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Sweet dreams for those with fat wallets

By Danna HarmanStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 30, 2004


A Shifman mattress takes about nine hours to make (by hand, of course), features hourglass-shaped coils (tied eight ways with Italian twine), and costs (on sale) about $5,200. It's a luxury mattress "steal of a deal," really, when you start looking around.

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"I would say Shifman is the Mercedes to our Rolls Royce," sniffs Adrian Jones, director of sales for Hypnos USA, touting the century-old mattresses from Buckinghamshire, England, that he markets. Queen Elizabeth II sleeps on a Hypnos, he confides. The Sultan of Brunei will never rest on anything else, and Luciano Pavarotti is a fan. The price tag? Anywhere between $4,000 and $12,000.

Den Koster Inte Mycket! (Ha! Cheap!), they exclaim over at Hästens, the purveyors of mattresses to the royal Swedish Court - and, like Hypnos, a new arrival to the US. Their top models (filled with carefully selected, meticulously cleaned, genuine horsehair mixed with pure wool that repels condensation) go for a cool $17,000 (a 25-year guarantee is included).

Want to try out these mattresses before dropping the equivalent of a year's tuition at private college? Head over to Duxana, the flagship store of Swedish company Dux Interiors in downtown New York. There, before taking out the credit card (mattresses start at $4,500 and go up to $9,400 for a king size), you can sign up for a slot in its experimental sleep chambers (which come complete with fresh sheets, low lights, and music) for a trial run.

Wild and crazy? A joke? Madness? No, just the latest trend in extravagant indulgence and high-end cocooning. A tiny but growing number of consumers are spending as much as $20,000 for hand-made mattresses boasting superior coils and layered with cashmere and Belgian silk.

This fad is still something of a sleeper, since $600 is considered top end, and anything over $1,500 a luxury. "Ultra-luxe," according to the International Sleep Products Association, makes up only about 2 percent of themarket - but the balance is shifting.

About 17 percent of the market, according to the nonprofit sleep education group Better Sleep Council, is now taken up by higher-end mattress purchases. King size is catching up, natural cotton and flax stuffing is hot, and pure new wool is becoming a necessity.

"The trend in the industry is indeed comfort and luxury. That's the hot buzzword in bedding," says David Perry, bedding editor of Furniture/Today. "A great mattress is going to help you restore your spirits and rejuvenate your body. Who does not want that?"

Perhaps everyone does want exactly that - but it is only in the past few years that consumers have been willing to pay so much for it. A new report by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) says that luxury spending is up across the board - from $4 cups of coffee to $150,000 SUVs. "The new luxury phenomenon," says Michael Silverman, a partner at BCG, "is ... a structural, long-term shift that will continue to reshape consumer economy for the foreseeable future."

A soft place in tough times

Consumer trend watchers throw out an array of interconnected reasons as to why deluxe is "in," especially in the home, and bedroom.

It's a post-9/11 time, they say, and uncertainty makes people want to stay around the home. It's also a time in which disposable income is higher than ever before, and the culture of the spa and self-indulgence is at a peak. Heavy spending on oneself is far from extraordinary, experts note.