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Window Shopping: Inside Holiday Displays

Posted November 26, 2007
Updated November 27, 2007

The windows along Manhattan's most famous Midtown shopping district have a charitable bent this year. In Dallas, where Neiman Marcus is based, the future is now. And Seattle-based Nordstrom is giving an early present to one of its own employees, using his new Christmas book as the inspiration for its displays.

Merchandise might not vary much by region: A cozy cashmere sweater here is a cozy cashmere sweater there. But when it comes to how stores present the look of the holiday season, themes vary by location. Peer into the windows:

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NEW YORK

Good cheer isn't good enough this year. Many of Manhattan's destination stores - and destination windows - are carrying the message of "greater good." Barneys New York has a green theme, with a Rudolph the Recycling Reindeer mascot; Bloomingdale's invited children to help in its window designs; and Gucci's windows, against a backdrop of handbags and shoes, touts a fundraising effort for UNICEF.

Saks Fifth Avenue embraces diversity with its "Snowpeople" campaign, seen in displays throughout the country and in its online and paper catalogs. There's also a complementary fundraising partnership for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital.

"Snowpeople" started as a children's book, written by Rick and Ryan Zeeb and illustrated by Trish Burgio, about snow people who begin to wonder why they all look alike. They decide it's boring to be surrounded by friends and family with the same carrot noses and coal mouths, so they head to New York to find their own personal styles. The windows tell the same tale, narrated by Marlo Thomas.

"It was a huge challenge taking something two dimensional and making it three dimensional," says window director Tim Wisgerhof. The other challenge, he says with a laugh, was using the same rainbow palette of the book but avoiding any sort of yellow snow - for obvious reasons.

At Barneys, "give good green" is the motto as shoppers are greeted by an oversized reindeer made of aluminum soda cans and beer-bottle caps.

"Our motto is `Taste, Luxury, and Humor,'" says CEO Howard Socol in a statement. "We thought it was time to add a little charm and levity to this important issue."

Nostalgia also gets a nod in New York. Lord & Taylor's windows emphasize the simple pleasures of Christmas, while Macy's takes a more traditional route with "Santa's Big Night."

At Bergdorf Goodman, the windows celebrate the elements - earth, air, fire, water and light - while also giving a nod to Tony Duquette, the late style influencer probably most famous for his over-the-top decorating style that was a perfect match for his Hollywood clients.

"We always have to have a theme to connect these things, but it's not always a traditional Christmas theme. We'd never do a Victorian Christmas, but they're unmistakably holiday windows," says senior director of window merchandising David Hoey.

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DALLAS

There might not be snow in Dallas, but there is a lot of sparkle and shine, especially in Neiman Marcus's downtown windows featuring sequined dresses reflecting off a mirrored background.

"The windows themselves are very reflective - lots of play with light, lots of sparkle, lots of glitter," says Ignaz Gorischek, vice president of store development for Neiman Marcus.

From the downtown sidewalks, shoppers catch glimpses of the window displays through large circular cutouts in the dark window covering. Inside it's all about icy shimmer - from the mannequins' stark white hair to their glittering dresses to the light playing of the revolving mirrored balls overhead.

"The whole experience is supposed to be this fanciful look into another world, if you will," Gorischek says.

Neiman Marcus is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year with a look into its future, and its holiday decorations reflect that theme.

The store's holiday tree is similarly futuristic. A 16-foot "tree" made up of chrome-plated circles rotates as a "family" of three robotic arms rearrange the black bulbs with yellow polka dots that decorate that tree and three smaller "trees" of chrome flanking it.

But since shoppers also flock to malls here, NorthPark Center and Galleria Dallas were decked out for the holidays as well. The Galleria's tradition of putting a giant Christmas tree - 95-feet tall with lights that "dance" to music - in the middle of its skating rink continues, as does the puppet theater featuring Scrooge at NorthPark.

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SEATTLE

The halls of Seattle's Pacific Place shopping center are decked with Nutcracker sculptures, poinsettia plants and posters promising daily snow flurries in the atrium. But across the avenue, Nordstrom's flagship downtown store based its seasonal window displays, store decorations, gift cards and holiday shopping bags on a children's book penned for this purpose by Randy Schliep, an employee.

"Once Upon a Holiday" tells the tale of Sophie, a young girl who whispers her Christmas Eve wish to the moon. An unfortunate incident involving a cow in a rainbow-striped scarf brings the moon crashing down into Sophie's back yard and threatens to derail Christmas, but a cadre of forest creatures help her get everything back on track.

Nordstrom transplanted the book's bare, gnarled trees and wide-eyed critters in Lisa Evans' illustrations into window scenes featuring posh white, cream, silver and gold party dresses on cool white mannequins. Flocks of birds like carved gourds, adorned with colorful jewels, perch on trees, peck around mounds of fluffy white snow and carry strings of oversized baubles through the air. The moon (still in the sky) looks over the snowy tableaux, lit gently with matte white bulbs buried in snow-dusted evergreen boughs.

When the decorating is done, the phrase "Once upon a holiday, gifts were given" will caption the displays in all the retailer's 101 stores across the country.

About 60 employees volunteered to work into the wee hours of Thanksgiving Day to decorate windows and hang more birds and branches throughout the store. For the design team that worked for months to translate the book into festive decor, "This is like their Super Bowl," said spokeswoman Kendall Bingham.

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