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Christmas Creative: Review of this year's window displays from Saks Fifth Avenue

The latest instalment of this year's Christmas shop window display reviews involving some of the world's most renowned department stores sees Pearlfisher's creative director, Hamish Campbell take a stroll along to Saks Fifth Avenue to look at its fairytale theme for 2014.

Each holiday season, a select few high-end retailers draw enormous crowds to their exteriors. Tourists and seasoned New Yorkers alike trek through the cold to stand outside Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord and Taylor, Bergdorf Goodman and Barney’s to revel in each retailer’s holiday window displays. And while the windows themselves are always stunning, the unveiling of these windows has become a bit of a production in and of itself.

This year, Saks Fifth Avenue set the - unofficial – record for most extravagant window display unveiling. In a live (and live-streamed) performance, Saks honored the history of its flapper beginnings with 36 Rockettes, over 70,000 lights and a fireworks display. Behind all the excitement were six art-deco inspired windows detailing classical folk-lore, re-set in the context of iconic New York locale. Little Red Riding Hood encounters the big bad wolf at The Plaza. Rapunzel and King Kong alight on The Empire State Building. The subjects of the remaining whimsical displays include Snow White, The Seven Dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty and Rumplestiltskin. Clever tone of voice plays out in gold script on each window, bringing the classic fairy tales into the modern age: “Rumpelstiltskin was the most feared spin class instructor in the whole land.” Moving parts, animated backdrops and vibrant neon color palettes separate the displays from more traditional offerings and draw consumers towards the store.

All these elements work together to create a stunning and visually arresting holiday display. And 36 Rockettes dancing in front of them doesn’t hurt either. That said, I wonder whether the unveiling’s razzle-dazzle may have actually detracted from the windows themselves and caused the retailer to miss the real opportunity: to make connections with its consumers.

With more and more retailers of all sizes investing in elaborate window displays - Anthropologie and Club Monaco certainly give a strong showing – the old school window displays may be losing some ground. Could Saks creative budget been better spent connecting with consumers, targeting the Millenial shopper, or attracting audiences of all ages with more innovative expressions? Barney’s, for example, partnered with film director, Baz Luhrmann and costume designer, Catherine Martin to create interactive displays that come to life at different times of the day with live performances. Commes de Garcon partnered with Frozen to entice a new audience through its doors. Even Macy’s told a new kind of Christmas story, pulling Santa’s sleigh through space.

When all is said and done, the windows at Saks this year are beautiful; I’m certain that they will put passerby in a festive mood. But are they memorable enough for consumers to remember and cherish throughout the year? Or will it be the fireworks that stick in consumer’s heads? Going forward, it might not hurt the fine retailer to give the Rockettes the night off and put a few LEDs down in exchange for some layered and enriched storytelling. A bold idea executed with passion can resonate across generations and demographics, enticing new shoppers through Saks’ doors, ensuring a brighter future rather than a brighter store.

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