Much like Charles Dicken's protagonist in his novel, A Christmas Carol, the big luxury department stores have focused on Christmas past, present and future, when they unveiled their all important windows, to an ever expectant audience this month.
Zoe Bradley's Christmas Window for Tiffany & Co 2009
It's the one time of year, that the bricks and mortar of retail can seize their chance of creating something truly magical to engage with the passing public.
Zoe Bradley's first Christmas Window for Liberty department store 2005
Despite the rising significance of digital touchpoints, where consumers are increasingly switched onto their mobile devices to purchase goods, brands continue to pour money and creativity into their elaborate Christmas windows. The stakes have never been higher.
It will certainly take more than a few switched on twinkly lights in the window to entice prospective shoppers over this festive season.
Christmas All Wrapped Up? Zoe Bradley installation for Lane Crawford Hong Kong for Christmas 2006
Christmas windows have become a popular attraction in London, with many people flocking to see the festive displays every year. Its a chance for stores to really turn on the theatre and create drama and storytelling. Consumers want to be taken on a journey, whether that's through nostalgia and sentiment or into the future with technology and wonderment. America has long held this tradition of making family outings to view the magic of the Holiday windows.
Windows at Christmas is all part of the bigger brand story. Brands need to show a sense of escapism and capture the spirit of Christmas. At the very least create a narrative. Tell a story. Take those customers into another world. It should encourage a smile, a sense of revelation. A sense of fun and childlike amusement. It is Christmas after all.
We take a look at those that have caught our attention and impressed with their creative dialogue, along with revisiting some of our own windows from Christmas past.
The Knightsbridge based department store created the drama of the Italian Renaissance for their Christmas window offering, even down to the marble effect front facade.
It captures all the drama we have come to expect from this store, along with lots of detail, props and styling. There are 100,000 glittering ice white balls that form into clouds, elaborate suspended chandeliers and over 90 hand made stars decorating the ceiling.
The windows feature a sizeable 1300 kg of paper, scrunched up to make props. Around 500 litres of paint was used for the marble-effect columns.
Janet Wardley, head of visual display at Harvey Nichols for the past 20 years, says “It has been an exciting challenge to transform the store’s facade with marbled panels inspired by the Italian Renaissance architecture to bring Italy to our UK and Ireland sites this year. “The use of lighting effects to create two different night and day displays highlights our iconic, playful and daring brand identity' offers Wardley.
Perhaps the worlds most iconic store, Harrods has teamed up with another very iconic British brand, Burberry for their window campaign, titled A Very British Fairy Tale, this wonderfully visual tale, tells the story of two children on an enchanting adventure through a snow-swept English country house.
The impressive display occupies the store’s 29 windows, complete with flying cars, floating bathtubs and secret passageways. What is very impressive in this partnership, is the clever mix of old fashioned story telling with state of the art technology, where the tale can be bought to life by the passing public.
Visitors can interact with a sensory window using a motion sensor, through which they can experiment with the lighting and music. This is when the adults become kids again. Who doesn't love playing with a new gadget at Christmas time?
Director of Creative Marketing at Harrods, Deborah Bee, told the Evening Standard last week,“Innovation is very important for our customers. We wanted the windows to be visually stimulating and adding a digital element allows visitors to engage with the installation in a more meaningful way.”
We couldn't agree more, and if that wasn't enough to engage all those SW1 Christmas shoppers, this genius collaboration have created a short animated film. As a paper artist, I was struck by how detailed and effective the paper characters and scenes looked. It wonderfully captures this fairytale through the imagination of the children.
Situated on one of London's prime retail sites, these windows offer up the cheeky side of Santa Claus. It's definitely party time for Santa in his full sequinned sparkly red suits. Having taken a two year sabbatical from the iconic Selfridges windows, he's back with a party bang and shows his irreverent side, mischiellously mixing with a host of penguins, poodles and polar bears, not to mention some 70's Disco divas.
