Business Irish

Monday 23 September 2019

A winter wonderland for window dressers

'Nose prints on the panes are the sign you've got it right'

Kathleen Dobson and her son Dylan (2), from Dún Laoghaire, look at a Christmas window in Brown Thomas on Grafton Street, Dublin
Kathleen Dobson and her son Dylan (2), from Dún Laoghaire, look at a Christmas window in Brown Thomas on Grafton Street, Dublin
Another BT Christmas window.
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

'Nose prints on window panes," Damien Byrne, head of creative and chief Christmas window dresser at Arnotts department store tells me, "that's the sign you've got it right, that's the sign you've created something really special."

Kaleidoscopic Christmas window displays have been a cherished festive tradition for decades.

In the 1800s, high-end department stores such as Harrods and Fortnums & Masons in the UK would stuff their windows with glazed hams, brandy soaked puddings and exotic looking fruit.

Weary and windswept passers-by would stop and stare at the succulent offerings, and dream of heaving dinner tables.

As the tradition moved to US shores, platters of food were replaced with mechanical toys, designer threads and boxes of jewels.

Dressing windows is serious business. Designer Peter O'Brien, and artists Andy Warhol and Salvadore Dali all decked out festive fronts for department stores.

In fact, Warhol who has been dubbed "the patron saint of window dressers" was once so pleased with his Christmas display he signed the glass outside.

"It's the piece de resistance," Arnott's Damien Byrne explains. "It's the end of the year, the finale, so it's got to be the biggest and the best thing you do."

This year, Arnotts have taken inspiration from Macys and Hamleys, creating family friendly displays with motorised lego space ships, Monchichi dolls dancing, and a pop-up Scrumdiddly's ice cream shop serving mountains of sweet and sticky ices.

"We wanted to get some of the giddy excitement of Christmas," Damien explains.

Creating the picture perfect yuletide display takes months of preparation. Creative director of Brown Thomas John Redmond and his team are already planning 2016 displays for their Dublin, Galway, Cork, and Limerick branches.

In January, Mr Redmond will travel to the Christmas World trade show in Frankfurt where 37,000 attendees discuss the latest trends in fairy lights, shop for oversized candy canes, and take part in gift wrapping masterclasses.

"We want everything to look hand done and luxurious," Mr Redmond says. "Our displays have to fit in with the DNA of the store. We want them to be joyous."

After 12 months of preparation it takes the BT team 10 days to install the windows. "The team work around the clock and everyone is covered in glitter by the end."

This year, Brown Thomas's Christmas theme is 'The Store of Wonders'. Children's author Ciara Molloy Tan has written a poem to accompany the display and in the coming weeks more festive touches will be added. "Santy will arrive," John says. "Our Gift Genies will start work and the gift wrapping stations will be set up."

Meanwhile, Harvey Nicks in Dundrum Town Centre have decided to buck the traditional 'sleigh bells and mistletoe' trend, choosing instead to take inspiration from 70s disco dancing mecca and Elton Johns former hangout Studio 54. "It's all about sequins and decadence," spokeswoman Ciara Kavanagh said.

And she isn't lying: about 301,500 sequins, 620 mirror balls, 700m of tension wire, 15,000 gift boxes, 15kg of glue sticks, 30,000 staples were used while perfecting the UK and Ireland displays. Oh, and roughly 2,000 cups of tea were drunk.

"It takes a lot of tea to get things perfect," Ms Kavanagh said.

Christmas windows are such glorious pockets of opulence and escapism - I love how all that excess and extravagance of Christmas can be crammed into a few square feet of space.

As Arnotts' Damien Byrne notes: "The windows let you forget about your reality and get swept up in the magic of Christmas."

Irish Independent

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