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Neiman Marcus scales back excesses, sort of

With even super affluent shoppers tightening their Gucci belts, luxury retailer Neiman Marcus Group Inc. unveiled its Christmas Book last week with a nod to this new frugality.

Almost 50 percent of the gifts in the catalog's 83rd edition cost less than $250, including plenty of practical items, though at prices still out of reach for the average American. In past year, just 30 percent or 40 percent would be in that price range, says Ginger Reeder, a spokeswoman for Neiman Marcus Direct, which puts out the catalog.

"Tokens of affection don't have to be extravagant to be brilliantly received," the book's introduction imparts.

Items new this year include $75 plaid stockings, $235 Italian wool scarves, $100 Ugg slippers, $175 cases for iPhones and $250 Ralph Lauren rain boots.

Plenty of extravagant gifts offering escape from the tumult in the financial world remain, but Reeder called them "more whimsical" than "opulent."

The million-dollar gifts of past years are gone. The most expensive is a sports aircraft for two. For $250,000, it flies below 10,000 feet and comes with a trailer for fast loading from water or land.

"It just seemed right," said Reeder, who coordinated the gifts for the catalog. "I haven't been laying awake at night thinking the million-dollar gift got away."

There are also limited-edition $105,000 Jaguars, motorcycles for $73,000 and a $25,000

  • Slideshow Photos

    Photographer: Philip Chudy Www,p

    World’s most extravagant gifts

    Times may be tight, but Neiman Marcus still offers the most over-the-top holiday gifts money can buy in its 2009 Christmas Book.

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    2010 Jaguar XJL Supercharged Neiman Marcus Edition -

    The 2009 Neiman Marcus Christmas Book, 83rd in the company’s history, continues their long tradition of awe-inspiring luxury gifts. For example: the 2010 Jaguar XJL Supercharged Neiman Marcus Edition, which includes a supercharged V-8 that delivers 470 horsepower. Only 50 will ever exist. Price: $105,000

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    Hall artisan wine and art experience -

    You and a guest can learn organic winemaking and create your own vintage at Kathryn and Craig Hall's Rutherford Estate cave. After your custom blend has aged, it will be bottled and delivered to you. The package includes luxury accommodations and a tour of the Halls' world-class contemporary art collection. Available separately: a selection of Cabernet Sauvignons not available to the general public. Prices: $20,000 and $3,200

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    Customized Cupcake Car -

    Launched at Burning Man as a cooperative art project, the Cupcake Car reaches a top speed of 7 mph with its 24-volt electric motor. Sweet! Price: $25,000

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    ICON A5 sports aircraft and pilot training for two -

    The 2009 His & Hers gift package: the ICON A5 sports aircraft and FAA-certified pilot training for two. The amphibious craft takes off and lands on water or land, and comes with its own high-tech trailer. Price: $250,000.

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    Algonquin Round Table experience -

    Re-creating the glory days of New York City’s Algonquin Hotel, you and a guest will join Christopher Buckley, Roz Chast, Malcolm Gladwell, George Stephanopoulos and other literati there for an exclusive dinner party. Proceeds of this gift will go to First Book, which has distributed millions of new books to children in need and will dedicate 10,000 books in your name to children in the state of your choice. Price: $200,000

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    Maker's Mark master distiller experience -

    You and a guest will participate in the making of Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon. Two bottles will be etched with your likeness and dipped in gold wax. The experience also includes luxury accommodations in Louisville and a gourmet dinner. Price: $7,500

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    World's fastest electric motorcycle -

    The Mission One, the world’s fastest electric sport bike, reaches 150 mph. This exclusive edition is limited to just 10 bikes. You’ll also get one-on-one training with a pro on a test track. Price: $73,000

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    Sustainable design art chandelier -

    British artist Michelle built the Cascade Lancashire Chandelier using 366 plastic bottles she rescued from a landfill. The brilliant result: a waterfall of light that measures 5 feet long and 2 feet in diameter. Price: $12,000

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    Insect lab specimen artwork -

    Artist Mike Libby obtains preserved insect specimens from around the world and adds unique adornments. For our limited-edition series of nine, he selected the African Flower Beetle.It measures 8.5" across and is posed in mid-flight with detailed parts from antique pocket watches. Each arrives under glass on a walnut display base, adorned with a brass plaque. Price: $8,500

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"Cupcake Car" custom-made of colorful fabric, wood and sheet metal and powered by a 24-volt electric motor.

For especially "green" shoppers, there's an eco-friendly chandelier made of 366 plastic bottles rescued from the landfill. Yours for just $12,000.

The Dallas-based chain and its luxury competitors are being forced to adjust their inventory and prices as their well-heeled clients splurge less and stay focused on practical items since the financial meltdown ballooned last fall. After that precipitous drop, luxury stores' sales aren't falling as fast in recent months, though they remain weak — and worse than at U.S. apparel stores overall.

Neiman Marcus, privately held since 2005, reported last month that its fiscal fourth-quarter loss widened compared with a year earlier as revenue fell 26 percent and consumers kept a lid on their spending. For the quarter that ended Aug. 1, the retailer reported a loss of $168.5 million, compared with a loss of $35.6 million a year earlier. Revenue fell to $768.1 from $1.03 billion last year.

For the full fiscal year — as revenue fell 21 percent to $3.64 billion from $4.6 billion — the retailer lost $668 million, compared with a profit of $142.8 million a year earlier.

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