It’s still only November and there’s more than a month to Christmas, but in visual merchandising terms, it seems probable that when the write-up of the retail festive season is made, there will be relatively little to celebrate.

The lonely price with the saddest face
Was in love at last with the swans’ embrace

Not perhaps the normal start to a Retail Week column, but stay with this. The words are, in fact, plastered across one of the windows at Fortnum & Mason and are intended to provide, presumably, some sort of context for a scene depicting a troupe of tutu clad men – the background for a lone man in a white suit, sitting on a bench.

Even for those who know nothing about ballet, the chances are pretty good that the heavy references to choreographer Michael Clark’s version of Swan Lake will be picked up and in so doing, the shopper will have paused to assess what’s going on.

This is one of the many windows in the Piccadilly emporium, each of which is a semi-camp take on the fairy tale and all set within a theatre, with an audience looking on in each of the windows. It’s a self-referential thing.

As such, this is a sophisticated treatment of Christmas, but is nonetheless absolutely recognisable as the kind of display that is concerned with the run up to December 25.

It is however something of an exception in terms both of execution and of bothering with the season of goodwill at all. Yes, there are plenty of retailers in the West End that have decided that Christmas means parties, and it does. But for many this seems to mean a few female mannequins in glad rags standing alongside male tux-clad figures looking on admiringly.

In fairness, the big names, and in particular Selfridges, have also put their best feet forward. For the great mass of also-rans however, this year’s Christmas theme is recessionary chic, meaning that very little money has been spent and it looks like it. Naturally, there is nothing wrong with pulling the purse strings a little tighter in these difficult times, but doing more with less means having a few compelling ideas and then following through.

It’s still only November and there’s more than a month to Christmas, but in visual merchandising terms, it seems probable that when the write-up of the retail festive season is made, there will be relatively little to celebrate.

Perhaps VM teams should all be made to pay a visit to the newly-opened Anthropologie store in London to see how much is made of not much. Used teabags, scraps of cloth or white bin bags, the team at this retailer know how to bring out the inner wonder of them all.