requests to give away female lubricants and sex toys.
“It’s just a little too personal. You give somebody a gift — ‘Here’s some lube?,'” he says.
Fray clients get to meet stars, and sometimes get personal serenades. Kirkpatrick and local group Mosaic took a few minutes in Planet Hollywood Resort’s gift bag room to play the in-room demos of “Guitar Hero: World Tour” and the upcoming karaoke simulator “Lips.” Both of those music acts separately sang the Kaiser Chiefs’ “Ruby” in the “Lips” game. And Boyz II Men sang, “Stand By Me.”
“Everybody was jumping” in the secret little room in Planet Hollywood Resort, says Mike DaRe, who was doing publicity for Xbox.
And, no surprise, some clients took a few minutes to fantasize about their brushes with fame. One woman in Planet Hollywood Resort’s gift room met Timberlake and told me afterward that, given the chance, she would have “banged” him just to say she had, although she said it would have been “funnier” if she had been able to reject him.
There was no occasion for her to do either. But her product picked up a little more buzz, as stars snatched up even more spoils that didn’t cost them a dime.
Doug Elfman’s column appears on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Contact him at 383-0391 or e-mail him at email@example.com. He also blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.