Pip Cummings goes window shopping in New York at Christmas time.

Bergdorf Goodman shines

New York at Christmas time will melt even the Grinchiest of hearts. Fairy lights are wound throughout the trees and strung around fire escapes, the giant Norway Spruce goes up at the Rockefeller Center, the American Museum of Natural History assembles its annual origami tree and gingerbread-flavoured beverages come into vogue … but chief among the attractions are the Christmas windows.

It’s possible to take them all in on a single walking tour of just over 3km (2 miles) – covering around 25 blocks. Begin at Bloomingdales, working west towards Barneys and then south on Fifth Avenue to Tiffany & Co, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks and Lord and Taylor, before heading west again to finish at Macy’s (or the other way around).

Winter wonderland

Wear comfortable shoes and don’t forget your hat and gloves if it’s cold – you’ll want to linger over these spectacles, which are a year in the planning. So complex is their production, they’re often compared to miniature Broadway shows. The windows are a little more magical after dark when all the illuminated street decorations can also be enjoyed, but this is easily managed with the sun setting around 4.30pm in December.

Barneys

660 Madison Ave between 60th and 61st Streets

Barneys pride themselves on being the ‘edgy’ window dressers; always incorporating current trends and a bit of humour in their holiday windows. To wit, their 2011 windows – ‘GAGA’s Workshop’ – were a creative collaboration with Lady Gaga and included ‘Gaga’s Boudoir’ built entirely of hair.

 Bergdorf Goodman

754 Fifth Avenue at 58th Street

Bergdorf Goodman’s windows are nothing short of breathtaking, annually showcasing couture fashion and antiques in amongst the exquisitely crafted scenery. In 2011, when they took a ‘Carnival of the Animals’ theme, the windows were so crammed with fine detail it took minutes to absorb each scene. If you only have time for one window series, see these.

Bloomingdales

1000 Third Avenue at 59th Street

Like the store itself, Bloomingdales are the crowd-pleasing windows – colourful and traditional. The store made a notable misstep in 2010, overreaching with an all-digital display that disappointed nostalgia fans, but made a swift return to form the following year, self-referencing by animating scenes from their holiday bags of years gone by.

Lord & Taylor

424 Fifth Ave at 39th Street

Lord & Taylor have been decorating their windows with Christmas scenery since 1938 and are a sentimental favourite for many annual window pilgrims.The displays are planned all year and created for weeks in the basement of the store, being lifted to the street-level windows by hydraulic elevators.

Macys

Herald Square, Broadway between 34th and 35th Streets

Macy’s stake the claim to creating the holiday window tradition, having mounted their Christmas displays since the 1870s. These days, Macy’s (a corner store) always features two series; one running along the 34th Street frontage that depicts scenes from the film Miracle on 34th Street,  and a second that changes each year. In recent years, they’ve been getting a reputation for incorporating increasingly ambitious technology into their displays.

Saks Fifth Avenue

611 Fifth Ave between 49th and 50th Streets

Saks typically create their windows with a storybook theme, making them extra appealing to children. The custom children’s books featured are also available for sale in-house. In addition to the displays aimed at children (or children at heart), high fashion is also always featured in the windows.

Tiffany & Co.

727 Fifth Ave between 56th and 57th Streets

Much like the goods inside, the Tiffany windows are elegant and classy, featuring delicate, miniature worlds. In 2011, they extended their romantic theme of the Central Park carousel by extending a three-dimensional model from the storefront. Magical. All photographs: Pip Cummings

 

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