So many things nobody needs (Neiman Marcus/Williams Sonoma/Walmart/Hammacher Schlemmer/Preppi/Goop/Precht/Amazon/)

From Oprah to Goop, these crazy gift guide suggestions caught Salon's imagination

Who doesn't need luxury floss, a champagne vending machine, or a doggy DNA kit? Many people, but a girl can dream


Hanh Nguyen
November 29, 2019 10:30PM (UTC)

When pumpkin spice begins to waft through the air to land in our lattes and when the family begins to squabble over recipes, you know ’tis the season of giving. And that means it’s time for gift guides.

You know, those supposedly well-meaning lists of items compiled either by a celebrity or department store or other retailer that is aimed at suggesting the perfect item for your loved one (yourself included). Over the years, the gift guide has evolved from mere cashmere sweaters and LEGO play sets to more aspirational items, even if the aspiration is just to gaze upon the gift’s glory in one’s wildest dreams.

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Today, as social media and online retailers have made everything accessible for gift list consideration, no one is holding back. Oprah’s Favorite Things are still luxurious, but Gwyneth Paltrow has one-upped her with truly ludicrous pie-in-the-sky suggestions.

But for every five- to six-figure price tag, there are also lists that make an attempt to be accessible or within budget, but still creative to make it worth your while. This doesn’t always mean they’re romantic or desirable or practical. But they sure are intriguing to think about.

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Below, Salon’s staff has tackled some of the gifts that have struck their fancy or funny bone, ranging from the mundane and weird to the wildly out-of-reach. And be sure to watch D. Watkins' video at the end for his personal suggestions for indispensable gifts.

Judith Leiber Couture French Fries Rainbow Clutch Bag
Price: $5,695
Neiman Marcus

Are you cursed with an extra six grand and in need of a purse so tacky that even drag queens wouldn't carry it as a joke? Enjoy this beaded clutch shaped like a serving of fries, festooned with a rainbow in case you were worried that it might be too understated. The best part of the ad for this purse is the photo of a model holding it in her hand, illustrating that, on top of being ugly, the purse looks about as easy to carry all night as carrying a potted cactus might be. I love camp as much as anyone who visited the Met this season, but I recommend buying your cheesy pink rainbow food purses at the local Claire's, saving you money you could otherwise spend on, say, the down payment of a house. - Amanda Marcotte

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Prepster Emergency Backpack
Price: $395
Oprah’s Favorite Things

The name says it all: “Prepster” reads like a product built for Instagram influencers because it is. I mean, the kit already has the seal of approval from the ultimate influencer herself, the Oprah. And in fairness, an emergency preparedness kit is a more reasonable suggestion than an empty jar. “If a natural disaster strikes, you shouldn’t have to waste time grabbing spare batteries and a toothbrush,” the Favorite Things endorsement reads.

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How true! Along with essentials like a pop-up tube tent, a USB charger, duct tape and water, it also boasts premium chocolate (Mast Brothers or Tcho, the site says), Marvis toothpaste and Kusmi tea, along with travel-sized versions of Malin+Goetz luxury toiletries (“because hygiene is essential!”). On the other hand, it also contains only three days’ worth of H2O, so you’re going to have to pick whether you want to look like a total #snack when those hot rescue workers show up to get you – because you’re totes first on their list of priorities! - or down some calming tea even though it is a #diuretic.

There is no reason to deny yourself any and all comforts in a time of disaster. However, this adorbs (and overpriced in comparison to better stocked emergency go-bags available) pack assumes that whatever disaster befalls its owner will not degenerate into a “Mad Max”-meets-“The Purge” scenario. And what’s not in there are any tactical devices that can also be used as weapons.

The upside is that there’s an option to get your bag monogrammed. So when your friends find it entirely emptied out in a burned-out lot near your place they can post, “Oh well, I guess our dear Madison Van Pepperchamp of the Orange County Van Pepperchamps got got. #Sad #lifeisamystery #YOLO” – Melanie McFarland

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Wisdom Panel 3.0 Canine DNA Test
Price: $79.99
Ellen’s List

Some philosophers argue that pet ownership itself is immoral. As residents of the first world, they say, we are complicit in overconsumption of the world's resources and in stoking inequality and poverty in the third world. Hence, spending money on our pets is a frivolity, immoral given that there is so much human suffering that requires abatement; and besides, we have no idea about the emotional lives of our animalas, which opens the possibility that it is unethical to force such constraints on their lives.

