cultural capital

Department Stores Don’t Know It’s Christmas

The consolidation of department stores — a trend cooling only because there’s nothing left to merge — leaves Manhattan as the last hospitable environment for that Norman Rockwell tradition, the holiday window display. The city’s flagships — Barneys, Bendel, Bergdorf, Bloomingdale’s, Saks, and Macy’s — began unveiling their windows over the weekend, and, as usual, they’re secular spectacles. Out: Santa, model trains, gingerbread men. In: scary, postmodern vignettes.

So which ones are worth wistful gazing? We’ve rated them according to four categories: holiday cheer, narrative, a sense of childlike wonder, and set design. Check back daily for three installments, culminating on Wednesday when the winner is revealed. Today, Henri Bendel and Barneys battle for the ultimate sell-out.


Amanda Hesser’s revenge.Photo: Everett Bogue

Henri Bendel
The Bergdorf Goodman for the DailyCandy crowd has sold out quietly and thoroughly this year, turning over two of its three windows entirely to merch. One shills for the Helio cell phone, commanding passerby to “Helio me,” while the other is more vague, pushing candy and other sweet nothings. The third window is simply puzzling — a youngish mannequin in dowdy attire, reading from an old-timey book while various portraits hang on the wall behind her, painted by the same artist who always rendered Amanda Hesser as a moppet in The New York Times Magazine food column we hated.

Holiday cheer: 1
Narrative: 1
Childlike wonder: 2
Set design: 3
Total: 7 (out of 40)


In Warhol’s world, Santa did a lot of coke.Photo: Everett Bogue

Barneys New York
Any mentions of Christmas — or nod to any faith-based initiatives — have been usurped by an even purer celebration of consumption. “Happy Andy Warhol-idays!” the windows shout, and white-bearded Santas have been replaced by a succession of increasingly waxen mannequins in white fright wigs. These are supposed to represent Warhol through the decades, from “The Illustrator” of the fifties to “The Factory Boy” of the sixties to the dead licensing totem of today. As for any connection to the holidays (sorry, “Warhol-idays”), there is a “shoe tree” instead of a tannenbaum, and close readers are treated to this bon mot reprinted in one window: “Christmas is when you have to go to the bank and get money to put in envelopes from the stationery store for tips. After you tip the doorman, he goes on sick leave or quits and the new one isn’t impressed.” Peace-on-earth-and-goodwill-to-men it’s not, but Warhol’s spirit of the season is at least neighborhood-appropriate.

Yes, the Warhol-idays do share some values with our own. What was the Factory if not an extended family? (Be thankful this season that Viva, Ultra Violet, or Sylvia Miles are not members of your own.) And in an attempt at redeeming uplift, Barneys recruited the students of the East Harlem School to paint their own portraits of Ole St. Andy. The results, naturally, are for sale.

Holiday cheer: -1
Narrative: 7
Childlike wonder: 4
Set design: 8
Total: 18 (out of 40)

Greg Lindsay

Department Stores Don’t Know It’s Christmas