Oscars nominees pretty much have it all: international fame, access to hot-off-the-runway designer clothes, and the comforting knowledge that they've officially "made it." But just in case all that wasn't enough, they get a bunch of other stuff too. No, we're not talking about the glamorous parties where the top-shelf booze flows like water down the Nile, or the lucrative advertising and endorsement deals with big-name companies. We're talking about the Distinctive Assets "Everyone Wins" Nominee Gift Bag, a six-figure gift package not officially affiliated with the Oscars that is nevertheless given out every year to the top 25 nominees.
The package typically contains a mix of cosmetics, food, liquor, jewellery, clothing, gadgets, vouchers for random things (see: a phobia relief expert), and items that truly defy categorisation (see: a glow-in-the-dark poop emoji toilet plunger). It's the literal definition of a mixed bag. The most impressive items tend to be the travel and spa vouchers, which this year include a £15,000-per-person small ship trip to either Iceland, the Galapagos, the Amazon, Costa Rica and Panama via International Expeditions; a weeklong beachfront vacation at Avaton Luxury Villas Resort in Halkidiki, Greece; a weekend in Malibu at the 3D Wellness Retreat; and an all-inclusive week-long stay for two at the Golden Door spa in San Marcos, California.
If we received vouchers for any of the aforementioned things, we would: one, scream. Two, email our boss and tell her not to expect us next week. And three, start packing. But regardless of what Heat would have you believe, stars are not just like us. They're ultra-busy filming and shooting ad campaigns and walking red carpets and giving all of us something to talk about beyond the minutia of our own daily existences. Plus, they can afford to go anywhere they want at the drop of a hat. For them, free trips just don't hold the same allure.
Or so we thought. Turns out, plenty of A-list stars do cash in on these trips and retreats, and some of them even end up liking the places they go so much that they return of their own accord. Lash Fary, the so-called "Sultan of Swag" behind the Distinctive Assets gift bags, says one reason the trips appeal to stars is that they don't have to do any planning, and they know they'll be staying in a place that's been vetted. (If there's one thing busy people tend to not like, it's superfluous planning.) All of the vouchers also include a plus-one, which allows them to spend time with friends, family, and significant others. (If you weren't already looking for an Oscar-nonimated BFF, start.)
"It's the convenience of not having to research. You know, 'what's a good place in Hawaii?'" Fary explains. "For example, Viola Davis had gotten a gift certificate the year she won for Fences, it was a trip to Claw Landing Resort in Hawaii who we've worked with for a couple of years, and she ended up going to Hawaii, remembered she got the gift certificate, and ended up staying there. It was just a convenience thing for her."
Fary also recalls Ron Howard redeeming a voucher for a stay at the Winvian Hotel in Connecticut, which he loved so much he ended up holding his son's wedding reception there, an anecdote that at least partially explains why high-end resorts and hotels are so eager to give stuff to celebs. Not only is it good PR, but if they like it, they can actually afford to keep coming back. Other stars who have gone on trips from Distinctive Assets baskets include Meryl Streep, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, who stayed in an Italian resort with her mom, and Diane Keaton, who went to Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.
Fary does concede that busy schedules do sometimes prohibit stars from going on most intense excursions, like this year's International Expeditions package. "It's a big trip, it's hard to do, it's not for everyone," he says. "They're gonna get fewer people who do that then who go to the Golden Door, which is an easy two-hour drive from Los Angeles. Usually only one or two celebrities are gonna redeem [big] trips in any given year."
While most of the vouchers technically expire after one year, Fary says companies are usually happy to grant extensions to stars. "Viola Davis has been trying to go on the African safari we gave her eight years ago, its a bucket list thing. She calls every year like, 'can you give me an extension for another year? I want to go on this trip, but I just can't this year,'" he says. "Robert Downey, Jr. booked a safari with his son and his son got sick the day before they are supposed to leave. Things happen."
What most of the companies won't allow, however, is for the stars to pass off vouchers and gift certificates to their friends and relatives. The idea, after all, is to have celebrities come to your business, and potentially Instagram it, or talk to the press about it, or become a regular. Though, Fary says, "If they personally call and ask, the resort has the option." And it's not like anyone's really going to say no to Meryl Streep or Jennifer Lawrence.