I don't necessarily buy this entire argument; pets, after all, do give us some material and psychological comfort. Likewise, humans were responsible for domesticating dogs and cats, making them reliant on us — thus, they are forever our charges. Still, as my parents instilled in me (painfully) when I was young by refusing expensive surgeries for our dogs, pets are animals: they don't comprehend luxury or comfort in the way that we do, and hence don't need a $200 luxury Casper mattress supposedly engineered precisely for dogs.  That's because, well, they're dogs; they don't have a sense of what luxury means, and hence, a $1 pillow from Goodwill might feel and smell just as comfortable as that Casper mattress from their perspective.

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The ultimate frivolity, beyond even a luxury dog bed, is a dog DNA test. That's because it doesn't give anything of material benefit to the dog; they are entirely for humans. These tests purport to tell you what breeds your mutt is made of. Just as with the commercial human DNA tests — which, I should note, basically only exist so that the biotech companies that make them can sell your genetic data to other biotech companies and law enforcement — these canine versions fulfill some human need to understand our origin, and our place on Earth. Or, in this case, our dog's place.

The thing is, the idea of doggy genetics is very backward compared to how we think about human genetics (or the genetics of any other animal). Dog breeding is fairly recent, a byproduct of racist Victorian ideas about eugenics. They're one of the remnants of Victorian culture that we still haven't shed. As a result, we think about dogs in an peculiar way: purebreds are normal dogs, but mutts are exotic combinations of multiple purebreeds. When someone asks you, "What kind of dog is that?" the answer is supposed to tell them something deep and meaningful about the dog. Saying "it's a mutt" implies that there is a mystery, something unknown.

That's backwards of how it should be. Mutts are normal; breeding them into inbred, genetically ill messes is weird, even immoral. Mutts aren't really combinations of purebreds — they're the ur-dog, the dog as it should be and previously was, and, should humans go extinct, as it will be again. Hence, mutts are healthier, smarter and live longer than their purebred counterparts.

That is all to say that spending $80 on a canine DNA test is excessive for about seven different reasons. And yet . . .

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About seven years ago, my sister found two dogs wandering in the desert in Tucson — one male, one female, both black mutts. Based on their age and behavior and appearance, the vet thinks the female is the mother of the male. They are slightly different in size, with slightly different features, but that speculation seems believable; we have taken to believing it, at least. But admittedly we don't really know.

The dogs have become part of our family, and we accept them and this backstory. Is it true?  The dogs cannot speak and tell us. Why were they wandering in the desert? Where did they come from? What was their life like before? The idea that we might understand more about their relationship, and lives, if we were to buy two of these tests — that is a very compelling proposition. It might help my family understand more about who we are, too.

– Keith A. Spencer

FIAT X SMEG Red Electric Cooler
Price: $12,000, shipping an additional $250
Neiman Marcus

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Sooner or later it happened to every Christmas-celebrating '80s kid — you outgrew the Sears Wish Book, that dog-eared doorstopper, and you had to look elsewhere for inspiration. To a pre-internet adolescent exiled in a grubby one-mall town, Grandmother's Neiman Marcus Christmas Book gave me a much-needed glimpse of what I presumed could be my own glamorous future. Somewhere, someone is unwrapping a personalized airplane this year, I believed then, and the thought thrilled me, though I would be lucky to open my preferred sweater from the Gap.

So many luxury gift guides have proliferated in the decades since I became hooked on its baroque promises but the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book remains for me the 24-karat gold standard of absurd adulthood abundance. Ironically, its selections now appear to be aging backwards, in what I can only assume is a nod to young Gen Xers and older Millennials who prefer luxury hoodies and sneakers to tea-length Russian lynx fur coats (as featured in at least one late-'80s Christmas Book, if I recall correctly).

That's the only explanation I can find for the Fiat X Smeg Red Electric Cooler, a free-standing half-Fiat whose hood opens to reveal a refrigerated compartment for snacks, drinks, or Most Dangerous Game trophies. Design-wise this cooler would not have looked out of place in the "funky" loft apartment on "My Two Dads," the pre-Maury '80s sitcom that somehow wasn't about a gay couple navigating micro aggressions at the preschool co-op. May we all have careers as long as Paul Reiser's. The Fiat X Smeg Red Electric Cooler reminds me of the car trunk chip dispenser at Chuys, which means it reminds me of the mall, which means it doesn't belong anywhere near the sacred Neiman Marcus Christmas Book. Hard pass — if you're in a position to buy this appliance, Adrian Veidt, might as well just ring a clone butler to run to the real refrigerator for you instead. – Erin Keane

