By  on January 7, 2002

LOS ANGELES -- Gone are the days when goodie bags -- those gift sacks full of freebies handed out at parties, fashion shows and other hype-heavy events -- constituted a contradiction in terms, filled as they were with logo baseball caps, discontinued lipstick shades and cheap sunglasses. Today, they contain bona fide keepers -- the sort that spark fashion trends, inflate sales and, of course, incite envy among the masses. Luxury gift bags can be valued at upward of $10,000. In these cases, the canvas tote is replaced by a leather suitcase or a rattan basket, which is then stocked with the latest (and priciest) electronic gadgets, Swiss watches, Italian handbags and designer sunglasses.

At the upcoming Golden Globes on Jan. 20, expected celebrity presenters such as Kate Hudson and Cameron Diaz will receive a suede-lined, handstitched leather box containing a gift certificate for a $2,000 Herman Miller table, a $500 Judith Leiber compact and a $1,100 Michele Art Deco-style timepiece, among other items. While the furniture and home accessories are undoubtedly a score, it's often the showy and easily wearable items that garner the most attention.

"Without question, the goodie bag starts trends," says People's West Coast style editor, Steven Cojucaru. "There's a sensation when you open it that this is the latest thing." The practice of selective sampling makes it a cinch for companies to start trends among celebrities says Cojucaru. "They'd rather have something handed to them than have to schlep out and buy it."

Enter a company like Backstage Creations in Santa Monica, Calif., which sets up goodie-strewn VIP lounges at award shows, where vendors can personally lavish their wares on celebrities. Karen Wood, a former talent coordinator for the Grammy and Emmy Awards, founded the company a year ago upon realizing she'd already become a de facto personal shopper for the shows. Although she charges clients a one-time, standard fee of $5,000 to participate, for the most part, it's an easy sell. "It's all about having the cachet of introducing your product to the celebrity," explains Wood. At the March 2001 SAG Awards, nominees and presenters including Kate Hudson, Halle Berry and Kim Cattrall, took home Baccarat jewelry, Scott Kay platinum bracelets and Danier leather bags. For each manufacturer, the cost of the giveaways plus the staff's travel expenses often rises into the tens of thousands of dollars. But many vendors agree that it's more cost-effective than taking out an ad in a magazine, which can cost up to four times as much.

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