Monday, December 17, 2007

What Makes Magical Holiday Windows? Hard Work.

Photos by Daniel Krieger

Hmmm, first I must apologize for the willy nilly placement of these photos and the blocks of text. For some reason Blogger is not letting me place them nice and neatly and is not letting me properly space text (perhaps it is frazzled with holiday stress?)
As so many of you are aware, the major department stores of NYC put together fabulous holiday window displays. These displays are yearly tourist attractions with lines upon lines just to get a view of the displays. Three of the most ornate and popular are those put forth by Macy's, Saks, and Lord & Taylor. The photos depict the Lord & Taylor magic. My newspaper recently featured an article on the man heading up the Lord & Taylor windows (what a fun job!). I found it very interesting and thought I would share with you. Article is by Samantha Critchell.
Manoel Renha, a 40ish Brazilian-turned-New Yorker with a slim build and trim dark hair, has more in common with jolly old St. Nick than appearances would suggest.

Renha thinks about the holidays all year long. He works with his own little cadre of elves, helping him make dolls look just right and adding just the right amount of glitter to each decoration. He spends long days and even many nights in a secret workshop.
Renha is the creative director for windows at Lord & Taylor's flagship store in Manhattan. The six over sized windows that face Fifth Avenue, which rise from a basement studio on the nation's only window hydraulic lift system, are Renha's gifts to the city and to all the visitors that come here to capture a little bit of holiday magic.
They never feature merchandise; they always have multiple moving parts. Lord & Taylor has done them for 80 years with Renha providing the creative juice for 21 of them.
The official theme for this year's windows is the five senses. But the windows also transport passers-by to the early part of the 20th century in faraway lands such as Paris, Copenhagen and Denmark.

"I always say my last one was my favorite but this one really is up there," Renha says. Other themes near and dear to him were "The Nutcracker" and fairy tales.
"The fun part is seeing the windows and eavesdropping on the comments. The best comments are from the kids they're so honest!" he says. "I take seriously their comments for the next year."
Renha never set out to be one of Santa Claus' helpers. He studied to be an architect but soon after school he was asked by family friends to work with them to change the image of their department-store chain. "Since then, I've been in retail," he says with a smile.
But when it comes to the holiday windows, Renha doesn't have to worry about pushing the season's "hot items." The process is more organic than that: With a few ideas swirling in his mind, he'll do loose sketches of scenes that he thinks will entertain and delight the crowds. Those produce a concept and, then, technical drawings. "That's where my architect and set designer background come in," he says.
In the summer, Renha does the same sort of inspiration boards that fashion designers use, a haphazard group of magazine clips, photographs, print swatches and color cards that set a mood. He later becomes an expert in the costumes, buildings, fabric, food and colors of the era.
It's a lot of work and expense for a project that doesn't necessarily drive traffic into the store. But Lord & Taylor's senior vice president of advertising, promotion and public relations LaVelle Olexa says the windows are about a bigger picture.
"The world who visits New York City expects fabulous windows. It's something important to the city overall. It would be a big miss not to have them," she says. "People remember coming back with their parents and now coming back with their own children or even grandchildren.
"Of course, she hopes this goodwill will turn into consumer loyalty eventually.
"Maybe they're not shopping today, but they might tomorrow or the day after," Olexa says.
Ultimately about 200 people have a hand in the creation of the windows, but Renha relies mostly on the two dozen in his own department that are there from the brainstorming sessions to the final touches.
"You can't count the yards of fabric we use for the windows. We buy everything in bulk," Renha says showing off bolts of satin and lace and boxes upon boxes of glittery garland and mini faux cranberries. A few boxes of toymaker Breyer's realistic animal figurines also are scattered about.
It's not uncommon for the garland to be cut into 1-inch pieces and all the cranberries cut off their branches. How else would one make a wreath that's scale-appropriate for a home where its residents are only 2 feet tall?
The hot glue gun is a favorite tool this time of year because everyone is in a rush to finish every last detail, from putting icing on the cakes to positioning the carving knife in Grandpa's hand.
"Everything has to be done by hand on this scale," Renha explains. "The details are what makes the difference." Each outfit is finished as if it were headed to the selling floor, with even hems and embellished trim. Shoes for each of the 80 characters are tiny pieces of leather sewn together. Renha can't use typical dolls' clothes because the size isn't quite right his figures are a little bigger. It's also difficult to find printed fabric for the garments and upholstery because the scale has to be so small.
"It's easy to find big prints, especially now in fashion, but not for these proportions," he says. Luckily, a child's tea set does work for the Parisian bakery scene this year. Glass-making isn't one of Renha's many talents.


Cindy Roberts said...

Saw your comment on The Old Painted Cottage. Thank you for the compliment on the pink package! I love wrapping gifts. Pink is my specialty! I LOVE your banner!

The Old Painted Cottage said...

Dear Karla,

I would give just about anything to be able to view those windows in person. Absolutely amazing. Thank you so much for sharing the article.

Thanks for stopping by my blog. I actually waited 3 days before opening that pink was just way to pretty! I kept the paper though : )


Bejeweled said...

Oh wow!! What extraordinary windows! And what an amazing dream job to have!

I don't have a chance of ever getting to New York to see these, but thank goodness for YouTube! Not quite the same as being there, but good armchair traveling!

Anonymous said...

Hi Karla, oh this is so amazing!!!! Every little detail is perfect. And such a wonderful tradition for New Yorkers! Hmm, think a visit to Lord and Taylor in NYC in 2008 will be a MUST!! Thank you so much Karla for your comments on our Blog, we have sent you an email :) Jenn and Jacqui xo

Kari & Kijsa said...

Those windows look amazing...we would love to see them up close!

Merry Christmas blessings,

kari and kijsa

Flea Market Queen said...

I want to see the windows too!
That is a dream of mine...
Happy Holidays,

Karin (creativechaos) said...

The last couple years HGTV has done a special on the masterminds behind the designs of the various stores. So much fun to watch it go from conception to reality. The displays are truly works of art.

Hey....if you get a chance can you email me your address. I'm so bummed because I thought I had it and was going to surprise you.....but I don't. Thanks :)

Natasha Burns said...

Now THIS is what windows should be like.... just wonderful!

BeachysCapeCodCupboard said...

Aren't those window displays GORGEOUS!!! And to think of all the brain-power and man-power that goes into creating them - just blows me away!!! When I chaperoned that trip to NYC I was just awestruck at all the stunning Christmas displays and decorations.

The Rose Room said...

I would so love to be able to see those windows in real life, they are just magical. Karla, thanks for showing us:)

Bristol said...

Karla- I would love to go to NYC this time of year. Those windows are beautiful. In college I had to take a visual merchandising course. We spent the whole semester doing windowa, it was awesome!

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