Oscars gift-giver Lash Fary reveals top tips for perfect presents
Independent TV

Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Garfield and Olivia Colman are among the Oscar nominees set to be made Lords and Ladies of Glencoe in Scotland, when they receive this year’s unofficial, ‘Everyone Wins’ gift bag.

Although not affiliated with the Academy Awards in any way, the swag bag from the marketing firm Distinctive Assets has been handed out for 20 years now - with past gifts including a “brain-sensing headband”, 24-karat gold bath bombs and an emergency hammer from the controversial animal rights group Peta to save dogs in hot cars.

This year, alongside being bestowed with an official lord or lady title, nominees in the Best Actor and Actress; Best Supporting Actor and Actress and Best Director categories will also receive a bag of the “world’s first flavour-wrapped popcorn kernels” and a selection of games from the popular company behind Exploding Kittens.

And behind all of this is gift-giver Lash Fary, who tells Indy100 that this year’s assortment came to around $139,000 (£105,779), compared to the approximately $200,000 bag from last year.

“[That’s] because we had a $75,000 gift certificate from a gentleman doing digital consulting services for celebrities who might have brands,” he says. “So on paper, there’s this propensity to think, ‘oh, the bag dropped by $75,000 in value’. The reality is that that wasn’t a gift that anyone redeemed last year.

“Did the value change? I think not,” Fary adds. “It’s kind of like house shopping … There’s not a lot of difference between a $4.6 million house and a $4.9 million house. Once you get to a certain level, it’s pretty much indistinguishable and that’s how I feel about gifts.

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“Once you reach a certain threshold, once you have a couple of bags full of fun items, it becomes imperceptible to the recipient what the actual value is – it’s just a fun experience. So I focus more on having a lot of interesting items for them, more so than the dollar value,” he concludes.

So what do you get an award-nominated film star who has everything? “That’s actually the easiest part,” Fary reveals. “I don’t overthink it. Celebrities are - I know that cliché – they’re just like regular people in many ways, so they have the same needs as the rest of us.

“We’re always looking for the unusual, so one of my favourite things that we’re giving this year, I’m giddy about the fact that I’m now a lord, I’m Lord Fary,” the gift guru - who confirms he “has to test market” everything - continues. “[The nominees] may not become Oscar royalty, but win or lose, they'll all become lords and ladies.”

Mr- sorry, Lord – Fary continues: “It’s a gift for someone who has everything, it’s so fun … When you make a purchase as a gift for someone, that money goes towards land conservation efforts in Scotland, so it’s a really great gift with purpose.”

“Purpose” being one of the main things behind this year’s gifts, with Lash explaining that the featured companies embrace “diversity, inclusion, health, and philanthropy”.

A selection of product images for a range of different items which are part of an Oscars gift bag, including fashion accessories, beauty products and sweets.Distinctive Assets

He tells us of his process: “We try to find unusual cool things … I always try to cover all of our bases. It's fabulous, it's functional, it's everything in between, and something for everyone, because the diversity of the nominees is pretty broad, so we like to have a broad swath of products.

“I'd like to say as a gift giver, ‘yes, I put thought and effort into each nominee and customised [everything]’, but I don't have the time to do that,” Lash explains, “because we don't really realise who the nominees are until we're pretty much done with the bag [and] we know who the nominees are going to be.

“So we basically just have to create that awesome fabulous diverse gift bag with a little something for everyone, knowing that half will be men and half will be women, [and] not knowing what their personal taste might be.”

It is, Fary says, a remarkably simple process, where products are sent in for inclusion in the collection, and it’s either approved or not. Hundreds of brands talk to Distinctive Assets each year, and in 2022, only 52 products or services were selected.

Although the gift expert said there are sometimes “a variety of reasons” why a brand may not be included in the swag, he does have one general rule. “Ten years ago, I think it was, I had this brilliant idea, because we get pitched all the time by sex toy companies. I don’t know why, but they all want to be a part of these gift bags.

“I was like, ‘oh, this is actually a really great thing. This is a normal part of life, it’s a healthy part of life, I want these folks to be able to enjoy robust sex lives’, and if you’re Jennifer Lawrence, you can’t just go to a Pleasure Chest and buy toys like the rest of us,” he says.

That is, of course, true, but it was actually in 2016 – not 10 years ago, as Fary claims – that that backfired. The Academy filed a lawsuit that year over the gift bags, in which they said: “Press … has focused on both the less-than-wholesome nature of some of the products contained in the bags, which purportedly include a $250 marijuana vaporiser … a $250 sex toy, and $275 Swiss-made toilet paper”.

“It just overran the press,” Lash tells Indy100, “so I felt like I had to step away from that, only because it became a distraction to everything else that we had in the bag.

“Basically, if I go to your website and the word ‘penis’ or ‘vagina’ appears on your homepage, I can't include you.”

Sounds like it was quite literally a cock-up.

But now, Fary and his team are looking ahead to this year’s Oscars, the Grammy’s – for which they are also working on a gift package – and next year’s Academy Awards, because it’s a “year-round endeavour”.

We wonder if the guru can give us any hints as to next year’s contents: “I find the categories stayed pretty consistent over the years,” Lash teases. “We always have at least one or two amazing trips, always have incredible skincare, always have sweet treats, always have stuff for the kids. It's more about the broad categories.”

This year’s Oscars get underway this Sunday, or in the early hours of Monday morning if you’re watching in the UK.

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