With A-List Draw and Luxe Decor, Essence Award Luncheon "Owns" its Oscar Week Slot

By Alesandra Dubin March 5, 2010, 1:26 PM EST

The Essence Black Women in Hollywood awards luncheon

Photo: Line 8 Photography

Essence Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon
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As Los Angeles prepares to descend into Oscar weekend chaos, one of the brands to hold an early high-profile event was Essence, which hosted its annual Black Women in Hollywood luncheon at the Beverly Hills Hotel on March 4. Traditionally held the Thursday afternoon before the big award show, the event—with all its sumptuous decor, significant star wattage, and tear-jerking speeches—has staked its claim on that time slot. “Our Thursday luncheon helps us cut through the clutter and maximize our press impact,” said Essence event marketing director Candace Purdie Montgomery, who oversees the program. “People know to look out for it. We own that spot. If anyone would try to come up against us, they would have to really bring it.”

Queen Latifah, Cicely Tyson, Zoe Saldana, Mary J. Blige, and Gabourey Sidibe scooped up honors at the event, which had the feel of a Truman Capote-era black-and-white ball. The 320 guests offered a high celebrity quotient: Vivica Fox, Jada Pinkett Smith, James Cameron, Common, and Laurence Fishburne were all among the crowd. “We want to make sure it feels very luxurious, special, aligned with the bigness and boldness of Hollywood,” Montgomery said. “What you see at this event is the connection that the people in the room have to the brand—it's a very deep connection that they've had all through their lives. That shows in the attendance and interest.”

Montgomery tapped Caravents, which has produced all three of the annual programs, to once again produce the luncheon, which also feted the 40th anniversary of the magazine. “We went to a more classic look than years past, using a base of black and white with punches of crimson. The look and feel is Old Hollywood supper club,” said Caravents' Cara Kleinhaut. (The ruby hue honored the traditional 40th anniversary color.) The look included swooping drapery, black silk rosette linens, and red flowers. Caravents also worked crystals from sponsor Swarovski into the stage set, curtains, and customized backdrop, and crystal dust on the red carpet added sparkle.

In place of last year's gifting area, the team instead built a cocktail lounge in the hotel's Crystal Garden. The space extended the ballroom's look and feel with plush black velvet furnishings, beaded accent pillows, Swarovski chandeliers, fur throws, and Deco-style console and cocktail tables and gilt mirrors.

Caravents also produced the award show itself. Customized screen graphic packages matched the color scheme, fonts, and style of all decor elements and signage for a cohesive experience.

For new sponsor Lincoln, Caravents hoisted a vehicle over the side of the wall of the hotel and showcased it within the event space. Additional sponsors included CoverGirl Queen Collection, MasterCard Worldwide, and Moët & Chandon.

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