Holiday windows are back. And New York shoppers too.


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“Yeah, yeah, yeah, lights!” Former First Lady Michelle Obama said Monday night as she prepared to press a giant white button to officially unveil the holiday windows on Saks Fifth Avenue.

With the movement, miles of light bulbs attached to the limestone facade flashed, transforming the 10-story neoclassical building into a multicolored, glittering ice castle. “Christmas (baby please come home)” rang through the speakers. Black curtains on the windows rose, revealing floating houses, swirling coconuts and leaping dolphins in bright, saturated colors. Fireworks were fired from the roof.

Each window was inspired by children’s drawings of vacation dreams – of houses, beaches and games. “The style is kind of a candy-coated imagination,” said Andrew Winton, senior vice president of creation at Saks, who oversees the holiday exhibits.

Mrs. Obama was there to promote a partnership between Saks and the Obama Foundation Alliance of Opportunities for Girls. In addition to a million dollar donation, the store capsule collections organized with some of Ms. Obama’s favorite design labels including Jason Wu, Philip Lim and Oscar de la Renta, with 100 percent of the net proceeds this year going to the foundation. The collections include clothing, housewares, beauty and accessories.

Fifth Avenue was closed to traffic and crowds lined the police barricades. But despite the pyrotechnics, the lavish tradition of handcrafted holiday display cases, which has drawn shoppers to midtown Manhattan for a century, is in decline.

Lord & Taylor, Barneys New York and Henri Bendel, once destinations for their ornate exhibitions, have closed their flagships in recent years. Today, only a handful of department stores in New York City – Saks, Bergdorf Goodman, Macy’s, and Bloomingdale’s – produce elaborate traditional window displays. (Instead of holiday showcases, Nordstrom will cover the store’s 57th Street location with 50 miles of lights, 150 trees, and seven 11-foot-tall nutcrackers.)

“It’s so sad when another of our competitors shuts down; it forces us to work even harder, ”said John Klimkowski, senior director of visual merchandising at Bloomingdale’s, who has overseen window design at the retailer for a decade. With less to see, he added, “ours must be even more memorable.”

Macy’s is credited with bringing holiday windows to New York City in 1874, with an extravagant display on 34th Street in Herald Square. Over the years, the now-closed stores along Fifth Avenue have participated in a creative arms race to outdo each other with stunning installations that have drawn crowds and inspired family traditions.

“Most of them weren’t displaying any merchandise,” said Sheryll Bellman, author of “Through Buying Glass: A Century of Christmas Windows in New York”. “It was to delight the public. It was their gift to the city.

Last year, as the pandemic made it more difficult for window dressers to work in person and obtain needed supplies, some of the department store displays were toned down. Crowds were also scarce. (Saks opened her windows and watched a light show attended by Jennifer Lopez and her then-fiancé Alex Rodriguez, but there was no audience or fireworks display.)

This year, with bullish retailers About the holiday shopping season, meticulous display cases and tradition-conscious fans are back.

At Bergdorf Goodman on November 18, crowds stood side by side on both sides of Fifth Avenue and 58th Street, as a string group played cheerful Christmas classics. Santa Claus posed for photos and rang sleigh bells.

“Life is changing again,” said Linda Fargo, fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, as the department store unveiled its holiday windows.

In a window, there was a mermaid in a magenta sequined CD Greene dress resting on a dazzled motorbike surrounded by pointy nosed fish. In another, a mannequin in a gold embroidered Schiaparelli dress and jacket was dancing on the moon. Down the row, fluffy white and black dogs circled a figure in a puffy winter coat.

Each celebrates different moods, including adventurous, harmonious and dashing. David Hoey, senior director of visual presentation at Bergdorf, said the windows were inspired by a psychedelic sculpture of a green bird. “Last year was kind of minimalism,” Mr. Hoey said. “This year, maximalism is our hallmark.”

Mariana Morales, 18, a student from Guatemala City, was in town with her family. She tries to visit the windows as often as she can, but was unable to do so last year due to the pandemic. She said she almost cried when she saw the Bergdorf exhibit. “You feel like you are transported to a different world,” she said.

At Macy’s, which also unveiled its windows on Nov. 18, the look was more traditional. The Windows tell the story of Tiptoe, a brave reindeer trying to believe she could fly. The visuals were influenced by old Claymation Christmas movies, according to Manny Urquizo, Macy’s National Showcase and Campaign Director.

On Saturday afternoon, as quick shoppers juggled bags and a street cart selling roasted nuts, Carlye Allen, her husband and their 2-year-old son toured the festive window displays. The family was in town of Arlington, Texas for Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. Ms Allen, 28, a wedding photographer, said that between the lights, the smells and the sounds, “it feels like you’re in a Hallmark movie.

“One hundred percent living the dream,” she said.

Holiday music has also taken to the streets outside Bloomingdale’s. The store’s designers filled window displays along Lexington Avenue with items that delighted them as children, like dinosaurs and crocheted blankets.

There was an ornate T. Rex riding a skateboard. Another window had penguins in parkas surrounded by figurines. Down the line, a hot pink mannequin in glittery roller skates twirled in a glittery shell.

Across the window, Jeannie Dumas, 66, a clinical social worker, and her daughter Alexandra, who live in Brooklyn, admired the windows. They are used to visiting stores together, but did not feel safe last year. The couple were delighted to be back and took comfort in going back to the windows.

“We went through a trauma,” said Dumas. “Doing ritualistic things brings a sense of security and healing. “

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