NEW YORK – This story begins with one of the fancy females in my family leaving a hair salon on Third Avenue in New York, when she rather impulsively decided to buy a lipstick-sized tube of undereye concealer. "Charge it," she told the sales clerk, who was only too willing to oblige.
Not until she arrived home, and looked seriously at the bill for the first time, did the buyer discover that a mistake must have been made. The posted charge for the tiny cosmetic was an incredible $75. So you can imagine her chagrin when she phoned the salon and was told: "That's no mistake." The magical makeup did indeed cost $75.
All of which led us to consider how many prices in the marketplace these days are simply outrageous.
No, we're not talking about luxury goods, where prices are nosebleed high by any measure, but where you commonly get goods that wear well, look nice and last almost forever. For example, you can lay out $3,000 for a made-to-measure men's suit from Barney's or $1,500 for a men's Burberry raincoat that one of your grandkids may well be wearing — and staying toasty in — a couple of generations from now.
Nor are we talking about those $150 neckties from Hermes Paris or Stefano Ricci that make you look like a million dollars — well, almost.
Long live the luxury market, where there's a linkage between the prices you pay and the performance of the product over time. Indeed, the luxury market in retail is standing up very well during the current economic travail. People who patronize luxury stores are usually smart shoppers who tend to go out and spend come rain, come shine.
No, when we talk now about outrageous prices, we're referring to those of goods and services that without rhyme, reason or straight-faced excuse are marked up to infinity: take, for example, the black alligator women's handbag featured in a current Neiman Marcus ad for $26,500.
Some markup mavens are getting a bit embarrassed by such excess. They no longer cite the real retail prices of such goods in magazine layouts, but they say that you can get price quotes "on request." And how do you spell chutzpah?
The only justification is that the ultimate buyer can boast that he or she is paying the highest prices of any kid on the block. My bill is bigger than your bill, as they say.
That's not pocket change for most.
But there is no shortage of people who are prepared to pay those outrageous prices for certain trendy goods and services. The newsletter Pocket Change has identified a number of them in New York and Los Angeles.
In the highest end of the New York rental-car market, for instance, you can lease a Lamborghini Murcielago for a mere $2,250 a day at Gotham Dream Cars, which is a candy store for the James Bond set. If their Lamborghinis are all checked out for the weekend, the rental firm will sub a Bentley for $1,750 a day or a Rolls Royce Phantom for $325 an hour.
What if you desire to invest in New York's Most Expensive Cocktail (MEC)? Surely a single drink can't wear a big hole in your pocketbook. Well, think again. Pocket Change identifies the current MEC as the Duvet Platinum Passion. This mixture of ancient cognacs and Ruinart champagne is a creative take on the classic French 75. You can sip one in Manhattan at the Duvet Hotel, 45 West 21st Street, for a trifling $1,500.
If you want Los Angeles' most expensive fake tan, you can get 80 minutes of it at the Thibiant Beverly Hills Day Spa for $140 — which may not seem so outrageous if it leads to your being discovered and launching a Hollywood career.
There's more. If you're in a family way, you can get New York's most expensive nanny. This is no mere high-end Euro babysitter, but a professional au pair who builds a career with you — a well-trained, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious performer, for the bargain price of $144,000 a year. However, she might expect you to have little baubles like the $4,000 nine-karat gold accented Maclaren stroller and the $17,000 diamond-encrusted pacifier from It's My Binky. (We did not ask if this nanny is also a Harvard M.B.A.)
But if you want to decimate your bankroll with the truly outrageous speed that only a hedge-fund manager can properly admire, you still can't beat the real estate market. Consider renting a Nantucket cottage for $40,000 a week or a 6,000-square-foott East Hampton home for $300,000 for July and August. Slump or not, you'd better hurry to get your bids in for next summer. They offer a special bargain because both those months have 31 days.
But always be aware of the difference between the luxury market — which bespeaks quality — and the simply outrageous, even if it's only the price of a tiny tube of undereye concealer.
Copyright (c) 2007 MarketWatch, Inc.