Angela Bassett, Austin Butler, Michelle Yeoh and other stars won’t be leaving the 95th Academy Awards empty-handed—whether or not they win an award.
By Isabel Lord, Forbes Staff
Nomatter which names are announced when the envelopes are opened on March 12 at the 95th annual Academy Awards, one thing is guaranteed— even the losers will go home with lavish Oscars gift bags.
Since 2002, the Los Angeles-based marketing company Distinctive Assets has distributed its unofficial and often six-figure “Everyone Wins” gift bags to Oscar nominees in the four main acting categories as well as Best Director. Distinctive Assets’ founder, the “Sultan of Swag” Lash Fary, first began giving away lucrative vacations, jewelry, and other trinkets at the Grammys in 2000—where he’s still the official gifter—and added the Oscars a couple of years later.
“We asked ourselves, ‘How can we be a part of this without doing something with the Academy?’ So we came up with this idea of gifting the top nominees,” says Fary. “That way, if they lost, they got this awesome consolation prize. And if they win, they get this as icing on the cake.” Despite the name, only 26 nominees will get an “Everyone Wins” gift bag this year, the five people in the top five categories. (Oscar frontrunner Everything Everywhere All At Once has two directors—Daniel Kwan and Daniel Sheinert—hence the even number.)
Over the past two decades, the outrageous Oscars gifts have ranged from an Antarctic cruise to a year’s worth of Audi rentals and brands fork over between $4,000 and $35,000 to be included in the annual selection. As with Super Bowl commercials, being included in the Oscars swag bag comes with a certain risk, but it’s one that brands hope will pay off with a celebrity endorsement.
It’s happened before: In 2013, Amy Adams was photographed in a gifted “Strong Is The New Skinny” shirt, and previous nominees, including Viola Davis and Mark Ruffalo, have shared photos from their free trips on Instagram. Some have even become repeat customers: Ron Howard hosted his son’s wedding at the Winvian Farm in Connecticut after visiting it through his Oscars gift bag.
This year’s haul is worth an estimated $126,000, a 10% drop from last year and nearly half off the all-time high of $225,000 in 2020. Then again, the bag is still worth more than 300 times the value of Oscar himself—the 24-karat gold-plated statuette only costs about $400 to make.
The 2023 Oscars goodies range from plastic surgery to a bottle of coconut water, and all will be delivered to the homes of A-listers such as Austin Butler, Cate Blanchett, Michelle Yeoh and Steven Spielberg this week. Though the concept of a “gift bag” has long been a misnomer: There are so many presents each year that they require multiple suitcases to transport them all.
The choice of packing, however, is apt: Often, the most expensive presents are trips to far-flung destinations—the perfect opportunity for a celebrity to be spotted with a gifted carry-on. This year’s selection includes a $40,000 getaway to a 10-acre Canadian estate called The Lifestyle and a three-night stay in a restored Italian lighthouse, valued at $9,000.
“Obviously, [the nominees] can afford to go where they want,” says Fary. “It’s not about the fact that this is free. It’s about the fact that we’ve found a unique place that has built-in privacy for a celebrity. I mean, it’s a hillside lighthouse on an island off the coast of Italy—it’s very private.”
Homebodies can take advantage of the second-most valuable gift—$25,000 worth of project management fees during home restoration from Maison Construction—or they can cash in on feeling at home in their own skin: $41,000 worth of gifts are in the form of rejuvenation procedures, including Dr. Thomas Su’s Art Lipo arm sculpting and Dr. Alan Bauman’s hair restoration services. (“One of the world’s most acclaimed hair restoration doctors,” says Fary—who plans on visiting Dr. Bauman for his next follicular treatment.)
And not all the gifts are lavish. Among the least expensive are a $13.56 pack of Clif Thins and an $18 loaf of Japanese milk bread from Ginza Nishikawa. The goal with this year’s selection, Fary says, was to have something for everyone while spotlighting diverse brands (50% of the included companies are woman- and minority-owned.)
THE SWAG BAG INDEX
The values of Oscars gift bags have made enough comebacks to merit a Hollywood career of their own. The impact of inflation is also relatively negligible: The gift bags have gone down in value even when prices of everyday items skyrocket, presumably because other forces, including public perception and marketing budgets, are at play—something stars know all too well.
The 2023 selection is also full of unique—and occasionally odd—presents. The mindful can opt for owning a tiny piece of Australia, which funds conservation efforts ($425), a travel neck pillow from PETA that urges “Stop Monkey Imports To Labs” ($60), or a “mental health orb” from Reflect that claims to help regulate stress ($229). Those feeling sweet might fancy the chocolate box from m cacao, which comes with a personalized video inside ($99), or $435 worth of gourmet dates from Bateel. While those feeling a little spicy can reach for an $87 bottle of C60 Sexy edible massage oil.
