“City sidewalks, busy sidewalks
Dressed in holiday style
In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas”
Whenever I hear that verse of Silver Bells, I always imagine myself bundled up in a long coat, wearing a jaunty little hat (not unlike the one worn by Mary Steenburgen in Elf) and carrying several brown paper Macy’s shopping bags. I am standing outside of a store gazing at its Christmas window display while around me the shoppers rush home with their treasures. All at once, I am jostled by a passerby and one of my packages drops to the sidewalk. I bend down to pick it up and come face to face with the stranger, who has also bent to retrieve it. He looks alarmingly like Jude Law as he did in the movie The Holiday, his eyes- how they twinkle, his dimples how merry! When he speaks, I swear I can hear a hint of an accent, “Drop something?” he says, his droll little mouth drawn up like a bow. I have only slightly regained my composure when Clint sidles up behind us and says “I’m so tired. Why do malls make me so tired? Where did you get that hat?” And as I turn back to thank my kind stranger, I hear him exclaim, as he walks out of sight, “Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!”
Look, it’s my fantasy and I’ll combine two popular Christmas themes if I want to.
Years ago, I worked as a Visual Presentation Specialist at The Bay downtown in Winnipeg and then in Calgary. One of the best parts of the job was working as a team to execute the store’s exterior window displays. There’s something magical about creating a scene in which people can lose themselves, even if only for the length of time it takes them to walk by. Store windows are like a glimpse into an imaginary and much more fantastical world. And it all started with the New York shopping institution, Macy’s.
Rowland Hussey Macy opened his dry goods store in 1858 on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 14th Street in New York City. As the successful business grew, Macy saw an opportunity to draw customers into his store using large window displays of the products that could be found within and in 1874, Macy’s was the first store of its kind to debut a Christmas window display.
The flagship store moved to 34th Street in 1902 and Macy’s Herald Square has since become the Mecca of holiday window displays with an estimated 10,000 people an hour passing the windows at peak times. Every year the department store pays homage to Miracle on 34th Street, the classic 1947 Christmas movie that immortalized the store and its Santa in the minds of generations, by dedicating one set of its holiday windows to themes from the film.
It didn’t take long for other retailers to catch on to the genius of drawing a crowd using a holiday window display. Today retailers like Bloomingdale’s, Saks, Barney’s, and Bergdorf Goodman engage in the ultimate game of one-upmanship creating scenes that draw visitors from around the world and often partnering with film studios and charities to cross market their merchandise with movies such as The Grinch (Bloomingdale’s) and initiatives like Make Change (Barney’s).
In London, arguably the Christmassy-iest of cities, holiday windows didn’t catch on until 1890, when Selfridge’s lit their windows to display their goods at night. This year, Selfridge’s was again ahead of the pack being the first to unveil their 2018 Rock ‘N’ Roll themed holiday windows featuring Santa dressed as rock icons like David Bowie and Freddie Mercury. Harrod’s, Harvey Nichols, Liberty and Fortnum & Mason followed shortly after with themes ranging from mince pies pulling Santa’s sleigh and hot chocolate filled copper mugs at Fortnum & Mason to a popping champagne bottle with a cork that blazes a trail through the windows at Harvey Nichols.
Hamleys, the oldest toy store in the world, have rightfully focused their attentions on pleasing their most important customers, children. The store, founded in 1760, has its exterior windows installed approximately 18” from the ground and displays are scaled to their young viewers. This year’s theme is a collaboration between TY stuffed animals and Aladdin the Musical. In 2015, Harrod’s also delighted youngsters by raising their large luxury window displays by almost two feet and creating an enchanting eye level glimpse into the lives of tiny Christmas mice preparing for the holiday.
It takes an army of creative professionals almost a year to imagine, render and construct these fantastical holiday scenes and no detail is left to chance. Bergdorf Goodman decides on their window theme first, constructing the scenes before it is decided which fashion pieces are required. If the perfect pieces aren’t available, the store commissions couture pieces that are then available to purchase by special order. At the end of the season, Bergdorf’s dismantles and stores each window so that its parts can be re purposed in future themes.
So, should we meet in New York next November? Say, the week before Thanksgiving? Sounds like the perfect way to kick off the holiday season. Just let me grab my jaunty hat. Follow these links to see slide shows featuring more images of the 2018 holiday windows: New York, London.
Holiday Window Facts
- Most stores begin planning their holiday windows in January, shortly after disassembling the previous year’s displays.
- At Macy’s, holiday window installation takes 21 days and nights.
- Stores use teams of between 60 and 100 people to design and install holiday windows.
- This year, Bergdorf Goodman used German glass glitter to create their holiday sparkle (see image above). Design teams had to wear gloves to prevent cutting themselves with the crushed glass.
- Macy’s pre-builds each window scene in their shop using fake windows to ensure they fit perfectly prior to installation.
- Lord & Taylor pioneered the use of “Elevator Windows”, enabling windows to be created below and lifted into place using hydraulics.
- Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenburg all worked as window dressers.