An embarrassment of riches |

An embarrassment of riches

Meredith C. Carroll
Aspen, CO Colorado

Neiman Marcus unveiled its 81st annual Christmas Book this week. Items in the Dallas-based luxury retailer’s holiday catalog include a Gem Triton 1000 Two-Person Submarine ($1.44 million), a rocket-team franchise (pilot included) for the world’s first aerospace racing league ($2 million) and a Swami Conversational Artificial Intelligence Robot ($75,000). Also this week ” for the first time ever ” Neiman Marcus released a few behind-the-scenes details about what it took to wrangle some of the items included in the famed catalog.

For $110,000, Brazilian artist Vik Muniz (known for his creations in such mediums as caviar, diamonds and dirt) will create a 5-foot tall, 4-foot wide portrait painted with Bosco Chocolate Syrup.

High-end cocoa companies Ghirardelli, Teuscher and Fauchon all vied for the enviable position of having its wares swirled around on canvas in the shape of a pair of the country’s wealthiest 1 percent. However, Muniz, who has recreated Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” twice (once with peanut butter, another time with jelly), felt that the brands were too haute monde for his palate.

At one time, Hershey’s Syrup was a contender, but after sampling the goods, Muniz decided that there was neither a smile in every bite nor was it really the great American chocolate bar (although he conceded it was still “pretty damn good”).

Nestle’s Nesquik was also a finalist, but at the last minute Muniz and Quicky, the Nesquik Bunny, were said to have encountered “creative differences.” A Neiman Marcus spokeswoman declined comment when asked if the incident with Muniz is the reason why Quicky was reportedly seen bar hopping in Las Vegas last weekend with ripped whiskers, a rumpled ear and torn cottontail.

With 7.2 carats of pink and white diamonds decorating the outside and precision-engineered innards, the cell phone being offered for $73,000 works in more than 150 countries and comes with 24-hour global concierge service. Only 100 people worldwide can claim ownership of this mobile phone accompanied with a pink leather case.

The Neiman Marcus staff struggled about whether to include the phone in the Christmas Book, thereby joining an already crowded cell market dominated by Apple’s iPhone and Verizon’s new LG Voyager. Among the drawbacks of the Vertu: Only ringtones by “American Idol” runners-up are available for download. No family-share plan currently is being offered. All rollover minutes have a one-year expiration date. And the instances of dropped calls among existing Vertu Signature Phone users is said to be the highest in the Hamptons, St. Moritz and Palm Beach.

The Kirov Orchestra and pianist Lola Astanova, led by Russian maestro Valery Gergiev, will perform Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite” at a private holiday recital for 500 guests hosted by Regis Philbin. Included in the $1.59 million price tag is the Steinway Concert Grand piano used in the performance, which will be autographed by all the artists after the show.

Neiman Marcus settled on Philbin as the emcee when the search for a greater superstar came up empty a few days before the print deadline for the catalog. The hope had been to have a true fantasy figure ” baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams ” host the event.

Unfortunately, negotiations with Williams’ children stalled when two of his children demanded Neiman Marcus pay the $111,000 balance for Williams’ body (which has been stored since his death in 2002 by Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, Ariz.). Another Williams child wanted to hold out for a reality show of their father’s thawing on one of the major television networks. Regardless, it became increasingly clear to all parties that there probably haven’t been enough scientific advances to restore Williams to life after seven years of being cryonically frozen.

A camping tent designed to hang from branches by Dutch sculptor Dre Wapenaar is among the Christmas Book offerings. The 13-foot tall structure has a 9-foot diameter hardwood floor, round mattress and adjustable planetary landing steps.

Catalog producers wondered at first if Neiman Marcus clientele were the type to want to commune with nature anywhere other than a Four Seasons hotel. But after several all-night brainstorming sessions, they figured by creatively pricing the tent designed to sleep two people at $50,000, one of their Chairman-level InCircle card holders would just have to have it.

Starting at $35,000, it’s one of the least expensive selections in this year’s holiday catalog. Sculpted by horticulture visionary Matthew Larkin, the grassy beast composed of 15 indigenous plants includes gold-leafed horns, claws, teeth and fins as well as blown-glass eyes and a custom-welded steel frame.

While preparing to mail out the Christmas Book to 2 million people, the eco-conscious staff at Neiman Marcus decided against including with the dragon a watering can and the maintenance services of a gardener. Because that would have been excessive.