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Wednesday, August 27, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 12/28/2008

What bling was in your brown bag?

There are some things about Christmas that I never miss, which is to say, things I'm only too glad to skip.

Eggnog, for starters. And fruitcake. Any holiday song from Alvin & The Chipmunks. All versions of "The Little Drummer Boy," but especially the one by Bing Crosby and David Bowie.

One thing I didn't even realize I'd missed this year, however, is a seasonal staple that you too probably overlooked: The Neiman Marcus Christmas book.

Yeah, see?

This annual catalog of let-them-eat-cakery is as much a fixture of the high-end retail world as it is the journalism world.

All the "golleeee!" newspaper stories begin in the fall, when the book is typically released, and for a while the papers are full of green-eyed accounts of how, yes, the nouveau riche really are different from you and me.

Wretched-Excess Sample from the current catalog: $10 million for a stable of thoroughbred horses. This year, the horses and all manner of other frou-frou gifts came out in a 155-page catalog that was released Oct. 7.

That was the same day we learned in congressional hearings that AIG executives spent some $450,000 of taxpayer bailout money at a spa-slash-resort (an event that turned out not to be a Needless Markup catalog item, although descriptions of the soiree did sound like something from an ad copywriter's desk).

"I think we all need a break," Ginger Reeder, a Neiman vice president, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press at the catalog's release party. "These gifts are not meant to be anything more than something to make you smile, make you go, 'Oh my gosh, who would have thought about that?'•"

In the spirit of Christmas, let's just say that we understand Ms. Reeder's remarks by remembering that she has a job to do (assuming she still has that job, which is more than so many Americans have been able to say since mid-October).

In September, when Neiman's reported a quarterly loss of more than $35 million, the AP reported the retailer's CEO noting that its typical customers were heavily invested in the markets.

By the end of the holiday shopping season, what was the big retail story?

It was not about how, say, buying a spot in the Harlem Globe Trotters lineup (Neiman Christmas book page 77) could be a gift "to make you smile."

No, it was about shopping bags.

More specifically, it was about how patrons of big-name, big-bucks shops have been asking retailers to please, for the love of God, stash their pashminas in plain, unmarked bags.

The Daily Beast Web site reported shopper Kathleen Fuld asking a clerk at Hermes to put her cashmere throws (three of them at $2,225 each) into a nondescript bag.

Yes, "Fuld" does ring a bell, as it should; we're talking about the wife of Richard Fuld, the former Lehman Brothers CEO, and she is hardly alone in her desire for inconspicuous consumption.

"Big spenders are brown-bagging their bling," the New York Daily news reported.

At a time when financial-sector execs refuse to tell taxpayers how they've so far spent millions of our money, guess it's nice to see "big spenders" join the rest of us in brown bagging something, anyway.



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