Christmas Window Highlights
A walking tour
A Christmas window walking tour around Chelsea
A rather astute 18th c. London flaneur once commented that window displays were “a cunning device for showing women’s materials.” Despite gas-lamps providing much needed illumination in the shops along London’s cobbled streets, this comment suggests that retailers were beginning to understand the importance of their window displays. By the mid-19th century London began to welcome the opulence of the department store; Harrods and Harvey Nichols among the first, both setting their sights at displaying an almost miniature world within their shop windows. Harrods went so far as to stage plays on the shop floor, an innovative way to demonstrate the riches of materials and objets des arts that the store became so famous for selling.
On this walk, perfect in the run up to Christmas, we delve into the archives of some local stores to experience the evolution of the luxury retailer’s window displays and celebrate the inherent creativity of the area. We hope you’ll be enticed to dash outside and to experience the Christmas spirit, taking in as much tinsel and glitter as possible!
1) Harrods is our first stop. Harrods was one of the first department stores to embrace innovative displays, as it was keen to establish itself as a destination for everything luxury. In 1909 it even sponsored a musical titled Our Miss Gibbs, about a shop girl working for “Garrods” Department Store. The stage directions urged the set designer to emphasize the ‘sumptuousness of the architecture, decorations and general arrangements…The main feature of the scene is the luxury, which makes shopping a matter of enjoyment and not a fag.’
Just like in 1909, the store this year has recreated a mini stage using an abundance of red velvet and lights , creating a world of fairytale for their ‘Once upon a Christmas’ theme. Mice take up a similar role to Santa’s helpers work hard through the night to prepare the store’s window displays. Scenes include Nutcracker inspired ballerina mice and Hansel and Gretel arriving at a sugar-dusted gingerbread house.
2) A stone’s throw away is Harvey Nichols, whose window displays have confidently sat alongside those of Harrods for more than a century. The store has created a different world to Harrods innocent fairytale – dedicated to the reveller. Over one million glitter flakes have been used to transport the passerby to a glamorous party scene. 15,000 shiny gift boxes create enormous 3D faces, each a distinct personality from a disco diva to Hoxton hipster. These accompany a social media campaign titled ‘avoid giftface’ with each window offering ways to prevent purchasing awkward and unwanted gifts, providing exciting ideas to even the most difficult to buy for.
According to the Global Display London team, a bespoke glitter finish was specially created for this contemporary scheme using a secret ingredient to provide a truly unique finish. Everything in the display has been carefully crafted, even the wigs worn by the mannequins were all custom made.
3) Carry on down Sloane Street to marvel at Bottega Veneta, where what appear to be oversized glass baubles in the shape of Santa heads carry leather goods as if cocktails on a tray. Imitation snow and the glossiness of the Santa’s gives a feeling of child-like excitement at the thought of receiving such a gorgeous piece of Italian craftsmanship. As the Santa’s peek up behind a low brick wall take note how it beautifully references the 19th century buildings across the street. It is a reminder that Christmas displays offer the perfect backdrop for the avid photographer too, with reflections creating the effect of a double exposure. If you do head out onto the streets to marvel at Christmas decorations do make sure to take a camera along with you.
4) Perhaps give your feet a rest with a stop for a cocktail at The Rib Room at the Jumeirah Carlton Hotel. Enjoy a cocktail at the newly refurbished restaurant, dedicated to serving the best of British produce. The Rib Room’s cocktail menu pays homage to London, the birthplace of gin, with a bespoke gin and bitters experience, as well as many other fine cocktails to sample. But don’t have too many, there’s more windows to wander to!
5) Continue down to 162 Sloane Street is Emilia Wickstead who has kept true to her brand by keeping decorations chic and simple. We particularly love the wreaths she has chosen. Rich in symbolism, the wreath is usually made from evergreens to symbolize strength, as this tree can last even throughout the harshest winters, while the circular shape represents eternity with no beginning and no end.
6) A truly playful take on a window display, Thomas Pink returns to nature to create winter scenes starring dainty sparrows nesting in branches of trees that transport the well-dressed gent to a snow covered garden. One can almost hear the little birds twittering about as they flit from tree to tree.
7) Cassandra Goad has also taken inspiration from the wreath and in return has wrapped one around her entire window at 147 Sloane Street. The British jewellery designer has kept her display simple but used playful colours that reflect the shades of the diverse gemstones she uses in her designs. No need for sparkle as her creations offer much of that!
8) Sloane Square is a must stop, especially if by now the sun has gone down. With the beautiful Christmas lights shining above why not take a moment to reflect on the year that has gone by. Many others have made a wish for the future by throwing a penny into the beautiful Venus fountain at the centre of the Square.
9) On to Duke of York Square where a complimentary Christmas wrapping service is at hand. Don’t forget to have a sneaky peak at Taschen’s windows this year. Taking inspiration from all the great art books they have published the store has carefully crafted paper-based displays that delve into the literary world of Taschen.
10) Our last stop on this walk is Anthropologie at 137 Kings Road. This Grade 2 listed building designed by T G Somerford was built originally as a billiard hall at the height of the Temperance movement, and resembles a public house with its green tiles and stained glass windows. This year Anthropologies’ winter village theme resonates with the building’s original decorative features, particularly the images depicted in the stained glass above. By dedicating one window to the recreation of an Alpine village, the team at Anthropolgie have cleverly used the other pane to imagine what takes place inside one of the village’s homes. A beautifully decorated dinner table reminds us of our dedication to celebrating Christmas and the pleasures to come.
There is no better way to end a walk than with a delicious dinner, so head on over to Rabbit across the Road for delicious tapas style British seasonal food, using ingredients fresh from their family farm in Sussex.