Christmas Traditions: Saks Fifth Avenue Amazes
There is a valid fear amongst folks that many of our familiar holiday traditions are disappearing. Often, in our misguided clamor to avoid conflict or protect feelings we turn to political correctness and commence the shunting of otherwise inherently inclusive events or practices aside in favor of generic, empty and rather meaningless observances. Christmas being Christian means it’s a no-no, therefore it must be removed or at least marginalized into submission. We then proceed to remove, or even more ridiculously, rename Christmas trees as “holiday” trees. Some go even further, supporting (or at least not complaining about) outright bans on public Nativities or religious displays of any kind in our shared towns and cities. It’s sad to see such rich traditions brushed aside but thankfully at least one seems to endure. That it’s based in cash-register commerce is to be expected, I guess. The tradition I speak of is the long-famous department store window display at Christmas.
The brilliant movie “A Christmas Story” almost perfectly showcases the awe and excitement children and adults alike have at viewing the eagerly anticipated department store display, designed exclusively to prod the dreams and imaginations of all those looking on. Anyone watching the film’s hero, young Ralphie, as he swoons over his desired Red Rider BB gun showcased amid much Christmas grandeur, can easily drift back to their own memories of Christmases past. Some might argue that in the days of internet shopping and giant malls such window displays are antiquated and would likely go unheeded. I suggest not, and as proof I offer none other than Saks Fifth Avenue.
Since 1949, for more than sixty years, Saks Fifth Avenue in New York has maintained their iconic holiday window displays, enhancing them with a popular light show that showcases their trademark snowflakes. Last year, they went a step further, and this year the spectacle continues.
Determined to use technology to enhance their own promotional traditions, Saks started first by commissioning their own festive story called “The Snowflake and the Bubble” and then decided to let technology take things to a whole new level. Utilizing the latest in 3D video-mapping techniques, a company called Iris turned Saks’ narrative into an unbelievably traffic-stopping display that allows the facade of the famous store to quite literally come alive. Through nothing more than the use of light, snow appears to gather up on ledges while bubbles emerge from windows opening and closing and, at one point, the entire face of the building actually appears to freeze over, before cracking and falling to the street. They even created an original musical score to go along with a project that remains a world-first in terms of its scale (and overall duration) for such a detailed video mapping project. It has to be seen to be believed.
This year the store complimented their visual treat with special shopping bags, assorted merchandise and even a gift bottle full of scented bubbles (for blowing, of course) to complete the effect. They set up a street party for opening night featuring Patti Labelle, dancers from the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of American Ballet doing a performance in the middle of Fifth Avenue. Not to be overlooked, the old school window displays themselves were created by noted fashion brands Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, Erdem, and more. Each also produced one-of-a-kind dresses displayed with their window’s themed vignette. The campaign/performance will again run during the entire Christmas season, all the way into January 2012. The only slightly-sour note is the predictably PC tie-in children’s book that scrupulously avoids any mention of the actual reason for the season.
Still, it’s clear the holiday tradition of the department store window has not only survived but prospered. Today, it is even growing in scope, literally encompassing entire buildings now. Will it stop there? Not likely, as the rules of commerce dictate ever more to keep our shrinking attention spans alive. But the best part of all is that whether or not you ever choose to buy a single thing from Saks Fifth Avenue or not, you remain free to walk up and enjoy their multi-million dollar showcase of beauty and magic. And if there’s anything I’ve ever learned about Christmas it’s that the best part of the holidays are the smiles. Those are still free, so let’s at least try to keep that tradition going, okay?