For Hollywood Women, the Most Exclusive Invite of the Year Isn’t an Awards Show — and It Takes Place in an L.A. Living Room

Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann, Busy Phillips
Photo: Amy Graves

“This is one of the best days of the year,” Kristen Bell says gleefully, while Gabrielle Union pulls a filled chocolate from one of the many golden bowls placed around this sun-streaked living room. What’s inside? I ask her. “Magic,” she says, laughing. Bell and Union are mingling with dozens of other power women at what’s known to its high-profile guest list as the “Day of Indulgence,” film and television producer Jennifer Klein’s annual event to pamper and connect Hollywood women.

This is Klein’s 20th year throwing the women-only gathering, which has gotten more elaborate each year, at her Brentwood home. It’s one of the most covetable invitations of the social calendar — and one of the only ones that brings the A-list together around something other than awards or promotional obligations. Allison Janney tells me the event is unique, both because attendees are not allowed to bring guests and because it’s such a relaxing place to catch up with old friends and meet new ones. “This is the least stressful environment we get to hang out in,” she says. About 100 Hollywood women are invited to partake in the ambrosial event each year; celebrities like J.Lo, Cher, Selena Gomez, and Kerry Washington have attended.

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Amy Graves

At the Day of Indulgence, there is no unmet need or overlooked detail. When you arrive at Klein’s home, you’ll find a yellow-umbrellaed valet stand. When you step out of your car, you’ll be offered peach jasmine iced tea or iced coffee. From the outside, the setting is ordinary, a single-level, cement-colored home set off one of L.A.’s main streets. But when you walk through the entryway next to her garage, the scene that unfolds is positively Olympian. There’s a pool with a trickling waterfall surrounded by marigolds. There are women wearing flower crowns massaging other women who lay supine on blue velvet benches. There are rainbow-colored macaroons on glass cake stands. There are attractive people holding pink drinks with thin cucumber slices floating in them.

Indeed, in this part of the city, where everyone glows with good health, everyone’s hair cascades in loose waves, and everyone wears white eyelet sundresses, it can be hard to tell the starlets from the service. I silently mistake one massage therapist for Leslie Mann, who is in attendance, at least four separate times.

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This year, Riverdale’s Lili Reinhart, Camila Mendes, and Madelaine Petsch arrive first — at 12 p.m., the minute the party is called for. After doing a lap of the backyard and introducing themselves to partygoers trickling in, Reinhart and Petsch squish onto an overstuffed couch, enveloped by a dozen or so shopping bags from the high-end swag booths that fill the backyard. (Mendes is getting a shoulder massage across the living room.) While they have the easy rapport of sisters now, they didn’t connect immediately when they met on set in Toronto. “It took a little while,” Reinhart says. “I usually feel a bit like an outsider, just because I don’t like to go out. And then I slowly realized Madelaine doesn’t like to go out either. So I was like, ‘OK, I’m not alone.’” “Hermits forever!” Petsch adds, grinning. Soon, they have to jet; the Teen Choice Awards are that afternoon, hence their prompt arrival. But despite their tight schedules, the Day of Indulgence is considered an unmissable event, and it was their first year being invited. (By the time I get home a few hours later, both have already picked up awards; photos of Reinhart in pink sequins and Petsch in a lacy crop top are splashed across Us Magazine’s homepage.)

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Many of the women at the party are tightly bonded, whether because they’ve worked together, have mutual friends, or have run into each other repeatedly at awards shows and industry events. “We’ve all lived in this town a long time,” Christina Hendricks tells me, gesturing around the room. “We used to sit in hallways and audition together 10 years ago.” She and Retta, who is getting a four-handed shoulder and arm massage, are two of the three stars on NBC’s Good Girls. (The other is Mae Whitman.)

While Whitman and Hendricks initially bonded over food­­ — “I hate cilantro; they love cilantro. They like coconut La Croix; I do not,” Retta says — Retta and Hendricks share a love of shopping. “We do like the finer things, like The Real Real,” Retta says, as Hendricks sits down on the plush ottoman at Retta’s feet. “Oh yeah, we got a problem,” Hendricks adds, laughing. “And we have similar style. Anytime we show up for an event, I’m like, ‘Oh, where did you get that?’ And then I’ll come in a dress and she’ll be like, ‘I wore that dress last week.’” Hendricks says they talk every day.

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Their conversation is interrupted by Crazy Ex-Girlfriend star Rachel Bloom grabbing Hendricks to tell her they have a mutual friend. “I’m a big fan,” Bloom says theatrically. Anna Faris leans over Retta. “Hiiiii, how are you? You good?” she cooes. “You look like you’re good! I’m gonna go get some stuff.” (There is lots of stuff to be gotten, from face masks to jewelry to jeans.) Busy Phillips swings by the couch too; Phillips and Retta are IRL friends now, but they first met on Instagram when they started sending messages back and forth about each others’ Stories. “I’ve met so many friends online, back from the days of Myspace,” Phillips says. “I’m just open to meeting friends in whatever way.”

