Extravagant gifts in Neiman's holiday catalog

DALLAS, TX The luxury retailer unveiled its Christmas Book on Tuesday and made surprisingly few concessions to the financial crisis running from Wall Street to Main Street.

You can be the first on your block to own a limited-edition BMW sedan, a backyard golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus or a collection of every top 100 record from 1955 to 1990.

"I think we all need a break," said Ginger Reeder, a Neiman vice president. "These gifts are not meant to be anything more than something to make you smile, make you go 'Oh my gosh, who would have thought about that?"'

Reeder said Neiman's wealthy customers aren't much affected by the economy, but that so-called aspirational shoppers -- more middle-income yet yearning for touches of luxury -- may shop less often and buy fewer items.

That contrasts with what Saks Inc. has been saying. The operator of Saks Fifth Avenue said in August that its high-end customers -- not just the aspirational shoppers -- were pulling back, and it gave a gloomy forecast for the second half of the year.

Analysts have warned that the stock market decline has damaged the confidence of luxury shoppers and that job losses and smaller Wall Street bonuses could also hurt.

Neiman plans the holiday book more than a year in advance. Reeder said the only change this year is that Neiman also will send out a smaller catalog featuring gifts under $300. The privately held chain doesn't discuss sales from the Christmas Book, first published in 1926.

The company heads into the holiday season on a Grinch-like note. Neiman Marcus Group Inc. reported last month that it lost $35.6 million in the quarter ended Aug. 2. Costs rose and sales at stores open at least a year, a key retailing statistic, fell 1.4 percent.

Chairman and Chief Executive Burt Tansky said at the time -- and this was before the worst of the turmoil in financial markets and the $700 billion federal bailout -- that Neiman's customers were heavily invested in the markets.

"We are anticipating the months ahead will be difficult," Tansky said then.

On Tuesday, company employees worked earnestly to create a more upbeat setting. They noted that the Dallas-based chain has survived other downturns, most recently in 2001, when it canceled the book party -- but not the book itself -- after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

This year's 155-page catalog is filled with furs, fashions, fancy handbags and jewelry from familiar upscale designers.

Tuesday's event took place at Texas Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys -- the $160,000 BMW was parked over the midfield star. Several of the gifts featured a sports theme.

For $10 million, you can buy a stable of 12 to 15 Thoroughbreds and have them stabled, trained and managed by Three Chimneys Farm in Versailles, Ky., the current home of Smarty Jones and, soon, Big Brown.

Will anyone pony up?

"We'll see," said Case Clay, the president of Three Chimneys. "Everybody has a little concern, but what better time to have a little levity and fantasy?"

If the horsey life is too rich, $1 million will get you three golf holes designed by Nicklaus' team, and the Golden Bear himself will play the first round with you and autograph his club and ball.

Also on the block: The turf from one end zone at Texas Stadium for $500,000 -- the Cowboys won't need it; they're moving into a new home next season. Proceeds will go to Salvation Army.

If you're a sports fan on a budget, maybe the $110,000 Harlem Globetrotters package is for you. You'll suit up, learn five key tricks from the players, and get in a game.

Buckets Blakes, a 'Trotters guard, promised his teammates can make even the most unskilled basketball player a star for one night.

"We improvise real well," he said.

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