37 Gifts They Won't Forget

An ok gift? Cozy pjs. An exceptional gift? Cozy pjs adorned with a childhood nickname. (Ditto a poinsettia versus a personalized Terrarium, right.) The trick: focus less on spending a lot and more on thinking a lot—about who the recipient is, past, present and future. So, where to start? With these thoughtful ideas

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Most. Unique. Gift. Ever.

At the moss-strewn Brooklyn shop Twig, co-owners Michelle Inciarrano and Katy Maslow take the terrarium trend to the next level. The pair travels across the country hunting for antique glassware, such as whiskey bottles, gum-ball machines and science beakers, to create vessels containing a personalized tableau, including figurines painted in the recipient’s likeness. Above: A yogi in Salamba Sirsasana. twigterrariums.com; from $100

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Custom evening wear

Revive the snuggly sensation of bedtimes past with this pair of vintage-style men’s chamois pajamas from L.L.Bean—cheekily embroidered (for an extra $8) with your beloved’s childhood nickname. (Caveat: There is a 10-letter maximum, so Honey Boo Boo is out.) llbean.com; $55

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Cupcakes for connoisseurs

The child in all of us still craves cupcakes—but adults will especially enjoy a dozen from Sift Cupcake & Dessert Bar (winners of the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars). The bakery is based on the West Coast, but it does a brisk mail-order business, offering unusual flavors like Battle Royale (almond cake with blueberry-tequila filling and açaí berry–cream cheese frosting). A dozen cakes arrive frozen but defrost to fresh-baked flavors. siftcupcakes.com  ; from $36  

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Big bag on campus

For the eternal student, this handsome—and roomy—18-inch rucksack from Archival Clothing for Barneys New York Co-op gives an everyday practical pack a face-lift with heavyweight waxed twill, leather and solid brass. barneys.com; $295

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PB&J not just for kids

The classic combo goes gourmet in this taster set. Packaged in a reusable tote, the stash contains two flavors of decidedly grownup jam (past blends include Blueberry Bourbon and Blood Orange Marmalade), a jar of Chia Nut Butter and a semi-healthy (OK, not really) chocolate bar made with raspberry pâtede fruit and peanut butter. newyorkmouth.com; $40 

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Back to the future

Madeleine l’Engle’s Newberry Medal–winning book A Wrinkle in Time celebrated its 50th anniversary this year—and a limited edition has been issued to mark the milestone. If you know someone who came of age reading the adventures of Meg and Charles Wallace Murry, this is a must-have. amazon.com; $25

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Musical muffs

Stay wired—but look retro—with these high-tech (and so cute!) earmuffs by Cityslips. The faux-fur muffs connect to your iPod or smartphone and feature built-in speakers, an in-line microphone and volume control. neimanmarcus.com; $50

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Games without remotes

What could be cozier than family game night—and these Vintage Edition Scrabble and Monopoly sets forgo flimsy plastic and cardboard in favor of die-cast playing pieces, hardwood boxes and graphics from the original games. rh.com; from $149

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Must-have for your MVP

Know a baseball fanatic? These jerseys and caps from Ebbets Field Flannels are faithful replicas of professional baseball gear from 1900 to 1970, boasting authentic details like sleeve patches and wool-flannel fabric. More than 400 team jerseys and two dozen caps are on offer—or you can place a custom order. ebbets.com; $40–$195

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Tech cover-up

Dodocases Essential Collection iPad 2 or 3 covers give modern-day tech toys the look of old-school hardcover books. The case is built on a bamboo frame (which doubles as a stand), then is covered with soft cloth. For an extra $10–$13, emboss the cover with a monogram. See more like it at dodocase.com

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Snail-mail nostalgia

Rekindle the romance of handwritten correspondence with vintage stamps from the Postage Service, themed to days gone by (our favorite: stamps that pay homage to the American woman). The packs each contain three to five stamps that total an average of 50 cents, so they can be used to mail a first-class letter anywhere in the U.S. See more like this at etsy.com; from $2.50

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Digitize your memories

It’s your dirty little secret (and everyone else’s, too): that anxiety-inducing drawer of old photos you keep resolving to organize. Ditch the guilt (and surprise siblings or parents with framed long-forgotten shots) by using Fotobridge, a company that digitizes print photos, negatives or slides in as little as five days. Estimate how many photos you have (an inch-high stack is about 100; a shoebox is roughly a thousand) and ship them to Fotobridge’s New Jersey offices. The service’s digital finishing program improves both the color and the quality of photos, restoring red-tinged ’70s shots and faded black-and-whites—then loads your images onto a DVD that’s also a perfect stocking stuffer. $45–$150 for 250 to 1,000 prints; fotobridge.com


