Monday, November 26, 2012

New York Holiday Window History

The 2012 Holiday Windows are now in full swing for our enjoyment. Macy's, Henri Bendel, Lord and Taylor, Bloomingdales, Bergdorf Goodman, Barney's, and Dylan's Candy Bar have quite the displays. Did you ever wonder how the holiday windows got started? When I read an article about all the theme's for windows of the fabulous stores in New York City, I pondered, how did this idea get started? I did a little research, and this is what I discovered.   

Tiffany's in 2011 

Fifth Avenue was not the luxury street we all know it today until the second half of the 19th century. Before the 19th century it was largely inaccessible, and as more of the street became opened it was mostly used by charitable institutions. 
However, in the 1850s, Fifth Avenue came to have some of the most beautiful mansions in the city. In 1862, Caroline Schermerhorn Astor moved to the southwest corner of 34th street, confirming the changing status of the area. A few years earlier, John Jacob Astor III and his brother William built two separate houses on 33rd and 34th street on the site that now contains the Empire State Building. Edith Wharton’s 1920 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “The Age of Innocence,” describes New York’s social elite in the 1870s and therefore discusses many prominent families living on Fifth Avenue at the time.

Bloomingdale's in 2009 

Lord & Taylor was the first major store on Fifth Avenue and was the first to show innovating holiday window displays. The flagship store opened in 1914. Saks Fifth Avenue opened in 1926 between 49th and 50th streets. Bergdorf Goodman moved to Fifth Avenue in 1928 between 57th and 58th streets. Since then the area between 49th and 60th streets has become one of the most renowned shopping spots in the world. In 2008, Forbes magazine ranked 5th Avenue as one of the most expensive streets in the world. 

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the wide availability of large sheets of plate glass for oversized windows led to the concept of using department store window displays to attractively display the store's merchandise. It quickly followed that elaborate holiday window displays before Christmas, combining merchandise and fantasy holiday scenes, attracted a multitude of customers. Store merchants began to lure shoppers to their stores with ornate and whimsical Christmas window displays  as a way to sell their inventory at the end of the year. 

Bergdorf Goodman in 2011 

Marketing played a very huge role in allowing us to enjoy these elaborate windows of 2012. 

Department stores grew out of rather simple beginnings. Macy’s, for example, was originally a dry goods store selling housewares and home goods, which they still do, but it was a far cry from the fashion warehouse that we know today. Dry goods stores were fairly common. Rowland Hussey Macy had already opened four (failed) stores before trying his luck on Sixth Avenue between 13th and 14th Streets in 1858. Opening day sales totaled $11.06 (about $280.00 today). The 34th Street location represents the ultimate outcome of the department store, which developed into larger establishments—and anchors of urban centers—in response to consumer demand, growing taller and claiming more square footage to accommodate more merchandise.
The holiday window displays role became an attraction and folks came from near and far, as they still do today, to view these seasonal arrangements. One report stated that the first Macy’s window displays in 1874 displayed a diverse offering of porcelain dolls from around the world and scenes from Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Barney's in 2009

I call these window displays "Window Art" on my blog, because to me, they are an art form. I also find that although the windows are gorgeous during the holiday season, in New York City, you can see amazing window art 12 months a year. I am always amazed when I walk around to see what cool windows I will pass throughout my day. 

What are your favorite store windows to admire? What do you feel makes a window so compelling? I would love to hear your thoughts. 

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Roz | La Bella Vita Cucina said...

Rosemary, What a delightful post. My background before teaching 'retailing and marketing' was a store buyer and department mgr. for Neiman-Marcus. I was a display manager too, so I agree with you in that store window displays are an art form! Especially in NYC!

Daryl said...

love ALL the department store windows ... and i love some of our local UWS store windows too ..

nycstylelittlecannoli said...

Roz, Neiman is one of my faves even though I cannot purchase many items in the store....still great to browse

And yes Daryl the local shops do the windows proud too!!

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