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Neiman Marcus scales back excesses, sort of

Luxury retailer Neiman Marcus unveiled its Christmas Book last week with a nod to even affluent shoppers who are tightening their Gucci belts in the Great Recession.
/ Source: The Associated Press

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

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

"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.