It may come as no surprise that one of the first department-store moguls to primp up his store windows at Christmastime was R.H. Macy in 1874 — half a century before his first Thanksgiving Day parade.
“The recent holiday displays have thoroughly demonstrated the progress of the art of window trimming,” wrote L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz, in 1899 in a story for The Show Window magazine. “Every village and hamlet in the land has had some sort of a window display of unusual merit to attract the public and further the sale of Christmas wares.”
With holiday sales so important to the retail business, plus the need for brick-and-mortar stores to distract customers from their mobile and website shopping, the holiday storefront may be more important than ever. And New York City takes the cake when it comes to holiday exhibitions.
Keeping it in house
Window artists David Hoey and Linda Fargo have been styling displays for Bergdorf Goodman for nearly 20 years, and their habit of turning heads means that the upscale department store has no reason to look elsewhere for talent for its holiday windows.
“This job is part architect and part cake designer,” Hoey told the New York Times in 2010. “We take our frivolity very seriously.”
This year, Hoey says he took his inspiration from the very word “inspired” and that his work is an homage of sorts to the arts, including “theatre,” “architecture,” and “music.”
If getting attention is the aim, hiring eccentric Australian filmmaker Baz Luhrmann and his costume designer (and Moulin Rouge collaborator) wife, Catherine Martin, to doll up your holiday windows is a good bet. That’s exactly what Barney’s has done this year for its New York windows.
The display is aptly titled “Baz Dazzled” and works the themes “truth, love, beauty, and freedom.” Fittingly for designers hailing from the performance arts, the windows include live performances and sculpture in motion.
Dressing up tradition
Saks Fifth Avenue is employing glitter, lights, and “enchantment” in an Art Deco-influenced display that harkens back to its glory days, something the retailer has been working hard to achieve in many areas.
The displays feature princess stories and the Rockettes — including a live performance that launched the holidays.
And Macy’s, whose end-of-year charity event involves getting children’s letters to the North Pole on time, keeps its appeal to children with its story of "Santa in the Solar System."
The retailer takes things up a notch with interactive displays that use touchscreens, but never loses sight of tradition. On day one, for example, the retailer screened the classic movie Miracle On 34th Street, about a Macy’s Santa who claims to be the original and the little girl (played by Natalie Wood) who is, sadly, quite skeptical.
“Oh, Christmas isn't just a day, it's a frame of mind... and that's what's been changing,” laments “Kris Kringle” in Miracle On 34th Street. “That’s why I'm glad I'm here, maybe I can do something about it.”
But even if he can’t, Baz Luhrmann, Linda Fargo, or David Hoey most certainly could.