A glut of January-February awards shows has overshadowed Fashion Week gift bags (one publicist we spoke to was having a “Sundance crisis”), but rest assured this year’s swag will range from the sublime (still wearing that $7,000 Avianne diamond watch?) to the ridiculous (an attendee of a past party was horrified to receive a bag containing a magazine, lipstick, and a bottle of water).
In what celebrity-gifting guru Jane Ubell-Meyer of Madison & Mulholland calls the crucial “Wow gifts” category, expect a toned-down showing from the Bryant Park Hotel: Their VIP bag, valued at $5,000 last year, will be distributed more selectively this year so that the hotel can focus on its guests and events. Jon Streep of PMK/HBH insists Paris and Nicole can still count on grabbing well over $500 in products from Weleda, Odyn Denim, Kerastase, and GK Designs jewelry.
The W Hotel’s lounge, where J-Lo, Nicky Hilton, and others held court last year is also playing it cool to promote their new chain of Rockwell-designed roadside hotels. Instead of splashy loot like iPods, select heavy hitters who visit the Airstream trailer parked in the Aloft Lounge will take away $400-$500 worth of road trip-themed goodies like a Land’s End beach towel, road atlases, a certificate for a free espresso machine, a Heatherette T-shirt, and W-logoed miscellany. In Heatherette style, each bag will be custom designed. If Lindsay Lohan walks in, assures Jack Yeaton of LaForce + Stevens, she’ll be regaled with customized flip-flops and a monogrammed passport cover designed by William Vernon.
“The pressure is on to make the bigger, better bag,” says Ubell-Meyer, who claims that when she started four years ago, hers was the first company dedicated exclusively to gift bags. Since then, others have joined the fray, and the goodies have become more mainstream. (Don’t be surprised when you pull a Gap or Old Navy t-shirt out of the bag this year.) As a result, publicists are grasping at creative ways to stand out: Journalist-turned-gifter Stephanie Jo Klein once bestowed a “Girl’s Just Wanna Have Fun” purse on Cindy Lauper.
According to Kelly Coutrone of People’s Revolution, the growth of gift bags as an industry has caused many designers to lose sight of the reason they existed in the first place— to spark buzz by offering a low-cost item from their collection.
Among many publicists eager to get into the good graces of editors, the idea of Fashion Week “survival kits” has caught on, perhaps inspired by Madison & Mulholland’s “Red Carpet Secrets” runway repair kits (pedometers, anyone?) or 7th on Sixth/IMG’s utilitarian press bag, which in the past has included Altoids, coffee grounds, and Whitestrips. This year’s official IMG bag, given to 1,500 VIPs such as editors like Nina Garcia and designers like Betsey Johnson will contain Atkins bars, razors, hair conditioner, a Court TV DVD, and 500-mile coupons from Delta Airlines, among other things. Aquafina has donated no less than sixty-three cases of its new grape-flavored water.
Michelle Orman, President of Lüp, concocted a survival kit that includes cuticle cream, lip balm, Visine (“to combat late night parties”), salt scrubs, and two of her client Myriam Gumuchian’s favorite things, Gummy Bears and Duane Reade nail files: “If Myriam were your girlfriend and she was putting this together for you over four days of shows, this is what she’d put together for you.”
No, Gumuchian won’t be throwing in her high-end jewelry. Editors who want gratis bling (for the day, anyway) will have to visit Judith Ripka’s booth for loaners.
LaForce + Stevens’s “Fashion Aid” bag doesn’t include Gummy Bears, but the Swedish Fish will do. And because any good survival kit must fight the effects of coffee and booze, there are also packs of gum along with Sour Patch Kids, hangover helpers, and a yoga gift certificate.
Are such bags ever put to use? One editor says she still uses her Anya Hindmarch and Club Monaco totes, but survival kits are a different story. “They’re pretty funny. I mean, the only way to survive fashion week is to go to as few shows as possible. And bring a good, long book to read since nothing starts on time.”