The big question in Hollywood fashion circles ahead of this Sunday’s Oscars is not just who is wearing what, but who’s getting paid to wear what?
For years designers have courted nominees and presenters to wear their dresses and jewels, lending or handing out luxury goods in the hope of basking in the reflected glory of a win or at least being seen by hundreds of millions of viewers.
But this year a few have gone a step further, according to industry sources. Newspaper reports of six-figure payments go hand in hand with hyper-inflation in gift bags, as celebrities pick up thousands of dollars worth of jewelry, travel, clothes and other goodies at luxury suites around Los Angeles.
“Everybody wants to associate their brand with a star. To what extent they’ll go to do that is what’s changing in Hollywood,” said Carol Brodie, global director of communications for jewelry house Harry Winston.
“It used to be they would send flowers. Then they took these huge suites and they gave their product away ... then companies paid stars,” Brodie said. “For many companies, a celebrity is the ultimate product placement opportunity.”
A determined celebrity, especially an Oscar nominee, can probably pull together close to $1 million in gifts and prizes in the week before the show, industry experts say.
The gift bag given by products placement and marketing firm Distinctive Assets for just the non-winning nominees in the six major Oscar categories is worth $43,316.95.
Jewelry designer Chopard is frequently named as leading the way in terms of signing up stars to wear its gems, though company spokeswoman Stephanie Labeille declined to comment on reports of such direct payments.
There is no law against endorsements but the romance of the Oscars owes much to the notion of an old-fashioned freedom from the commercial pressures that normally rule show business.
Hilary Swank, star of best picture nominee “Million Dollar Baby,” raised eyebrows by wearing Chopard to the Golden Globes and several other events this year and declaring: “I’m so glad that I wore Chopard earrings, they brought me good luck.”
Six-figure deals“I’ve heard Chopard pays people and their deals are for six figures,” said one industry source.
“The jewelry houses are trying to associate a star or a kind of star with their brand, just like the dress designers have,” the source said. “People make deals all the time. Penelope Cruz models for Ralph Lauren then wears Ralph Lauren all the time. Now it’s Scarlett Johansson and Calvin Klein.”
“So Chopard and other jewelry designers paying celebs so their brand is associated with a particular kind of actress is the same thing,” she said.
Swank had been in discussions to wear diamonds by Harry Winston at the Golden Globes, but pulled out at the last minute in what Women’s Wear Daily said was the result of a deal.
Harry Winston’s Brodie declined to comment on Swank except to confirm she had a fitting before the Golden Globes.
In order to maintain its exclusivity, Brodie said, Harry Winston will be lending jewels to only three or four stars, all existing customers who have a relationship with the house.
Greg Kwiat of Kwiat Diamonds, which have been worn by Halle Berry and Sharon Stone, also rejects the idea of payments.
“We know of the practice,” he said. “We certainly hear about it working with stylists and celebrities. But it’s not something we do. We make beautiful jewelry and we want it to stand on its own.”
But the industry source said other jewelers were being drawn into paying, a practice not so different from product endorsements that cost designers millions of dollars -- whether it be Robert de Niro lending his name to American Express, or Nicole Kidman filming a commercial for Chanel No 5 perfume.
“There’s no way to compete unless you throw them money and free product. Celebs are getting both money and product, absolutely. Wouldn’t you if you were a star? How could you resist?” the source said.
The Los Angeles Times reported this week that some payments to stars were as much as $250,000, though lesser amounts and donations to a favored charity were also common.
But even if you don’t get paid for wearing someone’s jewelry, you can get “gifted” just for dropping by. Those lucky enough to get an invitation to luxury shoe designer Stuart Weitzman’s Oscars dinner received a gift bag worth $1,000 and that was just one party in a week of parties and fashion showings leading up to the Academy Awards.