In the right hands, window dressage can be so much more than a simple display of merchandise; but a theatrical exercise that combines fashion with fantasy. For over a hundred years now, London stores from Harrods to Hamleys have been stopping people in their tracks, with spectacular, magical and decadent displays. Though they tend to kick things up a notch at Christmas, Easter, or other special events, these iconic stores are year-round destinations for lovers of drama and style; here are the city’s top spots.
Perhaps the most famous windows of them all, the displays at this iconic store become a destination in themselves during the Christmas season, pulling out all the no-expense-spared stops — and they’re not half bad the rest of the year round either. In Easter, last year, Harrods collaborated on a month-long installation with famed luxury jewellery house, using state-of the art technology to create an interactive display that revolved around bespoke, upscaled models of Fabergé’s iconic jewelled eggs.
As with Harrods, Selfridges’ windows are synonymous with the store’s identity. Anybody who’s caught an episode or two of ITV drama Mr Selfridge will know how important theatrical flair was to the pioneering retail magnate; the store’s windows have been a central feature from Day One, when Selfridge ordered them to be covered with silk curtains before a dramatic reveal at the store’s grand opening. They have a history of making bold artistic choices, mixing luxury labels with cutting-edge aesthetics. Last Christmas saw a zodiac theme, with 12 windows transformed into beautiful personifications of the star signs; set against an illuminated, outer space backdrop, the windows involved 450 metres of neon lighting, two tonnes of glitter, 10,000 laser-cut leaves, 500 staff and 32,000 man hours to create.
It’s generally visual art rather than fashion design that takes centre stage in the windows of this quirky store, which cleverly mixes the two disciplines. Over the store’s 12 year life, huge fashion brands and artists alike have contributed window displays — some of the most memorable include Zaha Hadid’s Olympic window (inspired by her London Aquatics Centre design), Chanel’s CC-decorated Union Jacks, and Jamie Reid’s zine-esque takeover, which saw not just the windows but the entire store front covered in cut-and-paste posters and banners. Dover Street Market also has a track record of identifying and nurturing emerging talent, such as designer Phoebe English, who created and installed a black, net ship in the window for store’s tenth anniversary.
A photo posted by Phoebe English (@phoebeenglish) on
It may be smaller fry than Harrods, but luxury retailer Harvey Nichols is not about to let its neighbour upstage it. Every year the Knightsbridge store puts on a Christmas spectacle to rival any other, drawing crowds last year with a retro disco-inspired take on the festivities. Using one million flakes of glitter, 620 mirror balls, 15,000 gift balls and over 300,000 sequins, the store’s designers created a series of giant faces, with twinkling strands of fairy lights as hair, all influences by the iconic 70s nightclub Studio 54.
A photo posted by Harvey Nichols (@harveynichols) on
Though Liberty’s windows are as extravagant as any other, the store is often known for retaining a more product-focused approach than many of its rival — meaning you can actually window shop as you ogle their displays. Last year’s Christmas windows reflected a Grand Budapest Hotel-inspired doll’s house theme, filling the space with products from right across the store. However, this summer the mock-Tudor store’s windows have been taken over in celebration of 40 years of punk culture, with a purely artistic extravaganza. East London graffiti artist Endless put on a display for passersby as he spray painted the building’s exterior, while the window displays themselves were bursting with colourful fabrics and epochal imagery.
As you might expect, the windows at the world’s most famous toy store are all about the fun. Thrilling children for generation after generation, Hamleys windows are filled with toys of every description, shape and size, becoming particularly magical at Christmas time when winter scenes are brought to life around their cuddly characters. The windows are also often brought to life in a literal sense, with live performances from magicians and seasonal Santa Claus appearances. A particularly impressive feat came during the Queen’s Jubilee in 2012, during which an entire window space was filled with a smiling royal portrait made up entirely of lego.
Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly | Image courtesy of Fortnum and Mason
Indulgent food demands indulgent displays, and Fortnum & Mason are not one to disappoint. While the luxury food store’s windows are normally the preserve of its delicious products (with a little aesthetic embellishment of course), this year for the first time in its long history they have been taken over by another party. Right now on display can be seen a magical, temporary homage to Disney’s Alice Through The Looking Glass, with swinging pendulums, giant chess pieces, a huge gold pocket watch and, of course, oversized tea cups.
The largest independent department store chain in the UK, Fenwick’s most famous window displays are in its Newcastle home, which are legendary in the local area, taking the focus off the capital for a change. However, Fenwick of Bond Street is definitely an all-year-round destination for fabulous London windows, with a strong tradition of collaborations with external artists and designers to create a magical series of displays, in keeping with the general extravaganza of the Bond Street stores. FYI, the strings of flowers entwining the pillars at the store’s entrance are Instagram gold.