Santa feature's in five windows along Oxford Street, where each set took over 100 hours to make and include 90 mirrored disco balls. It should be noted that no Polar Bears or Penguins were harmed in the making of these windows.
The store has also added a fun interactive feature for the estimated 100,000 passing public. A revolutionary speaker system which vibrates the window glass to produce unique soundtracks for the display behind. It really is the season to be jolly.
Selfridges Creative Director, Linda Hewson comments"We are very excited about our Christmas displays this year. We've been thinking of creatively expressing the idea of party and togetherness at the heart of the well-known phrase 'celebrating Christmas' for a while now.”
You could argue Liberty is retail's spiritual home of Christmas and perhaps looking to Christmas past, its fitting that the world famous Tudor building collaborated in an exclusive partnership with The Royal Ballet this season. Showcasing the enchanting story & well known ballet, The Nutcracker.
Carved wood ballerinas and toy soldiers stand proudly amongst the turning cogs of clocks and piles of presents in the Liberty windows.
Each of its windows is themed around a different scene from Drosselmeyer the magician’s magical kingdom to the Nutcracker’s battle with the Mouse King.
Liz Silvester, Head of Visual Identity at Liberty commented: “This year it was decided that music, dance and drama would be used to bring out the spirit and charm of an exciting and emotive Christmas time: The Nutcracker was the perfect choice!”
Across the pond in New York City, the story of Christmas is big business and is the most important time of year for the big named department stores.
The luxury retailer’s overall theme this year is "Land of 1000 Delights," which includes magical landscapes of colourful sweets and festive fashion. There is larger than life lollipops swirls, skyscraper size sticks of stripy rock, that will have the kids eyes and tongues pressed against the Fifth Avenue windows.
Saks Fifth Avenue also features six windows along Fifth Avenue titled, "The Nutcracker Sweet," where you'll find Clara and the Mouse King frolicking amongst a luscious playground filled with treats. The multicoloured ten-story tall light show, which the department store is most known for during the holidays, is not to be missed. It play's daily from 5 to11pm every ten minutes until 2nd January.
Nancy Hansell, senior strategist at branding firm Siegel+Gale, comments the importance of this time of year for department stores like this. "Window displays, and holiday windows in particular, are really effective in helping brands elevate themselves beyond a transactional experience and remind people of the wonders of shopping," she says.
If we are referencing the Dicken's Christmas Carol, then world famous store Bloomingdales have looked to the Christmas future with their collaboration. Teaming up with a group of young dynamic artist's in aid of The Child Mind Institute. These creative visual artists have produced one-of-a-kind chandeliers that are works of their artistic expression based on a word about “light", the stores holiday campaign theme.
These works of art will be auctioned off for charity as “Bloomingdale’s Lights Up A Young Mind”. In the spirit of giving, Abby Modell, Allison Eden, Susanne Bartsch, Inma Barrero, Sean Augustine March, Erika deVries, Jonan Meyer, George Kroenert and Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos gave much of their time and their passion to support these children and the Child Mind Institute.
Bloomingdale's operating VP of Visual Merchandising says "Holiday windows are a big part of Bloomingdale's heritage and an annual tradition for so many of our customers," he says. "Our goal is to create a unique holiday experience that is like no other store in the world."
We were certainly transported with the magical theme of 'Destination Extraordinary' with luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman. We can completely relate to this other world at Zoe Bradley, taking the viewer on a journey of discovery and getting lost in another world.
David Hoey, Senior Director of Visual Presentation, characterises the department store's displays as "delirious remakes of the classic dioramas seen in natural history museums."
He cites the work of Henri Rousseau and 12th-century Chinese water-colour mountainscapes as inspiration for the lush, larger-than-life windows, each of which depicts a unique destination.
A special highlight is the wonderful work of New York based paper artist Daniel Sean Murphy,creating the 10 foot pair of praying mantis.
'Craftmanship combined with silhouette is the handwriting of Zoe Bradley.'
