I'm a freelance writer/photographer living in the East Village neighborhood of New York City.
Every season the team of designers and artists behind the elaborate window displays at Bergdorf Goodman do the impossible: In the span of a few weeks they transform hundreds of otherwise unrelated objects into fantastical pages out of some amazing storybook. David Hoey, Senior Director of Visual Presentation calls the job of the modern window dresser one that is "part architect and part cake decorator." The theme of this year's display is "Wish You Were Here" and it features five very different takes on traveling to far-flung destinations by way of ocean liner, rocket ship, winged Pegasus, and hot air balloon. Expect visual references that connect everything from the Roman Empire to 1940s Hollywood to the Georges Mélès film, "A Trip to the Moon." It's like eye-spy, but for grown-ups. For a closer peek, check out this video.
Where: Fifth Avenue (at 58th Street.)
Musician John Legend helped Bloomingdale's kick off the holiday season this year with a massive celebration on November 18, but the store's window displays can be seen at any time. Favoring technology over old-school craftsmanship, the displays are made up of 100 digital screens patterned in a mosaic that run ongoing holiday messages like "Happy Merry Peace Love" and a variety of winter-themed animations. While it may not be what you've come to expect in window displays, the kids will likely be pleased.
Where: 58th Street and Lexington Avenue
Macy's Unlike some of its sister stores, the Macy's window displays typically take a nod to the traditional. This year's treatment is a unique interpretation of the 1897 classic children's story "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus." What is unexpected is that the majority of the sets are done entirely in cut paper with forced perspective in an effort to appear like pages from a child's picture book. Look closely and you can read some of the typeface on the mock newspaper galleys, which show historically accurate information for the period. And the stop-motion animations that are seen on LED screens were filmed by hand, not computer. For a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of this year's windows, check out this video.
Where: 131 W. 34th Street, Herald Square
Lord & Taylor This year, Lord & Taylor took its holiday inspiration from customers. Last spring, patrons sent in their favorite holiday memories by mail or through Facebook and a team of visual artists interpreted five of the stories. The results are simply amazing. And even though the tales all took place throughout the world, each window is set in New York. There's a family decorating a Christmas tree, a baking scene in progress, a child receiving his first bicycle, and more. In another window set in the 1960s, a family sits watching the old TV special, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." The letters that inspired each window are also on display. For added fun, check out this video that features Lord & Taylor window displays from past years—all the way back to 1957.
Where: 424 Fifth Avenue
Taking its snowflake projection display to the next level, this year Sak's is using state-of-the-art technology to broaden the returning show and expand it into a 3-D experience that will appear as if it is transforming the building itself. The video projections, which climax in the building appearing to freeze over, will run on a loop every 15 minutes. While the 3-D show takes place above them using the building as a canvas, the five decorated windows on Fifth Avenue will support the same theme. Creative Director Sean Reynolds explains, "The challenge was to create a simple, traditional narrative in keeping with such an iconic New York store at such a magical time of year." You can expect the same video mapping technology to have far-reaching applications in the future of retail and marketing; similar technology was used this season to showcase the Ralph Lauren collection.
Where: 611 Fifth Avenue
Barney's Simon Doonan, Creative Director for Barney's, takes home the award for the most unusual and unexpected holiday window displays yet with the theme, "Have a Foodie Holiday." Citing chefs as the new celebrities, Doonan started with a list of 70 and paired it down to five, including the late Julia Child. One window is created entirely with Illycaffé Espresso packaging. To heighten the compliment, Illy's will be serving espresso and cappuccino on Barney's ninth floor until the end of December, just in time to get your shopping season in high gear.
Where: 660 Madison Avenue