Moët & Chandon Champagne Vending Machine
Price: $35,000
Neiman Marcus

But if you're going to spend tens of thousands of dollars on an impractical, beverage/perpetual adolescence dispenser, you might as well get as close as you can to living that Edina Monsoon best life with the Moët & Chandon Champagne Vending Machine, which retails for $35,000, champagne not included. A list of local Moët & Chandon retailers will be provided upon request, as if the person buying their own champagne vending machine isn't already aware. Yes, there's a coin slot. Do you make your friends feed the machine a quarter to get a bottle? Do you make them bring exact change or go thirsty? This has been a very expensive personality test. – Erin Keane

Fortnum Mason Heart Tea Infuser
Price: $89.95
Williams-Sonoma

I think I may want the life in which I steep my morning cup of tea in what is essentially a locket; per the description, it’s silver-plated, “arrives in a pale-green jewelry box and features a Fortnum & Mason heart charm on the chain.” In that life, my husband — whose name is Grant or Thad or something else monosyllabic and vaguely WASP-y — presents me with this $89.95 tea infuser much in the way someone would reveal a Tiffany bracelet.

He gently wakes me and puts out a tray of toast, jam, and orange juice on my lap; a small vase with a single pink rose and the tea diffuser box flank the butter dish. We’ve been married for almost 15 years, and this is only the second time he’s served me breakfast in bed. The first was our first Valentine’s Day together. I try not to dwell on the numbers. Our couple’s therapist has instructed us to stop keeping score. She also suggested we be more actively supportive of each other’s hobbies. Grant-Thad works in commercial real estate, but sculpts in his spare time. He’d wanted to pursue it full-time — even minored in it in college — but his father wasn’t supportive.

But I always liked when Grant-Thad came home from the studio, his hands stained with ceramic pigment. In those days, he was as tender with me as he was the clay. He was enthusiastic. Creative. Now he’s just tired and powers through the day with cup after cup of black, bitter coffee.

For now, this life with my new new Fortnum Mason Heart Tea Infuser is one of quiet loneliness, but it’s sweet that he remembered I can’t stomach coffee anymore. I’m more of an Earl Gray person these days. – Ashlie D. Stevens

Smeg Dolce Gabbana x SMEG Saint Genevieve Oven and Refrigerator
Price: $50,000
Neiman Marcus

You definitely read too many New York Times real estate stories when a $10,000 price tag for an oven doesn’t seem that outrageous. I’ve just never seen a Viking professional range that looks as much like a spread in Vogue as this bonkers ornate D&G stove does. Not that there’s likely much overlap between run of the mill oven obsessives and designer label fanatics.

Neiman Marcus doesn’t even bother showing a photo of the inside of its maxed out, $50,000 (plus shipping) refrigerator that depicts the tale of St. Genevieve. I guess they assume for that money, you’ll take it on faith it’s a perfectly serviceable place to store leftover pizza. But if you’re mixing Catholic history and kitchen appliances, my real question is, what’s the most respectful spot on the exterior to slap an alphabet magnet and a Chinese menu? – Mary Elizabeth Williams

Precht Modular Prefab Home
Price: Starting from $110,000
Goop

Although Goop listed the Precht modular prefab home under its Ridiculous Holiday Gifts, this seems like a rather reasonable expense, starting at only $110K for “the tree house of the future.” I live in Los Angeles. That would be a steal. Of course, $110K might only get you one tiny portion of your dream home, perhaps the vestibule or foyer, but again, that’s not bad for SoCal prices. I practically live in an expanded vestibule right now.

What's so tempting about this Rapunzel toweresque abode? Somehow, this Bert family of modular houses taps into every single one of my home-owning desires: 1) to live among the leaves and branches, where I spent much of my tree-climbing youth, 2) to reside in a glorified cat condo, glaring balefully at the world from within cylindrical comfort, 3) to discover where Mario and Luigi disappear to (whilst attired in jaunty cap and overalls), and 4) to convey myself via pneumatic tube a la “The Jetsons” or “Futurama.”

