This holiday season, Neiman Marcus wants you to be glamorous.
Its annual Christmas book, a catalogue of the luxury retailer's most desired merchandise, features a model wearing a $450 fur hat and a nearly $3,000 fur-trimmed brocade coat. Fur also adorns some of the season's hottest boots and purses. And let's not even get started on all the cashmere and diamonds.
Luxury goods are still expected to drive much of the sales growth this holiday season, industry analysts say. But shoppers may be pickier about what they purchase this year.
The concerns of middle- and low-income buyers about fuel prices and bad news about the war in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina have taken some of the zing out of the national shopping mood. And that's rubbing off on even high-income buyers -- especially those whom one analyst calls "the borderline rich," who are worth between $1 million and $5 million.
Milton F. Pedraza, head of the Luxury Institute LLC, a consumer-research firm that studies the top 10 percent of the nation's wealthy, said this group has also been beset by the cooling housing market and sluggish stocks.
"Last year, [consumers] were buying on all cylinders," Pedraza said. "This year, they're going to be making tradeoffs."
For example, Neiman Marcus reported sales growth of 8.4 percent in the three months ended Oct. 31. Still, that number was lower than last year's, when sales jumped 11.4 percent in the comparable period.
But that doesn't mean it's time to cut up the American Express "black card." Independent retail consultant Annette McEvoy recently predicted that luxury retailers would see 5.5 percent growth over last year, compared with the tepid 3.2 percent growth expected for mid-level department stores.
Pedraza estimated growth to be between 5 and 12 percent this season after two years of strong, double-digit jumps.
That may help crack open the door for discount chains such as Wal-Mart, which are elbowing into the luxury market this season, offering the look and feel of high-end products at lower prices.
The world's largest retailer was touting "affordable cashmere, silk and jewels" last week along with its more traditional holiday specials, such as discounts on Dora the Explorer's Talking House. Cashmere sweaters were less than $45, and silk pajamas were going for $29.98. The $992, one-carat diamond solitaire engagement ring sold out on Walmart.com less than 48 hours after its debut.
"We've had a real move from price to value," said Gail Lavielle, a company spokeswoman. "You've got to take a closer look at Wal-Mart because there are things that you will find here that will surprise you."
But while Wal-Mart may woo some new customers with its new offerings, the upper end of the market will likely remain loyal to its favorite brands, said Patrice Duker, spokeswoman for the International Council of Shopping Centers.
"A Saks [Fifth Avenue] customer is completely different than a Wal-Mart customer," she said.
Pedraza said that wealthy consumers are not giving up luxury, just scaling back a bit. He predicted flat-panel TVs and other home-entertainment equipment would be big sellers this year, along with standards from established luxury brands such as Chopard watches and Harry Winston diamonds.
"The wealthy continually ratchet it up to what is most unique," he said. "They're not fooled at all."