By  on October 4, 2006

DALLAS — A mere $3.8 million will buy a lifetime membership at Massimo Ferragamo's private Tuscan resort of 16th- and 17th-century villas. If you're more intrepid, almost $1.8 million will buy a short flight in space.

The holiday selling season is fast approaching, and that means Neiman Marcus is previewing its Christmas Book.

This year's compilation of gifts for those who have just about everything features the complete archives of couturier Jacques Fath for $3.5 million, including 3,488 illustrations in 26 volumes, and three original dresses.

Stanley Marcus launched the Christmas Book in 1959. The extravagant trinkets, trips and doodads turned out to be a shrewd marketing tool and the Dallas-based retailer has expanded the strategy, offering everything from pet camels to hot-air balloons. Neiman's estimated the advertising value at $9 million to $15 million.

The fantasy gifts get the attention, but that's not what drives the volume of the 152-page book, which also is filled with fashion, jewelry and accessories from leading designers and even some relatively inexpensive items, such as $40 tins of gourmet popcorn.

That's not to say the fantasy gifts don't find buyers. Last year, Neiman's sold five photo booths and all 75 Lexus hybrid performance sedans.

Among the gift ideas that are part of the formula are a fantastic piece of jewelry (diamond cuffs costing as much as $128,000), a limited-edition car (50 BMW M6 convertibles, $139,000 each), something for the kids (a backyard water park, starting at $100,000), a strange vehicle (a motorized recumbent bike for two, $40,000), a testosterone-charged vehicle (the GG Quad high-powered four wheeler, $56,465), a work of art (a pencil sculpture of a skyscraper, $40,000) plus an exclusive trip and something sporty. And one charity tie-in.

Ferragamo's Club at Castiglion del Bosco is to open next September for 120 members with a golf course, equestrian center and acres of vineyards.

For those enamored of traveling to the cosmos, there's Virgin Galactic's space flight, which isn't actually available until 2009. That's because the craft is still under construction by Scaled Composites LLC in Mojave, Calif. Virgin Galactic, owned by billionaire Richard Branson, has commissioned five of SpaceShipTwo and already is selling tickets for the two-and-a-half hour jaunts and their 15 to 20 minutes free of gravity. The Neiman's trip is the only charter, however, and is followed by four days cavorting with Branson at his private Caribbean island.For sports fans, there's a travel package with tickets to six pro sports championships and all-star games as well as individual dinners with six famed athletes: Troy Aikman, Chris Evert, Bob Gibson, Wayne Gretzky, Magic Johnson and Arnold Palmer. There's no price on this yet; it will be sold at a 10-day auction beginning Nov. 7 with all proceeds benefiting the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation that combats domestic violence.

Breaking the mold is the limited-edition $5,000 pet home. Two flawlessly behaved West Highland Terriers demonstrated use of the home at the Christmas Book launch here at Gilley's western dance hall.

"It's been a good selling season so far, so we're optimistic the trends will continue," said Brendan Hoffman, president and chief executive officer of NM Direct.

He pointed out that Neiman's online business eclipsed the volume of print catalogue business this year, when almost two-thirds of NM Direct sales were done via the Web site.

Neiman's is working to raise its "conversion rate" of browsers to buyers by tailoring the home page to shoppers' patterns and displaying what an individual is more likely to buy. A men's shoe shopper, for instance, would see a Prada men's shoe on the home page, not a Prada handbag.

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