Come December, the term “window shopping” takes on new meaning as boutiques put their creative might into an unspoken competition for the most imaginative displays. Chris Sanderson, co-founder of brand consultancy The Future Laboratory, explains: “Good shopkeepers intuitively understand that humans look more than they read, so the window offers the split-second opportunity to connect with the next potential customers, to show that the store can meet the customer’s practical and emotional needs.” This is how they do it in different cities round the world.
You can spot the Hermès flagship store on the Faubourg St-Honoré from a distance because of the crowds gazing dreamily into its windows. The Tunisia-born window designer Leila Menchari has been creating the French luxury brand’s window since 1978. She draws inspiration from her own life and extensive travels. This year there are gilded wooden sculptures, Chinese vases, golden sculpted serpents and golden drapery. Kelly bags and Bolide bags in embroidered leather are displayed alongside gold leather evening clutches. Menchari says the creation of a window requires the same focus as the composition of a painting. “I have to allow for just one glance to hone in on the object,” she says. “I must seduce through stories.”
“Christmas is very much a celebration in Germany,” says Susanne Botschen, who owns Theresa, Germany’s foremost multi-brand store, with her husband, Christoph. It’s the land of Christmas markets, with their fairy lights and little wooden stalls. Botschen says: “We want to keep the mood of Christmas and not miss out on tradition and also we want to do something different and new.” This year Theresa’s displays are inspired by the Salzburg Opera Festival. They have recreated the stone wall and arches that famously frame the stage of the Felsenreitschule theatre, with giant golden angel wings resting on top; another window has been transformed into a snowy forest. Against these backdrops a new selection of clothing and accessories from designers such as Céline, Yves Saint Laurent and Marc Jacobs appears every week.
Wait and See on Via Santa Marta is Milan’s latest concept store. The owner, former knitwear designer Uberta Zambeletti, does the visual merchandising herself, along with selecting clothes and objects for the store from designers around the world. “Most window displays in Milan very much reflect the city’s rigour,” says Zambeletti, “My windows are playful, with a touch of irony. I want people to smile when they pass my shop.” For Christmas they are painted red and you can only see inside by looking through a pair of eyes. There is more red too, in the form of evening dresses by Indian designer James Ferreira and lace-up shoes by Strategia.
Some of the prettiest, most traditionally English Christmas windows are still to be found on Bond Street and in the Burlington Arcade. This year Asprey on Bond Street has windows decked with winter greenery, giant Christmas trees and snowflakes made of classic purple Asprey gift boxes assembled like Lego, on top of which is an array of presents such as a crystal decanter with a stag’s head stopper. The ground floor has been transformed into a forest, with trees placed at the centre of jewellery cabinets.
Liberty’s windows are always an event and this year’s opulent displays are inspired by “The 12 Days of Christmas”. The 10 lords a-leaping scene is full of sculpted marionettes, while peacock-feathered walls and chiffon fabric form the backdrop to seven swans a-swimming, in which three mannequins mingle with swans in gold crowns.
In a display entitled “My True Love Gave to Me”, lovers are framed by rich damask in Liberty purple, with twinkling lights and hot air balloons filled with gifts from the beauty hall.
Effectively the Soviet era Christmas was banned in Russia and it wasn’t until 1992 that celebrations were revived. The shop Kuznetzky Most 20 is considered by many to be the Russian capital’s best concept store. This year its three windows are inspired by Armenian designer Vardoui Nazarian and feature her stunning silver evening dresses. Images of the snow-capped Ararat mountains and tables decked with typical Christmas decorations complete the display.
In a major publicity coup Lady Gaga has designed Barneys windows in conjunction with her stylist Nicola Formichetti and Barneys creative director Dennis Freedman to create Gaga’s Workshop. The effect, unsurprisingly, is a dark, twisted, cyber-fairytale. In one window, Lady Gaga’s Boudoir, everything from the bedroom walls to the curtains has been made of blonde hair. In the Crystal Cave window there are two swimming mermaids and a “Gaga Machine”.
At the more classic Bergdorf Goodman the theme is Carnival of the Animals, created by David Hoey, senior director of presentation. One scene, The Brass Menagerie, suggests a tropical forest through metal, mirrors, a giant birdcage and a dress by Naeem Khan in gold metal and feathers. There is also a Renaissance-inspired undersea fantasy that took 10 months to complete.