One of New York’s most beloved holiday traditions is the elaborate decorations that adorn the city’s biggest department store windows – but it’s not only department stores that get to have all the fun. Stores all over the city, including Christian Louboutin in the Meat Packing District, the New Museum in the Bowery, and the furniture and antique shop John Derian, all get festive and put on a show. All of these displays remind us that fantasy can be right around the corner, especially in December.
There were quite a few astounding designs this year, so many that a walking tour was created, which leads curious shoppers on a two-mile marathon. A few of the displays stood out above the rest. On 5th Ave. and 58th St., Bergdorf Goodman celebrates their creative theme, “Carnival of the Animals.” Each window has its own title and highlights a particular material that designers used to create dozens of animals from all over the world. The “Brass Menagerie” is filled with tropical birds made by the artist Sergio Bustamante. Tones of copper, gold, and silver illuminate the feathers, creating a glimmering avian scene. Other windows feature a school of exotic fish made of mosaic tiles, rhinestones, gems, and sequins, and a quirky group of monochrome animals like zebras and Dalmatians constructed from hundreds of varieties of paper. Of course, each window features a mannequin donning gorgeous attire, from a sequined flapper dress to a glamorous fur coat. These ultra-fashionable models are actually a lot closer to reality on Fifth Ave. than the animals that surround them.
Another store that caught our eye is Barneys’ Madison Avenue flagship store. This year they teamed up with Lady Gaga to collaborate on an over-the-top design and a special boutique called Gaga’s Workshop that will take over the entire fifth floor of the store. The entrance has been completely transformed by the installation of a giant face that appears to swallow shoppers as they enter. The windows each depict different aspects of Gaga’s aesthetic and personality; one is the elegantly decorated “Gaga’s Bedroom,” another a “Gaga Machine” that resembles a motorcycle, and a third is an ice scene called “Gaga’s Crystal Cove.” What the Workshop sells is just as eccentric as the window displays: items like a “chocolate Gaga shoe” and a silver Christmas stocking in the shape of a giant lobster claw are on sale for almost sixty dollars.
For a more traditional display, check out Lord & Taylor; they have been decorating their windows since 1938, and this year’s theme was based on an illustration from 1940. This year, Lord & Taylor posed the question, “What is Christmas made of?” in their annual holiday window display this year. Earlier this year, Lord & Taylor asked children from local schools and the Women in Need shelter to create drawings of their fantasy holiday season. Designers took inspiration from these drawings to develop holiday scenes that are quite a bit more conservative than those at Barneys. Mechanically operated children are shown ice skating in Central Park, building snowmen, and picking out a Christmas tree. Each display also featured several original drawings from the children. Lord & Taylor even had a song composed exclusively for them called “What is Christmas Made Of?” which was performed by the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, a youth choir that provides affordable music education.
Whether it’s high-end shoes, exotic creatures, pop stars, or just a good old-fashioned ice skate through the park, there’s room for everyone’s fantasies in the holiday window displays. Plus it’s a great excuse to get some retail therapy without breaking the bank!
As December is the month of fantasy we thought we’d look beyond everyday architecture, and delve into the realm of the unreal. Some of the all-time greatest movies have created architecture all their own to enhance their imaginative plot lines. There are several that come to mind: the sets of The Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter series, Minority Report, and Tron. However, let’s stick with a couple well-known classics that use unique architecture in their set designs to portray the fantastical mood of the film. Two films that do this particularly well are Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas and The Wizard of Oz.
Tim Burton, the creator of Nightmare Before Christmas, has described his fantasy environments as a mix between German Expressionism and Dr. Seuss. German Expressionism is a style of filmmaking and set design that emerged before World War I. It was at its peak in1920s Berlin and was part of the larger Expressionist art movement across Europe. The style is characterized by angular, geometrically absurd sets that give a sense of disorientation and tension. Scenes were often painted directly onto the walls and floors of the sets to further the surreal aesthetic. Like Burton’s films, the plot lines of these expressionist films were often driven by dark themes including insanity and betrayal. For Nightmare Before Christmas, Burton drew heavily on one of the most famous films of the Expressionist style: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
According to Tom Selick, one of the animators for Nightmare Before Christmas, the film actually exhibits three different architectural styles. He explains, “When we reach Halloween Town, it’s entirely German Expressionism. When Jack enters Christmas Town, it’s an outrageous Dr. Seuss-esque set piece. Finally, when Jack is delivering presents in the ‘Real World’, everything is plain, simple and perfectly aligned.” We can see the influence of the bizarre style of German Expressionism in the undulating roads and slanted, off kilter buildings (especially the City Hall) in Halloween Town. Gray is also the predominate color which is reminiscent of the 1920s pre-color films and their undertones of horror.
Yet another film that displays a unique sense of architecture is The Wizard of Oz. This 1939 film remains a classic and one of America’s most popular fantasy films. One of the most interesting aspects of the film’s design is the stark contrast between Dorothy’s home, Kansas, and the capital of Oz, Emerald City. The former was filmed in black and white, making it appear old, stale, and unimaginative, while the Emerald City was filmed in Technicolor, a fairly new invention in 1939. Not only is the Land of Oz shown in color, the Emerald City is a bright, effervescent green. Green is an interesting choice because in the original book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the city was not actually green; it just appeared that way because of the colored lenses worn by its inhabitants. By choosing to represent the Emerald City as green, Victor Flemming, the film’s director, created one of the most vivid, fantastic cities in cinematic history.
Frank Baum, writer of the original book, may have been influenced by the White City from the World Colombian Exposition, which he visited frequently after moving to Chicago. William Wallace Denslow, the illustrator of the book was also familiar with the White City and most likely incorporated elements into his drawings. The White City was mostly based on classical architecture and made of white stucco, which seemed to gleam in comparison to the nearby Chicago tenements.
The architecture and set design from these two incredible films take real world architecture and evolve it for use in the realm of fantasy. By looking at their architectural influences, we can get a rare glimpse into their creators’ creative processes. Likewise, the unique architectural designs found in film are lasting examples of how architecture in the real world can evolve as well.