LOS ANGELES — Being a celebrity is totally the best. Aside from the pestering paparazzi and the occasional foray into rehab (and, well, whatever you do that makes you a celebrity), your job primarily revolves around getting free stuff.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the world of the "gifting suite," a magical place where the famous (and their posses and significant others) are showered with more watches, jewelry, sneakers, clothing, video games and spa treatments than they'll ever need, or probably even use. All it takes is a quick photo opportunity — "Here, hold this diamond-encrusted iPod case!" — and the schwag is yours. And then it's onto the next suite, where you do it all over again.
And of all the gifting suites in the world, some of the best are here in L.A., sprouting up just as the Grammys kick into high gear. Everyone who's anyone will be there, and they'll all be taking home free gifts — no questions asked, no gratuity necessary.
Take, for example, the gifting going on inside a nondescript studio just off Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, California. It's called Smashbox, and it's so off the beaten path — built near a baseball diamond and a retirement home — that you don't think much is happening inside. But then you get closer and notice the line of Lamborghinis parked out front, and the beefy security guard standing on the other side of a velvet rope. And suddenly, you realize there's an unimaginable amount of free stuff behind that velvety rope — and you have no hope of getting at it, because you're not a celebrity.
But Jordin Sparks, T-Pain, Chris Daughtry and Paula Abdul (and her Chihuahua) are, and they were all logging time in the Smashbox "Style Studio" on Friday afternoon, which means they got past security and were enjoying the perks contained within.
T-Pain and his posse admired a glass case full of TechnoMarine wristwatches, made of ceramic, covered in diamonds and carrying a price tag of anywhere from $500-$10,000. Then they wandered over to the "Rock Band" booth to play a couple of games (T is incredibly good at playing drums to the Ramones' "Rockaway Beach") — and take home a full version of the game too. Meanwhile, across the room, Daughtry and his bandmates were being measured for three-piece Emanuel Ungaro suits and boots (Daughtry wears a size 9), then wandered over to the Stetson table to get themselves new caps.
"Hey, anytime anyone wants to give me free clothes, I'm for it," Daughtry laughed.
And it's not just the clothes that are free: There are designer sunglasses and rows of dresses and even a boutique that will give you fake eyelashes, plus rack after rack of denim, leather and diamonds. And while Sparks breezed through, stopping here or there, Abdul — who is apparently an old pro at these things — positively worked the system, making lengthy (and, from our vantage point, fruitful) stops at seemingly every vendor. By the time we left Smashbox, she had covered roughly half the terrain, and let's just say it's going to be a very good 2008 for anyone who even barely notices her (especially if they're a fan of Rodo jewelry).
But, like we said, we were already out the door, on our way across town to the Grammy gifting suite. Actually, it's less of a suite and more of a Bedouin-style series of tents, full of pillows and pillars and pool tables, sitting just feet outside the Staples Center, where the awards will be handed out Sunday night.
Of course, the primary attraction here is the official Grammy Gift Bag, given out to performers and presenters (and, we're told, some of their close friends). It's filled with all the usual goodies — jewelry and vouchers for stays at spas and resorts, of course — plus a whole bunch of glorious ephemera, like designer baby wear, draught-beer dispensers, underwear and coupons for free dental care. The price tag? A little more than $30,000. Per bag.
And while the bag is the featured attraction, the rest of the suite is a rather impressive sideshow — a bustling maze of goods, from high-end speakers and custom-made headphones to Gibson guitars and those aforementioned iced-out iPod cases. There are on-site makeup consultants and skin-care experts, people attempting to give you $500 watches and free footwear.
Miley Cyrus, Evanescence frontwoman Amy Lee and Album of the Year nominee Herbie Hancock made their way through, sort of dumbfounded and amazed by all that they saw. Country stars like Brad Paisley and Dierks Bentley hung out by the guitars, and opera icon Andrea Bocelli lined up a shot on a pool table, drew back the cue and knocked a custom-made 8-ball into the corner pocket. He is, of course, blind, which made the feat all the more amazing, but somewhat fitting here in the epicenter of the gifting-suite universe (at least until the Oscars later this month), a magical place where anything can happen.
Provided, of course, that you're a celebrity.
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