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Neiman’s Xmas Fantasy Catalogue Touts Realistic Options

Neiman Marcus still believes in fantasy for Christmas, but the luxury retailer is also widening its price range.

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DALLAS — Neiman Marcus still believes in fantasy for Christmas, but the luxury retailer is also widening its price range.

This story first appeared in the October 7, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Neiman’s launched its 83rd annual Christmas Book Tuesday with a pointed notation that 40 percent of the 400 items cost less than $250. Even the fantasy gifts, which include a $250,000, two-seater plane, are less expensive than last year.

“We have more options in terms of pricing,” Burt Tansky, president and chief executive officer of Neiman Marcus Group, said during the catalogue launch at the Dallas Contemporary art exhibition space. Asked about prospects for holiday after 12 months of same-store sales declines, Tansky said, “We’re taking a wait-and-see attitude. We just finished September, and it’s too early to comment.”

The 160-page catalogue features fashion, accessories and jewelry by Donna Karan, Alexander McQueen, Valentino, Gucci and Michael Kors, among others, as well as contemporary and bridge labels.

Lower-priced gifts include a $35 portable iPod speaker, $120 electric corkscrew and $150 enamel bookmarks by Jay Strongwater.

“The trend of this book is more about people sending gifts,” said Ginger Reeder, vice president of Neiman Marcus Group and chief wrangler of the fantasy gifts. “People are not buying necessarily for themselves.”

As for whimsy, the lead “His & Hers” gift is an Icon A5 sport aircraft, an amphibious plane designed for recreational flying and packaged with pilot training and its own trailer. A prototype was filmed for “Iron Man 2,” set for release in May, but the plane won’t be available until 2011.

“There has been a great deal of speculation as to whether Neiman Marcus would offer fantasy gifts in the Christmas Book this year,” said Gerald Barnes, president and chief executive officer of NM Direct. “Our belief is that even in financially challenging times there is a place for fantasy, especially during the holiday season.”

Other attention-getters include a $200,000 dinner for two at Manhattan’s famed Algonquin Hotel with eight prominent authors, including Malcolm Gladwell, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and George Stephanopoulos, to benefit First Book, which provides new books for underprivileged children, and a 470-horsepower 2010 Jaguar XJL sedan for $105,000.

Willy Wonka would be proud of the Cupcake Car, a four-foot-wide electric automobile that looks like a cupcake topped with thick frosting. The $25,000 car spins in place like a top and reaches a speed of 20 miles per hour, inventor Keith Johnson said.

Another quirky item is a piece of art made from a five-inch African Flower Beetle embedded with pocket watch gears by artist Mike Libby. Reeder said she included the $8,500 item for its “new Gothic” qualities. British artist Michelle Brand offers a chandelier made of sanded plastic bottles for $12,000.

The catalogue also presents an electric motorcycle, the Mission One, which can hit 150 mph and costs $73,000.

Two behind-the-scenes experiences are a winemaking lesson, dinner and art tour at the estate of vintners Kathryn and Craig Hall in Napa Valley, Calif., for $20,000, and a chance to make and bottle whiskey with Maker’s Mark master distiller Kevin Smith in Louisville, Ky., for $7,500.

The list is humbler than last year’s fantasy array, most of which were priced upwards of $100,000, with some in the millions. A few did sell: the $245,000 collection of every top-selling 45 RPM record from 1955 to 1990; 10 custom BMW 7 Series sedans with trips to Germany for $160,000 each, and a $25,000 10th-century Viking ring.

Reeder said the lack of $1 million-plus gifts was not intentional or a response to the recession.

“After we had our meeting [to make final selections], I realized we didn’t have a million dollar gift,” she said. “I just didn’t have anything that was that special at that price point.”

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