"My precious experience working with Alexander McQueen at such a seminal moment in his career, ignited in me a real love of craftsmanship and detail' says paper artist Zoe Bradley.
This really is where her career path took a left field turn. Instead of pursuing the normal route of ready to wear design, Bradley found a love and passion for creating extreme silhouettes in unusual materials. Working at McQueen's studio led Bradley into sourcing materials, such as wood, metal and raffia. Today, Bradley choice of material is paper. She has developed her techniques over the past 10 years in what she describes as "A truly unique hand sculpted product that celebrates the beautiful and natural forms found in nature."
The winged plywood corset designed by Alexander McQueen and created by Bradley for his no 13 show 1999
Ahead of this Friday's Talk at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, Zoe Bradley will be discussing her journey from it's humble beginning to where she is today.
Fashion Editor and muse, Isabella Blow, championed Bradley's early work. Blow loved her final graduate collection. She made her stamp of approval by photographing it for the cover of the Sunday Times Style magazine.
Zoe Bradley's final Graduate Collection as featured in The Sunday Times Style by Isabella Blow
'I was drawn to the spectacle of the fashion show that bordered on performance art' says Bradley. She cites Hussein Chalayan, Comme des Garcon, John Galliano and Alexander McQueen as inspirational designers. Mavericks in their design field, who were the exception. Not content with just showing their collections up and down a runway, they pushed boundaries and created theatre. Bradley knew she HAD to work with McQueen, whose vision she admired, respected and above all felt emotionally inspired by.
After joining the team as an intern in 1997, Bradley was given the role of showpiece maker working exclusively on the more unusual commissioned pieces that were very often not from fabric. Working closely from his sketches and specialist craft makers she assisted in creating some of the most iconic pieces in fashion, most recently seen in the exhibition Savage Beauty at New York's Metropolitan Museum and more recently at the sell out show in London's V&A museum.
As Bradley will explain in this Friday's talk at the Royal Academy of Arts, these were defining moments in creating the spectacle and drama out of an everyday material. Paper.
The pleated paper dress designed and created by Zoe Bradley for Michiko Koschino show 2005. Photo courtesy of Ram Shergill
From pleated showpieces for Michiko Koschino to creating a magical christmas window for London store Liberty, Bradley's path was set to become a paper visionary designer offering a bit of magic into the world of retail.
Work in progress: Creating one of the paper headpieces for Liberty of London Christmas window 2005
Other commissions followed from Tiffany & Co, where Bradley designed and created 146 bespoke windows for their global christmas campaign. Inspired by Fairytales, the work resulted in a perfectly executed story book in a glass box.
One of the five Fairytale scenes, designed and created in paper by Zoe Bradley for Tiffany & Co Global window campaign for Christmas 2009
From International windows that span from New York to Berlin, London to Hong Kong, Bradley has worked on creating some magical sets for advertising campaigns and produced detailed paper works of art for some of the best and well known magazines in publishing. Her work has been exhibited in Amsterdam and London's Sotheby's and appeared in numerous books on paper art.
A pair of gold paper shoes created by Zoe Bradley with Swarovski crystals for Sotheby's London for their Royal & Noble Descent exhibition. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's.
The 6 metre long Red Ruffle paper dress. Designed and created by Zoe Bradley for Sotheby's Royal and Noble Descent exhibition and auction 2016
If you'd like to hear Zoe Bradley talk more in detail about her life in paper and how fashion and art have really had a lasting influence on her work, please secure your place for this Friday's insightful 'In Conversation with …'event at Royal Academy of Art. Places are limited and the event would normally be open only to Friends of the Academy, who this week have been celebrating with all kinds of inspiring events from Talks to Workshops. The Zoe Bradley Talk takes place this Friday 20th May from 7pm - 8.30pm.
The Floral paper chandelier designed and created by Bradley for Burlington Arcade 2015. Photo courtesy of Jamie McGregor Smith
You can confirm your attendance by sending an email to the link below stating its for the Zoe Bradley Talk this Friday.