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LOS ANGELES The swirl of events surrounding the Oscars is head-spinning. The calendars belonging to potential guests—particularly A-listers and nominees—could seem almost impenetrably dense to a newcomer host. But since its arrival on the scene four years ago, Essence's Black Women in Hollywood luncheon at the Beverly Hills Hotel, for just over 300 guests, has drawn some of the biggest names. And with that roster comes the widespread buzz and media coverage that are attractive to sponsors.
To that end, sponsorship presence at this year's event doubled over last year, with seven brands participating in what Essence event marketing director Candace Purdie Montgomery calls one of the mag's “glitter” programs, awash in sparkly decor and star wattage. Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, and Viola Davis were all honorees at this year's luncheon.
“We do a lot of promotion tied to the event that lives online and in book. If sponsors are choosing one red-carpet program, one particular event to reach African-American celebrities during red-carpet season, they come to us,” said Montgomery, who noted that some of the sponsorship overlapped with the mag's Black Women in Music Grammy week event. Montgomery tapped Caravents to produce the event (as she has done since its beginning), where sponsors included Lincoln, L'Oréal, Boost Mobile, Pepsi, Moët, Swarovski, and the ING Foundation, which donated $20,000 to each of the honoree's charities.
Lincoln's vehicle display stood in a customized tented lounge in the Crystal garden; the Caravents team craned the car in over the wall two days prior. L’Oréal provided interactive makeup stations in the garden lounge, Pepsi promoted its line of mini cans served with dainty straws, and Boost Mobile devices were displayed like fine jewels in plexi vitrines adorned with crystals from Swarovski. Swarovski sparkles were also integrated throughout the design of the lounge and ballroom, with organizers working with the brand to integrate it completely without logos—for instance, in a glistening lectern on the stage, which itself incorporated hundreds of crystal strands interwoven with textured fabric.
Honorees' photos hung at the entry staircase in ornate gold frames adorned with individual crystals. In the restrooms, L'Oréal products topped glass apothecary jars filled with crystals and fresh flowers. “It barely feels like branding moments, but just an overall environment of luxury,” said Caravents' Cara Kleinhaut. Montgomery added, “If you look programatically at everything, the live event is one of the big payoffs [for sponsors]. It's an opportunity for people to see those brands come to life, and we're trying to integrate sponsors in a way that feels organic.”
Guests lunched during the award show also produced by Caravents—complete with video programming produced by Essence—in the ballroom, where the overall look included a palette of gold and champagne, with bursts of magenta. Custom sparkly gold linens and voluminous arrangements of fuchsia and magenta peonies and roses topped tables. “[There was] just a lot of sparkle everywhere,“ Montgomery said. “I was thinking to myself that the whole event was like a well-dressed woman going out for the afternoon.”
This year's arrivals carpet doubled in width and reached to the fullest length permitted in the space—10 feet longer this year to accommodate additional crews. Also new this year, Caravents created a broadcast-worthy interview platform, right on the carpet for Essence.com with its own smaller step-and-repeat at the end of the main carpet. And after the event concluded at around 3:30 p.m., while guests waited for their cars (valet service was comped, including gratuity—an uncommon bit of attention to detail) on the hotel's red carpet out front, the buzz was palpable. “That was just a beautiful event, so inspiring,” said one actress, to a chorus of agreeing sentiments.