The action might have been low-key, but the swag was still in the bag.

A
nother awards show, another round of suites. Not so routine, however, was the markedly scaled-back action that lead up to Emmys Sunday. Although these promotional venues remain business opportunities for beauty and fashion brands, the emphasis this past weekend seemed less on hype (at least for most) and more on regaining a sense of exclusivity (not always to great success).

In all, it was as much a sign that the entire exercise has, in some forms, become played out as it is an indication that many players are now wiser about the process.

“Suites have gotten so big they have that circus-y feeling. It’s about ‘What can I give you, what can I get?’ There’s no branding whatsoever,” complained Laurie Ziegler, who, along with New York-based In2It Media and RPR Marketing Solutions, co-produced a lively yet mellow suite at the West Hollywood salon, Point de Vue.

For the two-day event, the Craftsman bungalow housed visiting celebrity manicurist Marsha Bialo, Mario Badescu mini-facials and diamonds from Jacob & Co. (although hip-hop’s reigning jeweler was a no-show, evidently on his way to Milan for the upcoming collections). On the patio, Vespa had its scooters, Fifi & Romeo its “canine couture” and celeb chef Akasha served tofu couscous and other organic vittles.

“For us, it was about a return to the intimate suites and away from the ‘Sizzler suites,’” said In2It’s Amy Balsam, in a direct hit at the “buffet” in the competing Silver Spoon Buffet — formerly known as the Cabana Beauty Buffet (in which Ziegler was once involved).

Not that Point of Vue fared much better than many of the other suites when it came to the celeb department. For all its organizers’ posturing of exclusivity, its biggest names were TV guest stars Sharon Stone and Taryn Manning, along with Korn rocker Jonathan Davis.

Silver Spoon, meanwhile, in collaboration with Allure magazine and stationed at the historic Graumann manse in Hollywood, was a bazaar of vendors — YSL Beauté, Tocca candles, Kookoon silk bedding, Parasuco jeans and personal plucking by brow queen Valerie.“We really like the celebrities and guests to be able to walk around and not be shoulder-to-shoulder and not feel like they’re in a trade show. It’s a relaxation retreat,” said Axis Media’s Karen Ahaesy who, along with event planners Melissa Lemer and Lorena Vendinskas, rolled out a carnival-themed spread complete with carousel horses, Renaissance-like tents and enormous bean bags strewn throughout the property.

Despite its organizers’ insistence of greater exclusivity compared with the chaotic free-for-all that its predecessor, the Chateau Marmont-based Cabana, quickly became known as, Silver Spoon was just a megasuite by another name (although with better food, since Sushi Roku and Katana catered it).

The wattage? Michelle Rodriguez, Thora Birch, Raven Simone and Ione Skye at best among the 500-plus invaders. Otherwise, the scene was best encapsulated by Kimberly Stewart, Rod’s daughter, chugging a bottle of sponsor 42 Below Vodka.

Pointing to the stacks of neatly folded colored T-shirts, C&C owner Claire Stansfield said she and her team had to keep guests from grabbing the piles and shoving them into their bags.

Yet who can fault the impoliteness of the graft-grabbing B-crowd who are, after all, simply emulating A-listers like Debra Messing? Her antics at last year’s Emmys-tied Cabana were still a hot topic of conversation this past weekend; the redheaded star was widely reported to have hauled off 30 bags of swag valued at $7,000. Messing, by the way, was noticeably missing from the suite scene this weekend.

Which begs the question: If the point is getting the brands in the hands of the “right” people, is it worth it?

For the vendors participating in the HBO Luxury Lounge at Beverly Hills’ Peninsula Hotel and the Johnnie Walker Blue Label/Fred Segal Beauty Gentleman’s Suite down the road at the Four Seasons, the answer is yes. Both suites retained a truly VIP environment. Only HBO talent — Sarah Jessica Parker, James Gandolfini, Kristen Davis and Edie Falco (with an exception for boyfriend Stanley Tucci) — were given access to the 14 lines of products, including Safilo eyewear, Carolina Herrera fragrance, Prada skin care, Kwiat Diamonds, Goldavenue jewelry and Cosabella.“This is more specific and direct and in a controlled environment,” observed Stephanie Sparkman of celebrity fashion services for Levi’s. The denim line did Cabana for Emmys 2002, but did the HBO suite this time round. “Everyone thinks they can throw up a suite. But in the end, we want to build those relationships with people. It’s not about a free fest.”

As James Woods strutted into a room for his Carita facial massage at the multiroom Johnnie Walker suite, entertainment marketing manager Daniel Martinez explained why the liquor company has returned to the Emmys for a third year: “When we sent out invites this time, the first RSVPs we got back were people who were here last year. We’re such a private suite, we don’t come across those complications of trying to be bigger.”

The list of only producers, actors and select entertainment executives targets those who can appreciate and afford the $250-a-bottle Scotch whisky or $35 straight-razor shave at Fred Segal Beauty.

Added Mediaplacement’s Britt Johnson, who produced the HBO suite: “If the clients are not happy, you’ll burn yourself out eventually. Reputation is all you have in this business.”

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