Maybe retail sales overall haven't been too hot this holiday season, but one sector is on fire: Luxury.
At Tiffany, at Burberry, at Neiman Marcus, cash registers are ringing. Harry Winston's diamond salesmen are doing a little dance. From Houston to Boston, sales of life's necessities may be flat, but minks are flying out the door.
"When we look at luxury sales on a national level," says Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates, a retail consulting and investment banking firm in New York City, "we see they're doing just fantastic. Saks and Neiman's, they're terrific. Coach is fine, Nordstrom is fine. Bulgari and Tiffany, tremendous."
Retailers catering to the middle class are hurting, however. "Best Buy is off, Sears is off. Target? Not so good. But if you're selling luxury, you're golden," he said.
Davidowitz views the contrast as proof that "our society continues to be bifurcated," with the rich doing fine and everybody else hurting. "The top 10 percent represent 35 percent of spending. A lot of that is driven by the capital markets, which have been very strong lately. The rich have a disproportionate percentage of their assets invested there. People are making a lot of money on their investments."
Tax firm Deloitte, in its annual holiday survey of U.S. households, finds that those with an income level over $100,000 feel more upbeat about the economy's prospects than do those below. They intend to spend 3 percent more this holiday than they did last year, in contrast to lower-income households, who said they expected to spend 12 percent less.
Need to buy a present for that member of the 1 percent on your holiday gift list? We have 12 items that, depending on your point of view, may represent pure luxury or pure excess.
Vogue's "Perfectly Extravagant Holiday Gift Guide" ruffled some feathers of the 99 percent. The website Jezebel called the list a "$900,000 lesson in class-consciousness."
Neiman Marcus' Christmas Book, by contrast, includes nine "Fantasy Gifts," eight of which have a charitable component built in. The most expensive one, a $1 million dancing fountain for the home, comes with a $5,000 donation by Neiman Marcus to to Water.org, the U.S.-based nonprofit that provides safe drinking water and sanitation to people in developing countries.
Photos: Neiman Marcus' Christmas Book
Italian knitwear company Missoni made a big splash with its sold-out collection at Target in September. Luxury online retailer Gilt is now selling a $520 "Torta Candle" with four wicks with its recognizable wavy design in time for Gilt's theme for the week, "Give Indulgence." "The four wicks cast a lovely, flattering light, but the longer they burn, the more the wicks reflect the colors within," Gilt's description states. "The result? A spectacular glow dome."
|Baccarat Harcourt Checkers Game Flute Set|
For $3,500, you can play a game of checkers with this set of 12 full-lead crystal flutes on a silk scarf with 36 squares. Included in Neiman Marcus' Indulge! gift ideas list, the set includes "two perfect clear flutes and two slightly imperfect onyx flutes." There are 170 limited edition numbered sets in total signed by designer Philippe Starck.
|De Beers Sphere Cutout Diamond Shaped Necklace|
You're in luck if you couldn't afford diamond seller De Beers' sphere cutout diamond necklace at $150,000. Gilt is selling the 18-karat white gold necklace with round-cut diamond details at a discounted price of $95,000.
|De Beers Sphere Cutout Diamond Shaped Bracelet|
No $95,000 necklace is complete without a matching bracelet. Gilt is offering a matching De Beers 18-karat gold curved diamond shaped cutout sphere bracelet. Deal hunters are in luck. Gilt's discounted price is $46,000, originally $72,000. Diamond-hungry shoppers can join the members-only site at gilt.com/holiday.
|Virgin America Private Charter|
Need a plane to shuttle your friends across the country? Virgin America said it can entertain private charter requests for groups, according to a company spokeswoman. However, its flight schedule can be pretty tight. Last month, online luxury retailer Gilt City offered a deal to name a full-size Airbus A320 and to charter a round-trip flight for you and up to 145 friends on any domestic, nonstop route in Virgin America's network. You had to finalize flight dates by January 2013 and travel by May 2013, with four months notice. Oh, and you needed $60,000.
|Lora Piana Cashmere Robe|
"Who doesn't like cashmere? Find me one person in the world who doesn't like cashmere," George Costanza said in an episode of the sitcom "Seinfeld." Extreme cashmere lovers can enjoy a $3,550 cashmere robe in the shade "light pomegranate" from Neiman Marcus.
|Peter the Great "Faberge Egg" Crystal Bag|
Featured in Vogue's "Perfectly Extravagant Holiday Gift Guide," an oval-shaped purse by Clara Kasavina pays homage to Russian designer, Peter Carl Faberge, creator of the Faberge egg. The bag is covered in hundreds of multi-colored hand set Swarovski crystals for a retail price of $1,750.
|Tagg, the Pet Tracker|
An advanced and lightweight GPS tracking device for your pet, Tagg provides on-demand information on your pet's whereabouts and notifies the owner via text and email if the pet wanders outside designated areas. The water-resistant device fits on any collar. The Tagg Master Kit, which includes all hardware and one month of service, sells for $99.95 at tagg.com, with each additional month of service at $7.95.
|Down, Feather Pillow for Pet|
Pampered pets should get the finest, like this luxurious hand-woven 30-inch pillow made with a 100 percent cotton cover and filled with 10 percent down, 90 percent feathers. The pillow, made from artisans in India, is sold by shophistoire.com for $160 for a large version, $110 for a smaller one.
|Christian Louboutin Suede Peep-Toe Pump|
Included in Neiman Marcus' Indulge! gift ideas list, this heel features French designer Christian Louboutin's signature red sole and costs $845. Made of black suede and with a 4 4/5-inch heel, you can trip over yourself in glamour.
|The Mark Hotel's "Shop Barneys" NYC Holiday package|
Priced from $2,690, this hotel package includes two nights at the Mark Hotel in New York City's Upper East Side, a "specialist gift" from high-end department store Barneys waiting in your suite when you check in, a $300 Barneys gift card and a consultation with a personal shopper from Barneys, including a private viewing of collection highlights. The package also includes a cocktail in the Mark Bar. The hotel also offers room service from the Mark Restaurant by Michelin Three-Star Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Available from Dec. 12 through Jan. 15, hotel guests can book the hotel package for their New Year's Eve getaway.
|Folding Electric Bike|
Want to take that electric bike into a cramped limo? This $1,995 bike featured in Neiman Marcus' Indulge! gift list folds to half its original size and comes with a 37v lithium battery to assist in your bike-riding adventures. The bike has a maximum speed of 16mph and can last for 20-25 miles on a single charge.