Sure, in each of these scenarios I’m either a brachiating monkey, a Tom Hooper-inspired humanoid feline, Nintendo plumber, or 30th-century citizen, but if I can’t transform myself into anything I want in my own home, what is even the point in purchasing a PVC-inspired palace anyway? – Hanh Nguyen

Louis Vuitton Trunk
Price: $5,000
Goop

I stared at this Goop pick for almost 20 minutes trying to figure out what the catch is. The Louis Vuitton Alzer 75 hardsided suitcase isn't discontinued or hard to find, and this vintage model doesn't have a different design, except it's in beat-up condition and therefore costs only half the retail price of a new one. If you've ever wanted to give someone a luxury suitcase that looks like it's been chewed on by a Rottweiler, here's your chance? Goop refers to it vaguely as a "collector's piece" as if we don't all know Wes Anderson's name. I assume the ghost that haunts it is priced separately, but sold only as a set. – Erin Keane

Cocofloss
Price: $9
Goop

As a recent member of the adult orthodontia club, I have spent more time flossing in the past three months than I’d wager I even did in my entire lazy, spinach-encrusted life prior. As such, I’ve become a real snob about what goes between my teeth. Listen to Goop; this is the stuff that makes digging the açaí of your molars feel like a spa service. And as one whose oral hygiene hasn’t exactly been assisted by a lifelong loathing of all things mint, I can promise that the person on your list who’s white-knuckling through candy cane season will thank you for a gift that offers clean teeth and bougie flavors like wild hibiscus and fresh coconut. The Goop guide’s suggested trips to outer space and Gucci hat cases may be too rich for most human blood, but for just nine bucks, you can still give a gift that says, “This is what it feels like inside Gwyneth Paltrow’s mouth.” – Mary Elizabeth Williams

Zoltar
Price: $9,000
Hammacher Schlemmer

It is with no shortage of regret that I report Hammacher Schlemmer has abdicated its role as purveyor of fine holiday goods for aspiring supervillains to other retail outlets. But it still offers a few impressively ludicrous toys and gadgets for the moneyed and clueless, foremost among them being the chance to possess the world’s most expensive piggy bank: your own personal Zoltar. You know, that creepy animatronic fortune teller renowned for transforming small children into fully grown Tom Hankses in exchange for a quarter. The low, low price of $9,000 can buy you a Zoltar to take up residence in your own living room, forever, where his dead mechanical eyes will silently judge your poor decision-making.

Although Zoltar comes with 2,000 fortune cards and speaks 16 various phrases of omen and portent, he only has 23 different printed fortunes to offer. That means you can blow through the limits of the toy’s novelty by New Year’s Eve. On the other hand, consider its secondary potential as a tool of psychological control. Scare your children straight by convincing them that it is watching their every move, for example. Think of the thousands you’ll save in babysitting fees. As for the fortune they’ll spend on therapy later on, hey – not your problem. – Melanie McFarland

Ottolenghi Simple: A Cookbook
Price: $23.72
Martha Stewart

I have a Jane Mount print of an Ideal Bookshelf of cookbooks in my tiny kitchen, under my real shelf of ideal cookbooks. Both of them feature the name Ottolenghi — the famed London eateries featuring Israeli inspired dishes and some of the most astonishing pastries in the world. So profound is my devotion that my last few trips to London have turned into a quest to visit every single Ottolenghi location. In other words, I’m ridiculous.

But in the same way that no cosplayer is really Captain Marvel, in my own home, I’m no Yotam Ottolenghi. I’m a frazzled parent who leans heavily on Rachael Ray “30 Minute Meals” (don’t you dare judge unless you’ve tried them) and Jamie Oliver’s “5 Ingredients.” Sure, I can, given a leisurely afternoon, knock together a chocolate babka from the “Jerusalem” cookbook. But for real-life weeknights, who doesn’t long to bang out dinners and desserts that could make one feel as effortlessly elegant as an afternoon in Notting Hill?- Mary Elizabeth Williams

Nicolas Cage Sequin Magic Mermaid Reversible Pillowcase
Price: $9.98
Chrissy Teigen

Chrissy Teigen is relatively new to the lifestyle market having recently launched her Cravings line of Target essentials that is focused on the kitchen. But in her first newsletter to subscribers, she included a section on “Weird Cool Sh*t” that featured this reversible mermaid sequins Nic Cage pillowcase. At less than $10 a pop and coming in a variety of disco colors, this is probably the most practical/impractical gift for everyone on your list.

Rub your hand one direction along the rough surface, and your cushion is transformed into a square of iridescent mermaid hide, tanned and mounted for your decorating pleasure. Rub the opposite way, and Oscar winner Nicolas Cage from his non-Academy Award-winning film “Con-Air” is revealed. Yes, all that magic in an interactive throw pillow that doubles as a literal “Face/Off” tribute. – Hanh Nguyen

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Now that you’ve seen some of the more out-there gift guide selections, check out what Salon Editor at Large D. Watkins put together for his personalized gift guide below:


Hanh Nguyen

Hanh Nguyen is the Senior Editor of Culture, which covers TV, movies, books, music, podcasts, art, and food. Follow her at Hanhonymous.

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