New York, London, Paris, Moscow, Milan and Rome. All totally different cities, yet all equally magical at Christmas. What is it that makes them so special at this particular time? Ça va sans dire: what brings them all together is Christmas design, with its myriad lights and colours, shapes and music, best showcased in the windows of the world’s most famous urban department stores. To call them simply Christmas decorations wouldn’t do them justice. These are theatrical installations, if not works of art, often signed by renowned designers and artists, who compete for conceptual originality and creativity and masterful execution. They draw hordes of passers-by, hypnotised by their sparkle and skyrocketing Instagram feeds. One thing has to be said, however: these days it is they that give substance, direction and lightness to the Christmas spirit.
Here are some of the finest window displays.
On Fifth Avenue in the Big Apple, Bergdorf Goodman has conjured up a luscious, dreamlike world made of candied fruit, liquorice, macaroons, spun sugar, chocolate and gingerbread.
Also on Fifth Avenue, Henri Bendel pays homage to the city in which the magic of Christmas is more pervasive than ever. The iconic skyline complete with beribboned skyscrapers, Christmas trees and oversize vintage gift packages fills the windows.
Saks Fifth Avenue channels an original storytelling medium. Broadway theatre-style lights and sets share the historic windows with digital screens, narrating the Christmas experience of one of the store’s clients, with hugs, clothes and perfect gifts.
On the other side of the Pond, London is no less impressive where lights, decorations and colours are concerned. Selfridges is literally rocking a rock ’n’ roll theme, with windows featuring a prancing Father Christmas on electric guitar, dancing and singing like a modern-day rock star.
Liberty’s Christmas windows are quite different. A magical world of incredible creatures and animals help with, and sometimes hinder and confound, the Christmas preparations at night. Cheeky monkeys hang from the ceiling, grinning elephants sit at sumptuous banquets and majestic lions relax by the fire.
Paris is dreamlike at Christmas, and the windows of the Galeries Lafayette have been turned over to the Fabrique des Rêves. It is a special factory, created by children for children of all ages. The Galeries invited young fans of Father Christmas to invent cheerful, original friends that, be they feathered or sequinned, with four or eight paws, come to life in the windows and invade the grown-up world (of the department store).
It’s Christmastime in Moscow too, and TSUM, one of the city’s most famous department stores near the Bolshoi Theatre, has turned the entire building into a giant gift package with a huge red bow and a cascade of glittering stars.
In Italy, La Rinascente’s Christmas offering is made up of colours, love and beauty. Anybody on the ancient Corso Vittorio Emanuele and in Via Santa Radegonda in Milan, or Rome’s packed Via del Tritone, can feast their eyes on the lights and installations inspired by Sicilian puppet theatres and designed by Dolce & Gabbana.