Retailers bend over backwards to accommodate, indulge Hollywood notables who want to do their holiday shopping in pampered privacy

With the holiday shopping season in full swing, it's time for a select group of retailers to roll out yet another time-honored tradition kissing up to celebrity shoppers.

Private store hours, house calls and even chartered helicopters are just a few of the holiday amenities that some retailers offer to lure the Hollywood crowd.

Those merchants say they appreciate the fact that for the rich and famous, the simple act of buying a crystal vase can involve fighting off zealous fans, autograph hounds and photo-oppers all of whom can turn a holiday shopping trip into a perilous adventure.

"When Michael Jackson arrives with bodyguards for Christmas shopping, we close the store because people gather in throngs outside, peering in, pointing and creating a ruckus," says Ali Soltani, a co-owner of David Orgell's on Rodeo Drive, a shop that specializes in precious gems, antiques and giftware.

"This year, along with clearing out the place, as we also do for Sly Stallone and Rod Stewart, we installed special blinds through which we can see out but no one can see in."

The shop also offers a special back entrance that stars can use to make a quick escape if necessary.

At Somper Furs in Beverly Hills, celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor send chauffeurs or messengers to pick up a selection of possible gifts to peruse at home. Others, like Joan Collins, Barbara Eden and Barbra Streisand, come in person and spend hours shopping.

"We created a few private areas in the shop away from everything for our celebrity clientele and give them the ultimate in attention," says Elaine Calhoun, a longtime sales assistant at the store, where the hot holiday items include mink teddy bears ranging from $25 to $250.

Hot wheels

Ferrari of Beverly Hills also accommodates certain celebrity clientele by clearing the showroom for private viewing or staying open after normal business hours.

"I have taken cars to a star's home sometimes three and four times to view," says salesman James Del Pozzo. "It is always fun to deliver a Ferrari for Christmas with a big red bow around it."

Martin Katz, a prestigious Beverly Hills jeweler, is also quick to accommodate stars at his store and elsewhere. However, he says clients like Nicole Kidman, Helen Hunt and Ashley Judd often know what they want by the time Christmas rolls around because they have been borrowing his jewels all year to wear to awards shows.

"Recently I sold a gorgeous diamond ring as a birthday gift to a male Oscar-winner on a (private) jet that was revving up on a runway," Katz recalls. "Sometimes in a restaurant I will pull out hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of diamonds at the table. There have been many times that I've sold diamonds in the back seat of limousines while (customers) are rushing to the airport."

Another favorite holiday haunt for some stars is Neil Lane, an antique jewelry store in West Hollywood where the clientele includes Annette Bening, Cameron Diaz and Calista Flockhart. While actors like John Travolta have been known to send a personal assistant to pick up a selection of possible gifts, others brave the crowds.

"The stars wait at the counter like everyone and I have found myself wondering if I should wait on Billy Crystal, Warren Beatty or Arnold Schwarzenegger first," says Neil Lane, owner of the shop.

Indeed, some celebrities seem to enjoy the casual attitude and don't like the royal treatment while shopping. Some of these have seen their celebrity stardom fade somewhat.

Ed McMahon has said he loves to wait until the last minute and feel the energy of the crowds and the challenge of finding the perfect gift. Tom Arnold is another celebrity who loves to rub elbows with the crowds and Christmas shop until he drops.

Shopping in comfort

Mingling with the masses is typically not the case for VIPs at the posh Bijan store on Rodeo Drive, where the holiday shopping clientele includes royalty, heads of state (including President Bill Clinton), and Hollywood-types like George Clooney, Nicholas Cage and Jack Nicholson. By making an appointment, VIP shoppers can have the entire place to themselves and the undivided attention of the entire staff.

Many of those customers jet in from overseas for a day of Christmas shopping and may spend anywhere from $100,000 to several million dollars on purchases. Once inside Bijan's shop, they are served vintage champagne and a gourmet lunch while listening to personalized music.

At Louis Vuitton, a status symbol for leather goods, the staff will even provide special helicopter service for high-profile customers, as they did while opening a new store at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa.

For celebrities with electronic gizmos on their holiday shopping lists, a special penthouse suite of offices has been created on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood by Motorola.

David Pinsky, Motorola's director of entertainment marketing, made the decision to provide a casual, private and fun hangout for stars to choose their latest communications products.

"They love the funky atmosphere," he says.

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