published Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Catalog for wealthy denies global woes

Still searching for a last-minute Christmas gift for that someone special who has everything? Then you are in luck, for once again Neiman Marcus has come to the rescue with its annual Christmas Book Fantasy Gift catalog.

No Black Friday specials or Doorbusters here; these limited edition trinkets are unapologetically extravagant. Like a custom $395,000 Neiman Marcus edition Ferrari FF. Only 10 of these 651-HP V12 beauties are available, and the price excludes tax, title and moving violations. Sorry, limit one per customer.

Perusing the ultimate wish-list for the idle rich, one might be excused for wondering "what recession?"

For the avid reader in the family, how about an Assouline custom-designed library? For $125,000, the publisher of fine books will design and furnish your personal athenaeum with carpeting, framed prints, accouterments and a selection of 250 volumes of your choice. At $500 per book, it's no

wonder Borders went belly up.

If your true love is a boating enthusiast, consider the Hacker-Craft hand-built mahogany speedboat. The sticker price of $250,000 includes a 425-horsepower Mercury engine, monogrammed humidor, premium sound system, and custom-embroidered button-down shirts for you and your crew. Trolling motor sold separately.

Founded in Dallas in 1907 by Herbert Marcus, his sister Carrie Marcus Neiman, and her husband Al Neiman, the iconic merchant has traditionally catered to the well-heeled by offering exceptional quality merchandise at decidedly non-discounted prices.

In response to journalists' inquiries about unusual Christmas gifts, Marcus'' sons Stanley and Edward inaugurated the Fantasy Gift collection in 1959. Ever alert to a great marketing gimmick, the brothers offered a Black Angus steer, on the hoof or trimmed out, accompanied by a silver-plated outdoor grill.

The year 1960 marked the introduction of the venerable "His and Hers" collection, featuring twin Beechcraft airplanes. The list became so much anticipated that Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite began calling Stanley Marcus each year to get the scoop on the most unusual and ostentatious items.

Over the years, Neiman Marcus has featured a host of indulgences including His and Hers hot air balloons, Chinese junks and mummy cases (mummies included).

Still on the lookout for a stocking stuffer?

This year's wish book includes a few more affordable trifles like a day trip to an organic farm ($9,500, or a luxury weekend for $20,000).

Or for the chichi man-cave, check out the $45,000 Tom Burr ping-pong table (in stylish black rubber) which doubles as a "contemporary work of art."

The most expensive item in this year's collection should appeal to any homeowner considering a little sprucing up around the patio: a $1 million bespoke dancing water fountain from WET, the designer of the water works at the Bellagio hotel and the world's largest robotic fountain in Dubai.

On second thought, perhaps the recession has taken a toll. The most expensive gift ever offered was an unfinished Boeing business jet for $35 million. Guess we're all cutting back a bit this year.

Merry Christmas and best wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year.

Get answers to financial questions on Wednesdays from our columnists who work in the financial services industry. Christopher A. Hopkins CFA, is a vice president at Barnett & Co. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN 37401-1447, or by emailing him at dflessner@timesfreepress.com.

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