They aren’t the only two who are Insta-bonded. By the salad bar, Janney and Debra Messing are swapping recommendations for jewelry designers they discovered through the platform. “I literally cannot follow enough jewelry stuff,” Janney says, ogling Messing’s stacked rings while Messing touches her link necklace. Both also now follow medical medium Anthony William, who insists on starting the day with a glass of celery juice on an empty stomach. “Don’t mix it with anything,” Messing urges me. “No lemon, nothing,” Janney adds for emphasis. The two have been friends for nearly 20 years. “We met on the red carpet,” Janney says. After repeatedly bumping into each other, they eventually sat at the same table at a charity dinner. “Then, after a while, it was just like, I love her,” Messing says.

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“But I don’t get to see any of these women,” Janney says. “Ever. We’re separated all the time,” Messing says, finishing her sentence. They’ll ring in Messing’s 50th birthday together this weekend, though, and they’re eschewing the celery juice. “All bets are off!” Messing says.

“This is a chance for me to see my absolute busiest friends,” Bell tells me later by the Quay Australia sunglasses booth in the backyard, where she’s trying on a pair of what she calls “white, sick summer shades.”Nearly every woman at the party mentions this reality of their industry: They rarely get to hang because they’re shooting in different states or they’re promoting their projects nonstop.

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“We usually come with our Scandal sisters, but a couple of them are back east working,” actress Bellamy Young says. “Even though Scandal’s done now, we still get together once a month for lunch or dinner.” Both Young and her co-star Darby Stanchfield credit Kerry Washington for creating the tight bond between the women on the show.

“Kerry never thought of herself as number one. She thought of herself as the quarterback on a team,” Stanchfieldsays. “Within that team, the lady love was a special kind of echelon. And we’ve been good stewards of that. I just saw Katie [Lowes] in her show [Waitress, her Broadway debut]. We’ve gone everywhere to support everybody’s everything. It’s a lifelong commitment.”

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This party isn’t just for actresses, though. It’s also for the women who run Hollywood behind the scenes. “There are some badass agents and managers here,” Chrissy Metz points out. “We need them. We need those women who are going to fight for us.” Since one of the unique features of the party is that invitees can’t bring guests, every agent or manager who’s in the room is a legend in their own right. Brittany Snow looks around expectantly; “Mere! Mere! Mere!” she shouts when a brunette woman arrives. I asked how they became friends. “We’re not friends,” Meredith Wechter says, deadpan. “I hate her,” Snow says, laughing. “She’s been my agent since I was 13 years old. She’s my family, actually. I’m never escaping her.”

Gabrielle Union is chatting with her production partner Holly Shakoor Fleischer, whom she’s worked with for more than 15 years. “Our friendship is kind of the essence of this party. The foundation was work, but it became something deeper and cooler,” Union says. Union is also close with Klein, whom she met on the set of Bad Boys II in 2003. “There weren’t a ton of women on that action movie, either in front of or behind the cameras, so we found ourselves looking around at each other like, ‘Yes,’” she says. “We kept in touch and realized we had way more in common than blowing up half of Miami.” Klein, she says, is a connector: “She brings dope women together and magic comes out of it.”

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The real magic is when the sparks at this party lead to collaboration down the road. “I don’t want to be the only person at the table. I want to drag a bunch of chairs and lawn chairs and give people directions to the house that the table’s even at,” Union says. “You see much more of that and openness to collaboration than ever before, which is awesome.”

While the Day of Indulgence has long been a lighthearted event, the gathering is imbued with a different sort of meaning in what’s been a watershed year for Hollywood women, who spearheaded the Time’s Up movement to combat the epidemic of sexual violence and harassment. They have made public pushes to equalize pay for actors and actresses and bring more women to the fore of film production as directors, producers, and screenwriters — and in the process, their community has grown closer. “I grew up working with a lot of really great women directors. One of my first big movies was John Tucker Must Die and Betty Thomas was the director. She is such a fierce, strong woman,” Brittany Snow says. “I really looked up to her, but I didn’t even know that that wasn’t necessarily the norm. I was lucky in that sense; I thought women directors were around all the time. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized they were definitely in the minority.”

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Many of the attendees are actively agitating for change, whether it be by founding production companies and working with other women, by initiating joint salary negotiations, by collaborating with seasoned activists to create change across industries, ir by raising feminist children. “The hope is that eventually there will be lots of great roles for women, lots of women will be friends, lots of women will be supporting each other, everyone is being respected in the workplace, and it won’t have to be a thing that’s talked about anymore,” Jennifer Love Hewitt says. “We’ll all be able to sit somewhere with a glass of rosé and say, ‘God, remember that incredibly intense, weird time when we all had to get it together.’ I don’t know that that’ll ever happen, but I hope it does.”

