LOS ANGELES – Forget the celebrity stylists. That persnickety bunch tends to a handful of the highest-wattage Oscar contenders. There are 203 nominees this year.
The real behind-the-scenes stars leading up to the Academy Awards on Sunday are the specialists who serve everyone: the florist who delivers dozens of $600 congratulations bouquets on a single morning, the papersmith whose custom-designed invitations summon the A-list to all the best parties, the spray tanner so in demand that he offers 2 a.m. appointments to squeeze everyone in.
Without these people, Hollywood’s awards machinery would grind to a halt.
Who are the most indispensable? The crème de la crème of the cogs?
Meet Eric Buterbaugh, a floral designer who works from an underground parking garage at the Four Seasons Hotel and who says he can “spot crazy in about two minutes.” (This from a man handling the flowers for Madonna’s Oscars after-party.)
Say hello to Marc Friedland, who turned down a career in medicine to become the invitation king. (He also creates the Oscar winners’ envelopes.)
And brace yourself for Jimmy Coco, a former Chippendales dancer who improbably scampered to the top of the spray-tan heap. (He tanned Matthew McConaughey for “Magic Mike.”)
The Power Flower
“A lot of people in this town have terrible taste,” Buterbaugh said recently as he sat in his office coiling a $1,400 Jade Jagger necklace around his neck. “Half of Hollywood is fine with something half dead as long as it’s big.”
“And to those people,” he continued, with an arm flourish, “I say be gone.” He started to giggle, as if tickled by his own ridiculousness.
Buterbaugh, 50, has a way of making grand pronouncements without sounding egotistic. You can do that when you are the best of the best – “a floral visionary,” in the words of Maria Shriver, a longtime client. “He’s sending a mood, a statement, something profound that takes your breath away,” she said by telephone, adding that he is personally “witty and a little bit naughty.”
Catering to fashion houses is one of his specialties. When Valentino wanted to send Julia Roberts 20 dozen red roses – yes, 20 – after she won an Oscar in 2001 for best actress, the designer called Buterbaugh. (Roberts wore a vintage velvet and satin Valentino gown to the ceremony.) The morning after this year’s Golden Globe awards, Buterbaugh said, he had 40 fashion-related orders for $600 (and up) arrangements.
“Thank you for wearing our dress, thank you for getting your client to wear our dress, please consider our dress next time,” he said. It’s effective. The stylist Rachel Zoe said, “I once received four dozen of his reflexed roses, and I literally gasped for air.”
He became a floral designer 17 years ago after “throwing together” centerpieces for a friend’s dinner party in Los Angeles and word got around. Since then, he has done once-in-a-lifetime events – Princess Beatrice’s 18th birthday party at Windsor Castle stands out – and helped “a lot of famous men woo a lot of famous women,” he said.
“And, of course,” he said, anticipating my next question, “my lips are sealed.”
The Ace of Cards
Inside the front door at Marc Friedland Couture Communications is a white ceramic flower pot shaped like a man’s head and filled with gnarled branches. It would probably make Buterbaugh blanch and run back to Oklahoma.
But nobody does invitations like Friedland. Or, as he prefers to call his creations, “pieces of communication art.”
“A great invitation is like a great scent,” he said, as a little dog named Barkly flitted around his feet. “A perfume that can throw you back to a moment in your life.” Prices start at $35 an invitation and rise sharply for services that include video and websites (receive a card, go online to RSVP).
“I clearly have the wrong friends,” I muttered as Friedland, 54, showed off some of his more lavish creations, including a wedding invitation composed of three petite boxes lined with fur, feathers and fake grass.
If you can believe it, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences used to send stars striding onto the Oscars stage with envelopes bought at Staples. Friedland fixed that in 2011. Now the envelopes are made of iridescent gold paper and have red enamel interior lining.
“It’s all storytelling,” he said.
So, does anyone ever dare send plain old Hallmark to Friedland?
“My mother,” he said, with a grimace. “I love her anyway.”
The One-Tan Show
Don’t sniff that this isn’t an art. What Buterbaugh does with petals and Friedland does with paper, Jim Snyder – aka Jimmy Coco – does with body paint.
McConaughey, who has been on the awards circuit with a tan that, at times, has looked Ooompa Loompa orange, is not a current client. Coco, 41, will claim Heidi Klum, the Kardashian clan and the “Entertainment Tonight” hostess Nancy O’Dell. But mostly his lips are also zipped.
“Hollywood is smoke, mirrors and spray,” he said, pausing to greet his cats, Star and Tanner. “Most clients don’t want anyone to know.” Coco will say that he expects to tan more than 100 people in the days before the Oscars, leading to those early time slots.
“Sometimes I feel like a hooker because I’m on call 24-7,” he said. One tan is $350, and he always comes to you; some clients keep him on a monthly $4,000 retainer. You might say that he is extremely serious about his work. Coco’s emails come with the signature “Sent from my TanLine.”
Coco is working on a line of self-tanning products, but I was more interested in hearing about mistakes: What happens if somebody gets too tan the night before the Oscars?
“You run to soak in a chlorinated hot tub,” he said. “Ketchup baths work, too.”