War of the Christmas windows

Guest Blogger

By Pamela Lee

Are they art, design, fashion or just an intense strain of commercialism? Whatever your opinion there is no denying that London’s Christmas windows 2011 are absolutely fabulous, they will get you in the Christmas spirit and are worth the braving the manic centre of pre-Christmas London.

Christmas window displays are a great festive treat, but the trend for dramatic visuals is increasing as a year-round phenomenon. Now becoming the equivalent of small galleries, eccentric visual displays are seen as platform for creative art and design, reaching unintentional audiences and setting the standard on the high street.

A great example is ‘The Museum of Everything’ , which held its ‘Exhibition #4’ in Selfridges during September and October earlier this year. The 400 works of self- trained, un-taught artists took up the Ultra Lounge Space, The Wonder room and all the windows on Oxford and Orchard Street. Undoubtedly the extravagant window displays were a contributing factor in the 100,000 visitors who came to see the exhibition.

Also, during Design Week the Fendi flagship store teamed up with the Royal College of Art, to create in-situ, sight specific installation window displays incorporating innovative uses of Fendi’s signature craftsmanship techniques. Two lucky graduates, Lola Lely and Meret Probst were given the windows as a platform for their work. With this growing trend of well-calculated window displays, I went to see what “the big” windows of the UK’s most popular shopping destinations have done for Christmas 2011 – Selfridges, Liberty’s of London, Harrods and Harvey Nichols.

Selfridges windows – glowing with crisp LED light rods and glistening acrobatic mannequins exploding from giant Christmas crackers, created an underlying theme of music.

They embraced technology and have installed touch screen windows where shoppers can wind up huge music boxes and listen to music. This has an interesting connotation towards the growing area of technology-based fashion as well as the being on par with the interactive approach to exhibitions being taken in numerous London museums.

The iconic British retailer has also installed ‘Blizzard of Desire’ by the artist Marc Quinn. This huge white flower within a snow globe context as well a series of windows displaying flowers blooming in the snow and his merchandise.

Meanwhile, Liberty’s have opted for a more opulent and rustic feel taking the theme of the 12 days of Christmas with extravagant detail. Two white doves, with diamond-encrusted harnesses are in mid-flight. Elegant gold birdcages and a backdrop of peacock feathers surround large elegant swans, crowned and be-jeweled.

The display of 8 maids- a-milking is a glutinous display of mouth-watering chocolates and the drummers drumming are an array of gorgeous swinging puppets. All the props are supervised by mannequins with incredible sequin eye make up; the extraordinary details in these displays are truly captivating.

In partnership with Swarovski, Harrods presents a shimmering interpretation of Snow White meets the White Queen of Narnia. Snow Princess and Ice Queens drowned in glistening jewels create dramatic poses while abased males kneel in the sparkling snow before them.

The poses of these diamond-clad maidens are by no means arbitrary as each effectively deduces the shimmering clothes and jewelry in the most flattering way. Even the small windows by the entrance are filled with tiny bejeweled characters and white animals.

Harvey Nichols has used a contrasting choice of material. Their windows create a dramatic frozen planet with an extraordinarily creative use of styrofoam and shrink-wrap. There are giant styrofoam carved bears and huskies dashing through the styrofoam snow. A giant shrink-wrap swan swims in a lake of broken glass.

Whether this is intentional or not, the choice of materials certainly makes connotations towards sustainability, with the creative use of normally throw away packaging materials, an interesting contradiction to the diamond encrusted windows across the street.

So, even if you fear the manic Christmas shoppers, a trip into Oxford Street or Knightsbridge will be a present for your eyes, and even in the New Year keep them open for the interesting artists and designers who might be gracing our windows. But you don’t have long!