In the meantime, these women provide each other with resources and advice — and this event is one of a few opportunities for them to get facetime with each other in a casual setting. “Sometimes I open up conversations with, ‘I’d love to get into producing. You’ve produced before, what’s that like?’” says Janney. “I always get a little nervous coming here, but it’s really just a group of lovely women.”

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For Klein, relationships are the point; “Though it’s a lot of work, I like to bring people together. I’m a believer. I’m positive. And I love celebrating women,” she says. I ask when she starts planning for the next year’s party. “The very next day.” So it’s a 364-day planning process? “Yes, like the Oscars.” As the saying goes, it takes a lot of effort to give the appearance of ease.

Perhaps the most surprising part of being the sole non-Hollywood person at a party like this is seeing the attendees get starstruck by or nervous around one another. “I finally got to meet Lea Michele. I was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that she even knew who I was!’” Metz confesses to me. Yara Shahidi, the 18-year-old star of Blackish, is here with her mom. “There is a couch of fabulousness here!” Shahidi says, gesturing to Laverne Cox, actress Regina King, and the agent they share, Lorrie Bartlett, who are deep in conversation. (Later, Bartlett tells me she and Cox had been giving King dating counsel. The thrust of it? Stay open, keep putting yourself out there, and wait for the person who makes it all feel easy.)

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King wanders out to the backyard, and Coxgets nostalgic. “Regina was so sweet to me the first time I met her and she gave me great advice. I was brand new, kind of starstruck, and wide-eyed,” she says. While Bartlett represents both of them, King and Cox hadn’t seen each other in three years. “And even though Lorrie’s my agent, she and I really don’t get to hang like this,” Cox says.

While they come for the camaraderie, the swag is next-level absurd. The entire house and back and front yard evoke that scene in The Little Princess where the girls wake up enveloped by sunflowers and steaming sausages and silk robes. By the pool, a flurry of therapists give foot and head massages and use Shiffa jade rollers to press Skyn Iceland product into attendees’ faces. MiniLuxe offers manicures and pedicures; everyone is going for neutrals this year.

In the backyard, a circle of vendors is spread out on the grass under ivory umbrellas. It’s an L.A. August day, a.k.a. one billion degrees and sunny, but there are pewter tubs full of TAJA coconut water sprinkled about, plus Anthropologie Wellness is gifting glass water bottles with gems in the bottom. The rose and clear quartz is said to bring love and clarity, the amethyst to bring wisdom. Rebel Wilson grabs the rose one, saying playfully, “I have enough wisdom.”

At the Kendra Scott booth, Reinhart and Petsch pick up geode-inspired double rings, while Mendes selects gold disk earrings. Michele flips for Splendid’s super-soft sweatsuits. Giorgio Armani Beauty is doing foundation matching, but Messing doesn’t need hers done; she was at the 2001 launch party in Beverly Hills. “When Debra walked in, she already knew her three shades,” Armani’s national makeup artist Tim Quinn says. “So we were just like, ‘Load her up!’” Wilsonand Metz choose Atelier Cologne’s Clémentine California fragrance, offered in colorful monogrammed leather cases. Wilson, who has a double middle name (“Melanie after some singer from the ‘70s and Elizabeth after the queen”) keeps it simple, engraving hers RW. Songwriter Diane Warren walks up to Wilson and introduces herself saying, “I like your name. I’m a rebel too. Fuck ‘em.”

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If you’re food and bev-focused, there are plenty of tea sandwiches, sweets, and drinks to sate you. “I’m most excited about the alcohol,” Kayley Cuoco jokes, holding up a pink Don Julio cocktail, while actress MJ Rodriguez sips a tiny bottle of Le Grand Courtage champagne through a mini gold straw. In the open living room that connects the front yard spa area to the backyard shopping area, you can’t swing a stick without hitting a bowl of TCHO Chocolate or a tray of Sprinkles layer cakes.

On her way out, each attendee rolled off with a huge Samsonite suitcase stuffed with RITUALS bath foam, a FOREO mask applicator, Sam Edelman shoes, a Philips wake-up light, Sunday Riley skincare, Glossier makeup, a gift certificate to the Four Seasons Resort O’ahu, and far more. LeSportsac, which gifted weekender bags, went so far as to hand-match the patterns to the attendees.

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Inside the party, Cox, who’d had a Kate Somerville oxygen treatment by the pool earlier, models her new finds for Bartlett, as guests begin to file out around 4 p.m. “I was so bored with my sunglasses,” she says, a grin spreading across her face as she unpacks her new Quay Australias. She puts on a show of her new options, giving her review:

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Purple John Lennon-esque lenses: “I mean—.“

Black cat eye: [Audible gasp] “They’re fabulous.”

Opaque blue frames: “Insane.”

Black microframes: “Very superhero. I’m just putting that in the universe.”

In the midst of her haul show, another party guest asks if she can join them on the couch. “Girl, there’s room for all of us,” Cox says, patting the empty space next to her.

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