By Allen Clark

Never have we needed Valentine’s Day more than now. A little bit of love, canned as it might be, goes a long way in today’s political uncertainty and unpleasantness. But what do we know about the saint or the event itself?

The holiday is rooted in the ancient Roman fertility festival called Lupercalia held annually on February 15. In the middle of the first century A.D., Pope Gelasius I turned the basically pagan celebration into a Christian feast day, switching to February 14. (How’s that for revisionist action?)
No one is quite sure after which St. Valentine the day is named; there were three, each martyred on February 14. (How’s that for odds?)

St. Valentine’s Day became associated with love in the 14th century, when Chaucer penned a poem, “The Parliament of Fowls,” in honor of the engagement of England's Richard II to Anne of Bohemia. He linked the royal engagement, the mating season of birds, and St. Valentine's Day. It took another five centuries for the tradition of Valentine’s cards to take hold in the United States. Today, the holiday has become a booming commercial success. According to the Greeting Card Association, 190 million Valentine's Day cards are exchanged each year, second only to Christmas, two-thirds by the fairer sex.

Estimates are as high as $17 billion for total spending in the United States on Valentine’s gifts, cards, and meals. According to the National Retail Federation, only about 55% of Americans celebrate Valentine’s Day, but those who do shell out an average of $146.84. Jewelry beats out candy, $2.5 billion to $2.2.

Of course, you didn’t have to spend a bundle on your Valentines. A box of chocolates isn’t all that expensive. That is, unless you gave MariBelle's Cien Red Box — 100 pieces for $260. Or, from their catalogue a couple of years ago, their Chocolate Picnic Steamer Trunk, stocked with 500 pieces of chocolate ganache, five pounds of chocolate bark and croquettes, 80 ounces of Aztec hot chocolate in four tins, a 20-ounce tin of Aztec Iced Chocolate, eight Aztec Hot Chocolate Bars, a teapot and infuser, two china teacups, a leather-bound journal, and a small library of books on chocolate (the “Chocolate Diet Cookbook,” maybe?). Now, that’s saying, “I love you,” – well worth the $15,000 price tag.

Perhaps you went for Imperial Majesty perfume by Clive Christian? As smells go, the perfume is probably swell (the ladies’ is made from Bergamot, Ylang-Ylang, Rosa Centafolia, Sandalwood, Tahitian Vanilla, White Peach, and Indian Jasmine). But at an asking price of $435,000, you're paying for more than a smell. Only ten bottles each were created for men and women. Each bottle was handmade with Baccarat crystal, encrusted with diamonds in an 18-carat gold collar.

If you didn't have time to hunt down the elusive bottles, you might have settled for the more accessible “No. 1” perfume for women from, yes, Clive Christian. Presented in a gold-crowned 1.6-ounce spray bottle, this $2,192 perfume was available at 75%-off online.

Still too much? Did you consider roses? Not a dozen. I was thinking, for just $350, 1-800-Flowers’ 100 long-stemmed red roses, “artistically arranged in a clear glass vase.” Clear a table for this gift; it’s an impressive 30 x 26 inches. If 100 roses weren’t enough, online Global Rose went further: a box of 500 long-stemmed red roses for $649. (I bet it’s not too late.)

Perhaps this article suggests some new ideas for next year. Or maybe you’d like to take a different tack. I’m reminded of a Stanley Holloway LP record of old London Music Hall routines. One was a very skillful rationalization in which the singer goes through a list of possible gifts for his niece’s wedding. Starting with a piano (“But then, I don’t know; she’s the rottenest player I know.”), he moves down the price scale to a sewing machine, an Ingersoll watch, a jumper to wear (“And yet I don’t know! The girls won’t wear jumpers in ten years or so. And open-work jumpers give ladies the ‘flu. I’ll buy her some handkerchiefs, that’s what I’ll do!)


By Allen Clark

This cuff has had nothing written on — or off — it for months. But the arrival of this year’s one-and-a-half-pound “Christmas Book” from Neiman Marcus was cause for action.

For decades the NM catalogue has featured over-the-top, mortgage-needing holiday gifts. This year is no different. That is, if you cotton to putting a card under your tree announcing “New Year’s Eve Above Times Square.” Your spouse or significant other will receive “a private party for 300 at the Knickerbocker Hotel” for a mere $1.6 million. (One would hope it was “private” at that price.) Room and board (well, dinner) included.

A bit too steep, you say; well, how about “Yours & Mine” exclusive Rolls-Royces? Dawn Drophead Coupes: one Lago di Como blue, the other Saint-Tropez (color not mentioned, but it kind of looks like a blend of orange and gold). Both “feature lustrous silver bonnets and sleek fabric tops, which disappear silently, in mere seconds.” As will your checking account, at $885,375. That’s for two, of course, but as the catalogue asks: How do you decide who gets which one?

What I found worthy of Cuff-note were all the other unusual gifts available. Like the nine, one-of-a-kind refrigerators from Italian manufacturer Smeg, each hand-painted by artist Michelangelo Lacagnina, each one a steal at $50,000. (I couldn’t tell if icemakers were included.)

Want something for your hubby or little Johnny to make up for the Yankees loss this fall? The black matte watersnake-covered wood baseball bat (and ball) from Elisabeth Weinstock (not sure where she played) can be yours for $1,425.

If you see the ball and bat as art, then you also might want one or more of Jonathan Adler’s solid acrylic pills in a range of poppy colors with laser-etched dosage. The ones featured are 2 2½” x 6½” and $98 a pop.

Let’s not forget the new mother and baby in the family. At NM you can get a Burberry diaper bag with, you guessed it, the maker’s “signature check” inside. The bag is made of acrylic and “polyamide,” which I had to look up and found out basically means plastic. “Polyamide” sounds a whole lot better than “plastic” when you learn this diaper bag costs $995.

Luckily, NM has some holiday choices for “Under $250,” so you can economize easily. A good example, if you don’t want to spring for the VIP Guest Week at the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris (along with three other invitees) for $250,000, you can get the Him on your list a new watch strap, like the alligator Apple Watch strap in orange, pink, or navy for just $220. Or, speaking of “spring,” wouldn’t he like the 14-karat gold-plated Slinky for $150?

For the Her on your list, here’s something that’s practically free: KNC collagen-infused lip masks, five to a pack, just $25. I needed a little more information, and KNC’s website informed me these were “All natural, all day…made with flower oil, cherry extract, and vitamin E…” and would “hydrate and plump lips in just 15 to 20 minutes.” The end benefit, according to a review in ELLE Magazine: “juicier, for lack of a better word, lips…kind of a playful way to better your pout.”

Last, but far from least, is the perfect gift for the man who has trouble finding two matching socks in his overstuffed dresser drawer. It’s the indispensable Marcoliani Sock Advent Calendar box. Every day in December up to the 25th, your man will be surprised by one fashionable style after another and the fact that each little, numbered drawer delivers two socks that match, all for a cost-effective $495. (It also may help you remember to open the little windows on your regular Advent calendar each day on schedule.)

There’s so much more, but space limits me. Let me close by suggesting, even if you ignore these gift ideas, that you keep the catalogue handy. It comes with six different perfume-scented ad pages, so why not open one a week and scent your living room, bedroom, or parlor. Or maybe just rub the page over your wrists, neck, and forehead before heading out to your holiday bash. No one will be the wiser.