Touring the Holiday Windows on Fifth Avenue

December 19, 2014

One of my favorite New York holiday traditions is going to see the window displays in the stores on Fifth Avenue. I have made the mistake in years past of tying to bring friends or loved ones with me on this annual venture into the midtown throng and made people I care about very grumpy. If you aren't naturally amped on adrenaline at the thought of seeing the highest-budget work of the world's most accomplished window dressers, the tourists on that stretch of sidewalk just south of the park can be hard to take. But for me its a highlight of the season, so I ventured out on my own last week to see what the world's fanciest stores had allowed the creative people they employ to do with their holiday marketing dollars.

I spent the afternoon at the Met first, looking at drawings and sketching the plaster casts for figure drawing practice. Then I began my holiday tour with the Angel Tree in the Medieval Sculpture Hall. 

The full given name of this installation is the Annual Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche. The ornaments and figurines are from the 18th century. They pipe in Gregorian chant to complete the scene, and it is all pretty enchanting. There are lots of funny details to discover. Here's a man riding an elephant!

From there I walked downtown along the park as the first snow of the year fell. I started with Bergdorf Goodman, which has been my favorite for four of the five years I've had a chance to see the holiday displays. This year they dedicated each window to a different discipline of the arts. The window devoted to film had a rotating canvas backdrop painted in monochrome with an iceberg scene and a sleigh pulled by friendly huskies (made with fake fur--not taxidermy!). Scroll through to see the windows dedicated to sculpture, music, painting, theater, architecture and literature.

The designers for Bergdorf often use the strategy of choosing a specific material and making everything in the window out of that material. The architecture window was filled with things made of paper, including a very charming blue lion and a blue paper gargoyle.

Literature was all fabric and embroidery...

Tiffany has pretty small windows so they often do something elaborate with the facade of the building itself.  

The window displays were simple vignettes of holiday scenes in the city, with subtle animated details. It seemed underwhelming at first after the splendor of Bergdorf, but the limited palette and reserved quality of these little maquette-like scenes grew on me as I looked at them.

It was a blustery night but the weather just made it seem all the more festive.

Saks Fifth Avenue has done this projected light show with blasting music on the facade the last couple of years which is a little boring if you ask me. 

These guys liked it though.

Rockefeller Center was in fine form too. 

This Salvation Army volunteer was really going for it dancing to Mariah Carey, and then some high school age girls standing nearby joined in too.

Zamboni time!

There were lots of other displays but my other favorite this year was Anthropolgie. You'd think the world would be too tired to enjoy any possible combination of birds and crafts at this point but these New York landmarks-turned-birdhouses for paper cardinals, parakeets, sparrows and even a Great Blue Heron were beautifully made and captured the spirit of the season in an earnest way that I liked a lot.

Thanks for touring the windows with me! Can't wait to see what they come up with next year.