The value of the gift bags has seesawed over the years, a fact that Fary dismisses as irrelevant. “It’s very easy to artificially inflate the value [of the bags], if that were my goal, because these are all very manipulatable,” he says. “I could have easily added another trip that was worth $20,000.”
Public perception also plays a role in the gift bag’s price tag. In 2016, Fary’s $200,000 bag—which included a $55,000 all-inclusive trip to Israel and a $1,900 breast lift—was called “less than wholesome” by the Oscars and led to a lawsuit over trademark infringement. It was resolved amicably but Fary remained coy about the value of the gift bags for the next two years, saying only that they were worth “over $100,000.” Even today, he’s reluctant to discuss its overall value because of the negative reactions.
“I’ll get tweets sometimes like, ‘There’s a war going on. How are you giving out gift bags?’” he says. “This is a business for me—these companies are paying me to donate their product. And, for these brands, it’s not like the option is giving it to a celebrity or giving it to a homeless person. That’s just not the business model for most companies, unfortunately. It’s not necessarily the juxtaposition we’re talking about here.”
Of course, the 26 nominees are not required to accept the gifts, and usually at least one turns them down. Last year it was Denzel Washington, while J.K. Simmons donated his to a charity auction. Whatever “free” gifts the celebrities do accept is considered taxable because, unlike most presents people receive, these “gift bags” are viewed as a form of income. It’s part of the reason why Fary’s business exists at all: IRS scrutiny was the downfall of the Academy’s official gift bags in 2006.
However, most of these gifts would have to be redeemed before there is any benefit for the recipient, so the value (and the tax bill) for what is being handed out at the awards show is minimal—about $5,000, or as much as $2,500 in taxes per person. “Let’s face it,” Fary says, “If you’re Cate Blanchett paying taxes on a $5,000 gift for something fun—that’s still a pretty good deal.”
Here are the ten most expensive gifts that nominees—and the IRS—can look forward to this year.
$10,000 AND ABOVE
The Lifestyle: $40,000
Set on ten acres in rural Ottawa, this posh estate comes with more than enough amenities to make a Hollywood A-lister feel at home: a fridge stocked with gourmet food—or, for those whose vacation doesn’t include cooking, optional catering from professional chefs—a home theater, an outdoor pool and even an archery lane. It’s all theirs for three nights, and also comes with a 1965 Shelby AC Cobra 427 Roadster and a 2023 McLaren Artura—should they ever want to leave.
Maison Construction: $25,000
A regular presence in Distinctive Assets’ gift bags, Maison Construction is a Los Angeles-based luxury home renovation company. Its gift: Complimentary project management for remodels or construction projects, should the recipients want to give their home a facelift.
Art Lipo Plastic Surgery: $12,000
If their homes don’t need refurbishing, the nominees could opt for an arm lift: Dr. Thomas Su, who is also a figure artist and sculptor, is offering his Celebrity Arms Sculpting procedure, a form of liposuction that tones the arms.
A year’s supply of oxygen-enriched foundation and concealer from the brand Oxygenetix comes with a Potenza microneedling treatment in either Beverly Hills or Ft. Lauderdale, which combines needles and radiofrequency in a bid for firmer skin.
Antiaging treatments: $10,000
New York plastic surgeon Dr. Konstantin Vasyukevich is offering $10,000 worth of facial treatments, from chemical peels to fillers. And Dr. Vasyukevich comes pre-screened: Fary got his own laser treatment done with him.
$9,000 AND BELOW
A Neapolitan getaway: $9,000
A renovated lighthouse off the coast of Italy, Faro Punta Imperatore is offering the nominees—and seven of their closest friends—a complimentary three-night stay at the property just off the coast of Naples. Adventures include a yacht trip to Capri, road trips on a vintage Vespa, or drinks with toast-worthy ocean views from the property’s rooftop bar.
Hair treatments: $7,000
Nominees who want to guard against future bad hair days have a reason to keep their heads up this year: This gift from Dr. Alan Baumam includes hair loss-fighting supplements, topicals and PRP hair restoration treatment, which uses blood platelets to boost hair growth.
This laboratory is offering the movie stars a shot at a longer life through at-home health testing focused on fitness and physical performance, skin appearance, brain health, and overall aging.
Rareté Studios Jewelry: $1,200
Nominees will each receive an 18-karat gold bracelet from this female-owned jewelry brand, with a customized initial bead and gemstones including Herkimer diamond and citrine—perfect for adding more sparkle to Tinseltown.
Jo Bowlby’s A Book For Life: $630
Nominees in need of some extra direction can look to a training session with spiritual coach Jo Bowlby, author of A Book For Life, which touts “the secret to lasting happiness.” Alas, even winning an Oscar doesn’t guarantee that.
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