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The annual Neiman Marcus fantasy gifts list gives a look into what the 1 percent buys for the holidays.

Lifestyles of the rich and the famous: They involve elaborate weddings, hyped-up beauty products, and supposedly, for some, a strong and humbling dose of frugality.

We’re fascinated by how they live and what they buy. What do the wealthy even gift each other when they seemingly have access to everything they could ever want and need — or, at least, buy? We sometimes get to see via celebrities, like when Kylie Jenner received a custom $1.4 million black Ferrari with red interiors and butterfly doors as a “push present,” or when Oprah sent Mindy Kaling a full library’s worth of books in an intricately carved bookcase as a baby gift.

And during the holiday season, the luxury department store Neiman Marcus gives us a small window into this type of spending with its infamous fantasy gifts list.

Every year since 1959, Neiman Marcus has put together a curated list of truly extravagant gift ideas. The outrageous suggestions on the fantasy gifts list have included diamond bracelets for $248,000, a $15,000 edible gingerbread house, luxury linens for $55,000, a $1.5 million rose-gold airplane, and a $425,000 VIP package to the Academy Awards. The list lives in Neiman Marcus’s Christmas Book, the annual catalog it sends around ahead of the holiday season, and has earned both ire and praise for its celebration of excess.

I recently spoke to Mimi Crume Sterling, the vice president of corporate communications and PR at Neiman Marcus, whose team puts together the list, about how Neiman Marcus manages to find the most grandiose holiday gifts, how presents these days are now pivoting to include more experiences, and why it’s so much fun to talk about the spending habits of rich people.

Chavie Lieber

What is the history behind the fantasy gifts list?

Mimi Crume Sterling

Stanley Marcus, who was the son of the founders of Neiman Marcus and led the company for decades, basically wanted to surprise and delight customers, especially during the holidays. He was a brilliant marketer and into stunts. Craziness is the wrong word, but he had an insatiable curiosity.

People from around the world used to call him, asking him to find gifts for their wives or mothers, and said they were looking for things “no one has ever seen before.” He brainstormed ideas with his brother and decided to make the list as a publicity stunt. Over the years, it’s evolved into a highly anticipated holiday list.

Chavie Lieber

What have been some of the wildest gifts on the list in the past?

Mimi Crume Sterling

We’ve listed suits of armor for $20,000; we’ve had a pair of real, authentic mummies for $16,000 that we had to obtain a death certificate for. We’ve had camels, which we actually sold, as well as hot air balloons. Another year, we sold his-and-hers Jaguars, where his was a Jaguar car and hers was a jaguar [fur coat]. Eight or nine years ago, we sold a beautiful mermaid tail for $10,000 — and this was way before you could buy simple ones for kids.

FG_YACHT_Sunset_Port_CB18 What the superrich want for the holidays: mummies, jaguar fur, and rose-gold airplanesNeiman Marcus
Neiman Marcus is selling a 74-square-foot, $7.1 million solar-powered yacht.

Chavie Lieber

What are some gifts on the list this year?

Mimi Crume Sterling

We have a yacht that is 74 square feet and was designed by our fashion director. There’s a custom statue from the artist Bjørn Skaarup, who designed the hippo statue in the tutu out front of Lincoln Center in New York City. He will make a custom statue for $200,000, and the package includes a trip to Italy for two, where you will visit his workshop. We have an in-person consultation with Colleen Atwood, the Oscar-winning costume designer who just finished making the costumes for Fantastic Beasts [and Where to Find Them], who will make you an outfit. There’s also training to become a secret agent for $315,000, which is a weekend for four and includes jumping out of a helicopter, learning how to stunt-drive, and solving a “mission” in Las Vegas.

Chavie Lieber

Who finds these gifts?

Mimi Crume Sterling

It used to be run by one woman [who’s since retired], Ginger Reeder. She did a very good job, but there were a lot of people at the company who were excited about the idea and wanted to be involved, so we formed a committee. We get hundreds of submissions for the list, coming from all over the world. Brands, manufacturers, or artists all reach out to us, and then we work to bring their ideas to a fantasy level.

Chavie Lieber

So the point is to curate a magical list we drool over but which has stuff that nobody actually buys?

Mimi Crume Sterling

The goal of fantasy gifts is to get publicity; it is not to sell them. We always think if we do sell any of these, it’s sort of a bonus. But do people actually buy? Yes, they do.

Chavie Lieber

Who?

Mimi Crume Sterling

People who don’t need another suit or another handbag but still have fantasies and money to spend. Last year, we sold an all-access, first-class trip to golf’s Ryder Cup, and a golf aficionado from the Midwest bought it [for $250,000]. Someone who is an art fan would definitely pay $200,000 for the custom sculpture from Bjørn — and that’s still a fraction of the cost of the $1.4 million piece that Banksy just shredded!

Two years ago, we sold a sleepover at our downtown store in Dallas for $120,000. We didn’t think anyone would buy it, and then it was bought for a group of six ladies from Florida. They got their hair and makeup done; they wore gowns and precious jewels and slept on these beautiful beds we put together, which were monogrammed with their names. They said it was the most fun they’ve had. It was special for them.

Chavie Lieber

It sounds like a lot of the fantasy gifts that sell have experience components, which speaks to current trends of shoppers valuing experiences over stuff. Are rich people hungry for experiences too?

Mimi Crume Sterling

I think what we’ve been seeing, and this isn’t necessarily new, is that at the top of everyone’s fantasy gifts list is time. Time is the most valuable commodity. So whether it’s a trip to India or time on an amazing yacht, it’s important for people to take time to make memories that are important to them. So while we do have gifts that include sculptures [and] costumes, they also include trips, so that you can go home and have a mind full of memories.

We look back at the 1980s as a time of consumption; there was opulence and an outward flashiness with spending. I think today, a lot of our customers want to have rich experiences. And by rich, I mean memorable.

Chavie Lieber

Sure, but by rich, you also mean something no one else can afford to buy, right?

Mimi Crume Sterling

Yes, access is important too. All of these gifts provide access that a normal person off the street would not be able to to have. I think that for [the wealthy], access — and getting their hands on the inaccessible — is what they aim for.

FG_TRIP_Camel_Riding_CB18 What the superrich want for the holidays: mummies, jaguar fur, and rose-gold airplanesNeiman Marcus
A Neiman Marcus trip to India, Bhutan, and the Maldives costs $630,000.

Chavie Lieber

Why is it so much fun to ogle the gifts of the rich? Like, the prices on this list should make me mad, but I’m fascinated instead!

Mimi Crume Sterling

The curious minds always want to know how other people live, whether that’s the 1 percent or your neighbors down the street. It’s fun. I remember watching Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous when I was 7 or 8 and loving it. I thought, “Oh, my god, people really have gold bathtubs?” It’s just magical and sort of mysterious, and I think it keeps people dreaming, just knowing what’s out there.

Chavie Lieber

Has Neiman Marcus ever gotten any negative feedback about this list? I remember reading how people were upset when the fantasy gifts list was unveiled right around the time Lehman Brothers went under in 2008.

Mimi Crume Sterling

When the crash happened, we had an internal discussion about whether we should still launch fantasy gifts, and we made the decision that in a time of uncertainty, the holidays should still very much be alive. I hate to say this, but because of the crash, would you not air Christmas movies? Would you not have Santa at the mall?

We didn’t see our list as a means to pressure people into buying; we are just keeping a magic of the holidays alive. We also have a charitable component, where every gift has a charitable donation as a part of it. But, of course, we will always have our skeptics out there, and fantasy gifts is not for everyone.

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Author: Chavie Lieber


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