Christmas Wish List: Retailers Hope Luxury Leads to Holiday Cheer

From Penney’s fluffy spa collection to J. Crew’s Italian cashmeres and Bergdorf’s column gowns, stores will be wrapped in luxury this holiday.

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New York — From J.C. Penney’s fluffy spa collection to J. Crew’s Italian cashmeres and Bergdorf Goodman’s column gowns worn with fox shrugs, retailers at all price levels will be wrapping themselves in luxury this holiday.

It could be “affordable” or “accessible” luxury, while others unabashedly say that what they’ve got is over the top. But the common thread has been developing a sophisticated, sumptuous holiday assortment this year, inspired by reports since last fall that have shown monthly sales gains are strongest at the high end.

For holiday, it’s been a process of adapting the key spring and fall trends and refining the looks with embellishment, vivid colors and festiveness. Retailers, regardless of their target customer, say they are concentrating on fur, leather, cashmere, brooches, romantic dresses, ponchos and creative and less basic private label products to set a luxurious and fun tone beginning around late October or early November, when the holiday presentations ease onto the selling floors.

Retailers also said pet accessories; health and wellness products, including smoothie machines and air purifiers; linens with high weave counts, and other home goods that provide a feeling of comfort, pampering and security, will be important, as will technology with a touch of fashion or color, like pink iPods.

Stores are up against good sales gains from a year ago, so they’ve put in double time planning the assortments to try to match or beat last year’s advances, and are determined to differentiate their products from the pack. The 2003 November-December sales period accounted for nearly a quarter of the year’s volume, according to the National Retail Federation.

Last December, same-store sales at Neiman Marcus rose 14.8 percent and at Saks Fifth Avenue Enterprises 9.6 percent. But major U.S. retailers overall rose just 4 percent, according to Goldman Sachs.

Though they are loathe to specify their goals for holiday, particularly in a year of uncertain national and international politics, retailers sounded quite confident during previews of their holiday merchandise. “Consumers continue to be in a very good mood,” said Jim Gold, Bergdorf’s president and chief executive officer. “We have a product offering lined up for fall and holiday that we believe will keep them highly stimulated. We work very hard to exceed their expectations. We’re very strategic.” For example, “You may see an alligator bag in another store, but we’re willing to step up and buy an alligator bag in unexpected colors.”
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