For Christmas this year, I want a $75,000 life-size genie bottle. O.K., technically it's a yurt a round, tentlike structure invented centuries ago by nomads in Central Asia decorated with hand-embroidered tapestries, a crystal chandelier and all sorts of accessories specifically designed to look like the inside of Barbara Eden's genie bottle from I Dream of Jeannie. Barring that, I'd also accept a $395,000 limited-edition Ferrari or a $1 million set of choreographable "dancing" fountains installed on the grounds of my estate. (That reminds me: I need an estate.)
These gifts along with many more, including a custom-built library, a mahogany speedboat and a $45,000 Ping-Pong table are available to purchase from Neiman Marcus' 2011 Christmas book. The upscale Texas-based department store has been producing the catalog since 1926, but it didn't start selling ostentatious "fantasy gifts" until the 1950s, when then president Stanley Marcus offered a Steiff plush tiger decorated with jewels for $1 million. (Adjusted for inflation, that's about $8.4 million now.) These are the gifts that even the one-percenters pine for.
I've always wondered if anyone actually buys these presents. If you're the sort of person with the means to buy a limited-edition Ferrari, are you really going to order it from a catalog? "Absolutely," says Ginger Reeder, Neiman Marcus' vice president of corporate communications and the brains behind the Christmas book. "We sell out of the cars every single year." According to Reeder, Neiman Marcus sells a few big-ticket fantasy gifts each holiday season, and not always to the type of person you might expect.
"One year we were offering a custom-made suit of armor," she says. "I had this idea that it would make a great gift for someone like Donald Trump I had this vision of his staff chipping in money and getting him his own suit of armor but actually, a couple bought it for their grown son, who traveled around the country to medieval fairs." Yes, that's right: somewhere out there, a young man is wearing a $20,000 suit of replica 15th century armor while he munches on a funnel cake.
Reeder is a wealth of interesting gift stories: she says a man once purchased a "Become a Rockette for a Day" package for his wife, who had always wanted to be a professional dancer. Another person once contacted Neiman Marcus and offered to let the company sell his collection of 18,400 records; he owned a 45-r.p.m. vinyl record of every single song that had been listed on the Billboard Hot 100 charts from 1955 to 1990. Even more surprising? For $275,000, someone actually bought it. "And of course there was the very first [matching] his-and-hers gift set we sold in 1960 a set of Beechcraft airplanes," Reeder says. "I didn't work here at the time, of course, but the way the story is told to employees, a gentleman called and wanted to know if we'd break the set." He said he didn't need both airplanes, just one, because " 'The little lady has a hankerin' for one of her own.' " Neiman Marcus agreed to it; the airplane went for $27,000 (the equivalent of $206,300 today).
What else has Neiman Marcus offered over the years? Let's take a look:
His-and-hers ancient Egyptian sarcophagi
Original price: $16,000
Perfect for: A very elderly relative.
Fun fact: The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, Calif., purchased the sarcophagi. Unexpectedly, one of them contained a mummy.
Original price: Unknown
Perfect for: An overzealous Aladdin fan, or someone organizing an upcoming Truth.com antismoking campaign
A bag of uncut diamonds
Original price: $250,000
Perfect for: An evil villain, or someone who's into really expensive craft projects
An edible gingerbread playhouse
Original price: $15,000
Perfect for: Your hungry niece.
Satellite television with 48 channels
Original price: $36,500
Perfect for: No one anymore.
Original price: $25,000
Perfect for: Katy Perry's next music video.
Thoroughbred racing horse farm with 12-15 horses
Price: $10 million
Perfect for: A very short man who owns lots of brightly colored silk outfits but has nowhere to wear them.
Fun fact: No one purchased this item, according to Reeder probably because it entails running a business and caring for animals. You know, actual work.
Original price: $10 million
Perfect for: Someone who already owns a blimp. (The two are different. Look it up.)
10,000 gallons of Aramis cologne
Original price: $5 million
Perfect for: Your smelly grandfather.
A Cracker Jack box that contains a ruby, emerald or sapphire on an 18-karat gold ring as the "prize"
Perfect for: Kate Hudson, assuming you are her fictional boyfriend in a romantic comedy and you must do something zany yet adorable to win her over.
London taxi designed by Burberry
Original price: $58,900
Perfect for: Your favorite servant.
Fun fact: A Dallas woman purchased it, only to resell it on Craigslist in 2007.
Mr. Potato Head covered in Swarovski crystals
Perfect for: I don't know who would want this. Maybe Björk.
Naturally, not everyone can give or receive a Neiman Marcus fantasy gift. Even if we had endless amounts of money, the items are either one of a kind or limited editions; there simply aren't enough of them to go around. The department store often offers distillery and vineyard tours and says they, along with the cars, almost always sell out. And let's face it: sometimes nobody's willing to buy something that expensive. (If I traveled around to medieval fairs, I don't think my parents would even buy me an armor-themed sweatshirt.) "That's why we call them fantasy gifts," says Reeder. "They're attention getters. It's fun to imagine what they'd be like, but no one really expects to get one." Neiman Marcus definitely doesn't base its business model on the sale of a camel or an airplane. "No," Reeder says, "our real bread and butter is jewelry and cashmere." Wait, people actually get jewelry and cashmere for Christmas? I need to have a serious talk with Santa.