How Neiman Marcus Creates Its OTT Fantasy Gift Guide

For over 50 years Neiman Marcus has released a carefully curated collection of fantasy gifts each holiday season, selling everything from custom-made motorcycles to a high-altitude balloon ride that lifts a luxury pressurized capsule 100,000 feet above planet Earth. While 2017’s assortment includes some lower priced items ($50 ornaments!) the dream gifts that make you think, “WOW” are the big ticket items like a New Years Eve package that rings up for $1.6 million or an Armand De Brignac-led trip to Champagne to create your own blend for $150,000. Looking at the list, I wondered who has the privilege of putting it together. For many years the honor belonged to one lucky woman, but that recently since changed. A committee, now led by Mimi Sterling, Neiman’s VP of Corporate Communications, Special Events, and PR, work together year-round to brainstorm and take on this huge undertaking. Intrigued, I touched base with Sterling to learn more how about how this magic is made.

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Let’s start from the beginning. Tell me a little bit about the process.

It’s a really fun process. I actually had a call this morning from somebody who was pitching me something for next year. The most recent person who oversaw Fantasy Gifts retired a few months ago so we’ve taken the opportunity to really change things up. Now on the team we have representatives from marketing, representatives from creative. We’ve had a committee since I started, which was three years ago, but it used to be just one person’s job. I think there’s only been five people in the 59 years of Fantasy Gift that have overseen the process, so I’m technically the sixth person, which is pretty cool. What we have found that’s wonderful committee-wise is one person may be an expert in wine, one person may be more of an expert in cars; people are bringing different levels of expertise and opinions, so we have some really, rich conversations about what makes these gifts absolutely fantasies and a lot of stuff remains on the cutting room floor.

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So what is it about these things that make them fantasy-list worthy?

It has to be something that you couldn’t go buy somewhere else right now without Neiman Marcus helping you. It makes the vetting process very challenging so we have to create these experiences that are primarily access. During the application process the committee vets each one and we discuss: Do you like it? How would we make it more Neiman Marcus? What would we add? What would we take away? How can we enhance it? For example, we had the idea of the Olympia Le-Tan handbags–such a cult item of this year–and we said well, we need a really cool box that they come in. If you’re going to get a year’s worth of Olympia Le-Tan handbags, you need to have a display case so that when you go into your massive, beautiful walk-in closet, your handbags are displayed in this just impeccable, handmade box. These are the kinds of refinements that we do that make it very Neiman Marcus.

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How many units of each gift are created?

It depends on the gift. In most cases, the experiences are just one. With Gray Malin, it’s just one; with the Stephen Webster emerald experience, it’s just one and we already have that emerald and the emerald was at the launch and the emerald will be at the Today show.

Has anything sold yet?

We’ve sold two Madame Alexander gifts and hundreds of the Paper for Water $50 ornaments. We have two other gifts pending sales and interest in every gift so far. The girls behind Paper for Water are 11 and 14 and they are an inspiration to young girls everywhere. They have made over a million dollars for clean water projects based on their Paper for Water work. Every single penny of the Paper for Water donations goes to Paper for Water, so Neiman Marcus doesn’t make any money on either the $50,000 gift or the $50 gift. Every gift has a philanthropic donation part to it.

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Who is the fantasy gift customer?

The Fantasy Gift customer, especially when we have something for $50, can really range. This year, the customer that we’re looking at is someone who likes a unique gift that is like no other that they know and trust that only Neiman Marcus can curate for them. They’re looking for that holiday spirit, that kind of wit and whimsy that the holiday spirit brings that Neiman Marcus can bring to them.

Do you have any celebrities who like to buy gifts?

I can’t speak to a specific but I would say yes we have sold to celebrities in the past.

Any funny anecdotes from past years?

One thing that’s fun for us every year is to think about what sells and what doesn’t and to reflect back on some of those initial conversations. One year there was a sleepover in the store– the downtown Neiman Marcus Dallas location–and it was $120,000 and I kept saying I don’t know about this, I’m not sure and it sold. Originally it was a sleepover for 12 and in the end it was a group of six ladies from Florida and they were wonderful. We had Ken Downing our fashion director host dinner, we had our chef cook for them in the store, we set up a beautiful dining table in our home department, they had makeovers, they shopped in the fine jewel area, they had manicures, they had champagne–it was just so much fun.

I want to be locked into Neiman’s and spend the night there, too!

Yeah. It was one of those thing where I was like, “I don’t know about this guys” and everybody was like, “Yes, it’s amazing. We have to do it.”

That’s so fun. What do think is going to be the highlight of this group of gifts?

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I definitely think that Paper for Water, being at a wonderful open price point is going to be a very, very hot seller. Olympia Le-Tan is such a fabulous handbag designer, I think that one is gonna be super in high demand. We always say not to make predictions but I would like to think one lucky person out there will actually buy the New Year’s Eve experience so we’ll see. Only time will tell.

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