This week, suites were held everywhere from ritzy Beverly Hills hotels to Hollywood's Taglyan Complex, a "cultural center" adjacent to a church and modeled after a European villa. There were plenty of free facials, age-defying creams and cheap-looking jewelry. Some suites featured more risque fare. At Duliakas' lounge, an aesthetician displayed silicone breast implants to showcase the business' services. At the Red Carpet Celebrity Retreat at the SLS Hotel, the makers of the FixSation -- a vibrator attached to a skimpy pair of lace panties -- were hopeful Chelsea Handler would stop by.
"She probably wouldn't be offended; she's a great candidate," creator Tiffany York said of Handler. "For reality stars -- this is nothing compared to what they're used to."
But it is those reality stars who are diluting the power of gift suites, say some industry veterans.
"When I started in 2000, you'd see celebrities like Halle Berry and Clint Eastwood. It was more about a thank-you from the award show," said Karen Wood, founder of Backstage Creations, which runs official gifting suites for the MTV Movie Awards and the Tony Awards. "Now, most 'celebrities' in the ambush marketing suites aren't really relevant to the event itself. I literally saw Halle Berry's dog walker get invited to one."
The latest Information Age developments have also changed the swag game. A few years ago, the ideal endgame for swag suite mavens was to land a tabloid photo of a star cuddling swag on a celeb-watching page of InStyle, In Touch Weekly or Us magazine -- or, to a lesser degree, a mention on a celebrity blog like JustJared.com or PerezHilton.com at Sundance and beyond has fundamentally changed.
Now, said Kari Feinstein, who sets up style lounges in advance of numerous film festivals and awards shows, "It's all about social media. It's all about getting your stuff into a celebrity's hands and having him or her tweet it or Instagram about it to all their followers."
Veronique Vicari, whose Jewelry by Veronique booth was prominently installed at Feinstein's Style Lounge last month at the Sundance Film Festival, can attest to social media exposure's ability to boost the bottom line. She saw sales spike when reality show star (and Kardashian sister) Kendall Jenner put a photo of a piece from Vicari's collection on her Instagram account. "I got about $3,000 in orders that day," Vicari said. "One Instagram can change everything."
At the Grammys gifting lounge in downtown L.A., Distinctive Assets President Lash Fary was busy encouraging all of his sponsors to tweet pictures of anyone who stopped by their booths. "Celebrities used to send thank-you notes, but now if they retweet you that's the modern equivalent," said Fary. "No celebrity who comes in is getting products for free. That's what people don't understand. Every single client who Sting posed with put a picture of him on their Facebook page holding their product. The value of that picture is worth way more than the $240 product he got."