Shop window creatives sing off same hymn sheet at Christmas
The look and feel of festive windows is about much more than commerce
Christmas window displays have become increasingly lavish
Riley Bedford (5) and Amelia Lily Nwanguma (4) at the Arnotts Christmas windows. Photograph: Marc O’Sullivan
The window display at Om Diva in Dublin 2
Avoca Christmas window, Suffolk Street
If a shop window is the lure to draw shoppers inside, then the Christmas window is the big kahuna – its glass front should be well-smudged by the hand and nose prints of big and small kids alike.
Ruth Ní Loinsigh, owner of Om Diva, a small independent fashion boutique on Dublin’s Drury Street, changes her windows once a month, a set-up that can take two days. When it’s not working, she’ll know it pretty fast. “Footfall goes down,” she says, and she reworks it. “You have to try new ideas to see if it works and you usually get a good feeling from shoppers reactions.”
Ní Loinsigh estimates that the windows account for 40 to 50 per cent of her trade. On a quiet day in late January or early February, when the sales have finished, it can account for all of it.
“At Christmas there has to be a narrative, a story,” she says. “It’s about creating a feeling.” This year outside Om Diva it will be the dreamlike qualities of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream. The installation will include a latex donkey’s head commissioned by a speciality studio in London.
“Customers and window shoppers have to walk away feeling like they’ve had an experience,” Ní Loinsigh says. “It’s about creating beauty, so I don’t only come at it from a commercial angle.”
Damien Byrne, head of creative at Arnotts, sings off the same hymn sheet. “I don’t design in a commercial way. I never think about product. For me its what’s going to catch a child’s eye or entice a family into the city centre.”
It is storytelling in a visual way – a story that Byrne begins writing 12 months earlier. He spends days at Christmas World in Germany in January, when the rest of us couldn’t look at another bauble.
Arnotts extensive frontage on to Henry Street in Dublin 1 lures shoppers by the lorryload.
“We’re a family department store,” Byrne says. “While it is all about the kids, you could say that the windows are the breadcrumbs that will entice people in to explore the 36,000sq ft of Christmas inside. There is Christmas World, the Christmas shop and the grotto, where Santa will be in residence. Last year in its five-week residency, some 3,000 families visited.”
At Avoca, the thinking this season is to get “festivy”, a makey-up word at the core of the brand’s photoshoots, advertising campaigns, internal signage as well as the windows.
“The Christmas windows are often the first indicator that the magic is here again,” says creative director Ros Walshe. “The challenge is to come up with something new. We’ve already done red and gold, luxury and winter woodland. This year we want you to imagine you’re going to a festival. The window at Suffolk Street [the shop with the best frontage in the firm] is a caravan and the stores carry the same festival theme. At the launch there was face-painting, fortune-telling and cookie decorating.”
Family-run businesses such as McCambridge’s, on Galway’s Shop Street, take a different approach, entering into the Christmas window spirit in a much more literal way. When the shop expanded to add a coffee bar, it lost three of its four big windows, says Natalie McCambridge, general manager and the third generation of the clan to work the shop floor. She used to spend days figuring out how they might look. While there is less space to ponder over, the task remains a time-consuming one.
So, to make things simple, the food business, also regarded for its premium whiskey selection, has let one of the ball of malt brands take it over and also provide a tasting table instore. Last year it featured Cork top shelf names Midleton and Red Breast. This year Dublin distillery Teelings occupies this valuable real estate.
The companies don’t pay for this advertising spot but in addition to the tasting table they’ve offered the shop a high-end bicycle to give away. Buy a bottle and enter the draw. Like the toyshops of yore, the bike sits in the window.
The theme of the Arnotts windows is Santa Mail, tracing the journey from the minute a child commits his or her wishes to paper to the moment that letter arrives at the North Pole. Because of the development building works at the department store, this year’s Christmas windows are a two-stage reveal. Chapters one to six are already in situ, with the next two chapters still to launch.
Byrne writes a theme for every year’s look and each window has a short poem explaining what’s going on so that even the youngest kids can grasp the idea.
“In essence children are the same as they were when I was a child,” he says. “They possess the same wonder and magic. These days you have to add some interactive elements so they can get involved. They can look through 3D glasses at the windows to see their kaleidoscopic effects. As they look through the glasses you can hear screams of delight. It remains amazing to stand back and watch and listen.”