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Want to buy a gold-covered private jet? This catalog is for you

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The Neiman Marcus annual holiday catalog is known for its glitzy, and sometimes outrageously expensive, gifts. But this year the wish book also seeks to reflect Americans’ divided opinion on their own prospects.

Among its “fantasy gifts” are options for either the pessimists or optimists in your life, an idea that was created in 1970 by the late Stanley Marcus, son of store founder Herbert Marcus. That dichotomy reflected what Stanley Marcus saw around him in the country at the time, said Ginger Reeder, vice president of corporate communications at Neiman Marcus and the executive who selects the company’s annual lineup of fantasy presents.

“The country was in a recession, and as he related in one of his books he kept running into pessimists all over the country,” Reeder said, noting that Americans once again seem split in their outlooks. “It’s just the way things are going now. Everyone seems very tense about this, so I thought, what better year to do a gift like this.”

Back in 1970, Neiman Marcus offered a $588,000 version of Noah’s Ark for the pessimists, including pairs of animals, a chef, a masseuse, a hair stylist and a Park Avenue physician. And for the optimists? An oak sapling for $10. That year, the optimist gift attracted thousands of customers, while no one bought the ark.

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The priciest gift available in Neiman Marcus’s holiday catalog this year is a gold-covered jet that retails for $1.5 million.  Neiman Marcus

This year, the retailer has already sold a couple hundred of its optimist gifts, a $25 bracelet that supports the Akola Project, a nonprofit organization that helps marginalized women. The pessimist gift, which has yet to score a buyer, is a mattress with a built-in lock box that retails for $25,000. Its billed as being for people who believe “the end is always near.”

Cultural critics may also point out that the fantasy gift list reflects the financial health of the country’s richest consumers. The past few years have been extremely rewarding to America’s top 1 percent of earners, whose income reached a new high last year, according to the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. The share of income going to the top 1 percent, who make about $1.4 million annually, rose to 22 percent, from 21.4 percent in 2014.

At 300 pages, the Neiman Marcus catalog has about 100 more pages than last year. Its most expensive item, a rose-gold private jet, is retailing for $1.5 million. Last year, its priciest gift was a $400,000 trip to India, which Reeder said didn’t sell.

Reeder explained that she picks gifts based on whether they offer something “exclusive and very unique” to their customers. About half the items sell, although she said she’s given up predicting which ones will strike a chord with customers.

7 holiday gifts when money is no object
7 holiday gifts when money is no object

“The things that I don’t think will sell actually end up selling, and vice versa,” Reeder noted.

The fantasy gift list includes a few other unusual items, including a $30,000 theater package that includes a walk-on role in the Broadway show “Waitress,” and a $100,000 collection of first edition Caldecott Medal-winning children’s books, such as 1942’s “Make Way for Ducklings” and 1964’s “Where the Wild Things Are.”

Americans without an extra several thousand to splurge on holiday gifts can also find options, although the catalog veers toward the high-end even when it’s reaching for more affordable products. Gift ideas include the $90 smart jump rope, a chrome-handled jump rope that displays your jump count, and the Flyte Light, a $350 light bulb that levitates thanks to magnets.

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