Photo courtesy of IDAL/Shutterstock.com


Chicken a la Christian

For anyone who devoured E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey series, now there’s the pseudonymous F.L. Fowler’s Fifty Shades of Chicken. A genuine cookbook as well as a parody, it contains 50 breast-to-thigh recipes, such as Mustard-Spanked Chicken and Holy Hell Hot Wings—all with a side of smut. amazon.com; $20

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Wine without worry

Traveling oenophiles can safely transport special bottles of their favorite vintages in these recyclable WineSkin bubble-wrap-lined, leak-proof wine bags. momastore.org; $12 for three

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Secret love messages

Family-run design studio COATT will string 14k gold dot-and-dash Morse code messages on delicate silk cords cut long enough for either a bracelet or a necklace. The code’s content is up to you: Choose to spell out a name, a monogram or a thoughtful phrase that has special meaning to you and yours. coattonline.com; from $200

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Raise a glass

True brew aficionados don’t swig straight from the bottle. This lead-free crystal Beer Connoisseur Set contains glasses in four distinct shapes (pilsner, lager, beer tulip and wheat beer), along with a set of detailed tasting instructions. Combine with a six-pack of each ale variety—or, better yet, a pair of plane tickets to Munich next October. Prost! momastore.org; $50

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Who's your caddy

Set up a golf-obsessed giftee’s game with Celestron’s CoursePro GPS device. Synched to a database of 22,000 greens online (most U.S. courses are included), the gadget can store personalized hazard maps, shot distances and scorecard info for up to 100 courses. Plaid pants and country club membership not included. amazon.com; $150

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Collector's candle

Adorned with the face of artist Piero Fornasetti's operatic muse, Lina Cavalieri, the Flora di Fornasetti candle is inspired by the fragrance house's Milan gardens and includes notes of ivy, lily of the valley, iris, jasmine, tuberose, sandalwood and musk. Bonus: once the candle has burned to the bottom, the canister can act as a stylish stash for loose change. barneys.com; $165

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Big bangle theory

Have a friend or close family member who collects Hermès’s covetable enamel bracelets? Well, this season the French luxury brand is introducing four supersize models (two are shown) featuring Brazilian feather art. Wear one or stack a pair for maximum impact; Wonder Woman would approveSee more like this one at hermes.com; $780–$910

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For serious cinephiles

Like an art house version of Netflix, Oscilloscope Lab’s Circle of Trust yearlong subscription will deliver an acclaimed DVD or Blu-ray to the mailbox of your favorite film buff once a month. Past releases include award winners such as The Messenger, We Need to Talk About Kevin and Exit Through the Gift Shop. oscilloscope.net; $99

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Tom Ford nails it

The debonair designer’s glossy nail lacquer earned raves from More and the beauty blogosphere when it launched last fall. Now you can bestow on your most fashion-conscious friend 16 high-shine hues in one limited-edition set, from on-trend neutral Naked to the line’s best-selling burgundy, Bitter Bitch. neimanmarcus.com; $480

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Music-lover must-have

The Monster Inspiration headphones’ cushy rectangular earcups are reason enough to retire your earbuds. But the noise-canceling sound also drowns out ambient noise—ideal for frequent fliers or dorm dwellers—and myriad interchangeable headbands (sold separately for $29) allow the recipient to personalize his or her look. amazon.com; $300

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Be your own barista

Know someone pretty serious about her morning java? Well, you can keep her happily caffeinated by hooking her up with a subscription to Craft Coffee. Each month the service will ship three varieties of freshly roasted coffee beans to her door; each blend is chosen by a panel of coffee experts. craftcoffee.com; from $20 a month

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Slap happy

Ritmo Mundo’s splashy silicone Reflex LED digital slap watches evoke ’80s-era slap bracelets, while the futuristic LED time display will have admirers grabbing at your giftee’s wrist. This is a great gift for a friend who geeks out about the latest gadgets—or who is still gaga for the decade of decadence. ritmomundo.com  ; $150  

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Signed, sealed, delivered

Thinking of gifting autographed memorabilia—but fear ending up with a fake? Steve Cyrkin, publisher of Autograph Magazine, helps you track down the real deal.

• Avoid casinos and tourist spots. Autographs are best shopped for online, says Cyrkin, because you can compare prices and elicit opinions from community boards.

• Look for autographs certified by reliable authentication services like the Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA; psacard.com) and James Spence Authentication (JSA; spenceloa.com).

• For musician autographs, try the Grammy Charity Online Auctions (grammy.com).

• For autographed sports memorabilia, seek out companies that host licensed signings, like Steiner Sports (steinersports.com) and Tri-Star Productions (tristarproductions.com).

Photo courtesy of Steinersports.com

The gift card upgraded

Online present purveyor Wantful.com makes even last-minute offerings look thoughtful. Simply click through 10 multiple-choice questions about your recipient, and the site will curate a glossy catalog of 16 gifts (out of thousands of options), tailored to your responses and budget (gifts start at $30). A hard copy of the catalog will be mailed to you within five days—or you can have an electronic version e-mailed instantly. The giftee then chooses one item from the custom catalog; delivery takes one to three weeks. 

Photo courtesy of Wantful.com

Map a memory

North Carolina artist Karen M. O’Leary creates intricate, hand-cut paper maps of meaningful locations: your loved one’s childhood house, wedding site, college address or dream destination. Because the map creation can take several weeks to complete, order early. studiokmo.etsy.com; from $75

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Words to live (and dress) by

All of designer Jeanine Payer’s pieces are crafted and engraved by hand in the artist’s San Francisco studio. Choose from -dozens of inspirational excerpts from books or -poems—or provide your own message. Shown: Palmer 18k gold cuff. jeaninepayer.com; from $485

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A modern monogram

The chic, antique look of Alex & Ani’s etched initial bangles belies their Secret Santa–worthy price point. Stack three with a first, middle and last -initial—or, for a mother or grandmother, get a bracelet adorned with the first letter of each child’s or grandchild’s name. nordstrom.com; $24 each

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The leather Margot handbag from Eponymous New York is worthy of admiration on its own. But what makes this chic carryall unique is the fact that you can snap exterior panels on and off to change the look of the bag from day to day (kind of like a haute couture Bermuda bag). Panels are available in python, embroidered silk, leather, pony hair and more. eponymousnewyork.com bag; from $1,195/panels; from $495

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Smart cookies

Save sweets lovers from a gingerbread overdose with Milk & Cookies design-your-own dozen. Select a base batter (chocolate, oatmeal, sugar, etc.), then add exotic mix-ins like cappuccino chips or dried fruit. Fresh batches are shipped in the U.S. within two days. milkandcookiesbakery.com; from $28

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In the shadows

Turn a family's silhouettes (of parents, kids, pets) into signature note cards, stamps or a memorable stocking stuffer (such as jewelry, coasters or cuff links). Once Le Papier has designed your customized silhouette ($10 per person), it may be used on nearly any of the adorable items the company’s website offers. lepapierstudio.com; from $10

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Pillow talk

A tech-savvy gift without the sharp edges, Labexperiment’s encoded pillow is printed with QR codes that reveal a custom message (supplied by you) when scanned by a smartphone. Bonus: Each pillow has its own activation number, so the text can be changed at will by the owner. aldeahome.com; $150

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Friendship bracelet

The teen/tween in your life can create a photo bracelet using images from her Facebook page or Instagram. To allow her to customize her own design, prepay for the bracelet online, then gift her the promo code. wearshare.us; $7 for two

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Buy some time

The Canadian watchmaker May 28th’s cheery plastic watch faces are tailored to a range of hobbies, from travel to handicrafts. Choose an existing style or design an InstaWatch, printed with your own Instagram photo. may28th.me; from $39

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Give the World

Let jet-setters track their excursions with Oliver Jeffers’s You and Me, The Royal We display-worthy maps. Each screen-printed poster comes with 102 color-coded pushpins: 100 orange for areas already conquered, one red for home—and one blue for your next destination. youandmetheroyalwe.com; from $120

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Commission a "portrait"—on any budget

Kate Middleton might arrange for a painting of her prince, but for non­royals there are less formal ways to celebrate a loved one’s interests or image.

• Smudge Design’s “My Favorite Things” puzzle-like print can be personalized by putting the names of your recipient’s loves, such as Paris or an adored pet, into the art. From $75; minted.com

• Artist Jane Mount’s Ideal Bookshelf gouache and ink paintings depict the spines of the recipient’s most meaningful tomes. Choose the titles yourself or go the gift card route, which allows her to customize. From $250; idealbookshelf.com

• Richard Haines, the fashion illustrator behind the popular street-style blog What I Saw Today, will be accepting commissions for custom black-and-white or watercolor portraits. Price on request; haines.richard@gmail.com


Next: Holiday Picks From Calypso St. Barth


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Photo courtesy of Minted.com

First published in the December 2012/January 2013 issue

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