The ‘City of Light’ lives up to its name as Christmas approaches, leaving London somewhat in its shadow.
For many, a trip to Paris means hitting the Eiffel Tower, walking the Champs Elysée and then heading off to the Boulevard Haussmann to check out the Grands Magasins (for which read Galeries Lafayette and Printemps). And there is good reason for doing the latter this year as the Christmas windows of these two stores outstrip almost everything on offer in similar emporia in the UK.
The key to what has been done is movement. Take a look at the windows in Selfridges, Harrods and Liberty and, while they are certainly opulent, they are, with the exception of the west corner window in Selfridges, static. In Galeries and Printemps, there is movement everywhere, courtesy of marrionettes. There is also sponsorship (or ‘partnership’ as it seems to be referred to). This is a bit like what has been done in Harrods, with Louis Vuitton putting up the ‘inspiration’ (aka money) for the Galeries Lafayette windows, while Dior is the brand behind the Printemps show.
And show is probably the operative word in this instance as unlike the London stores, in Paris, platforms are placed in front of the windows so children can view the action without having to push their way through loads of adults.
Where Paris does fall down is on the seasonal street lighting. Regent Street wins this particular contest hands down, although the Marmite Oxford Street lighting is in rather more questionable taste.
Head to the Chausée d’Antin, which runs along one of the sides of the Galeries Lafayette store on Boulevard Haussmann, and you could be forgiven for thinking that the department store had handed over the Christmas reins to Disney. Windows have fake-aged books that invite onlookers to ‘Retrouvez la magic au Disney Store’ (translation not required) and there are wicked witches, talking teapots and sleeping beauties aplenty.
This is a sideshow however. The real action is along the store front and this is where the Louis Vuitton bandwagon starts to roll. The windows are an exercise in glittering marionettes with everything from troupes of red-clad drum majorettes to a groovy Afghan Hound sporting a pair of large headphones. The real point of it though, Louis Vuitton items notwithstanding, is that everything moves and there are multiple scenes featuring waltzing couples moving amid gold pillars and crystal chandeliers. Nothing has been spared – penguins, polar bears and a flapper-style woman astride an ostrich – which all make these the kind of windows that demand to be taken both frivolously and seriously.
Comparisons may be odious, but there really is nothing like this in London.
Just a little further along Boulevard Haussmann is Printemps, the grand avenue’s other Grand Magasin. And like its rival, this department store takes shoppers away from the humdrum Parisian world and into a fantasy of glamour and movement. This store’s windows are about puppets and a dapper bunch they are too, moving and dancing against familiar Parisian backdrops. There is variety too – there are even a pair of somewhat malevolent-looking female puppets installed in the gondola of a ferris wheel, while others survey the scene from Montgolfier-style hot air balloons. All of this is set within a winter wonderland of frosted white and, as with all puppets, while they’re engaging to look at, there is also something mildly sinister about the displays.
There are, of course, more standard windows and it’s a measure of how strong Zara’s windows are this year that the mannequins have black, geometric wigs that look as if they’ve come from the same supplier. However, the resemblance ends there with one of the windows being a gold and silver visual overload, whether you choose to look at the figures or the crockery and festive table adornments on an outsized cake-stand display.
Guerlain pop-up shop
The pop-up shop, which is more of a short-term lease than a pop-up, has been taken by fragrance brand Guerlain and does its best to mark Christmas without pushing the boat out. This means that although it has virtually no window space, its wide entrance allows shoppers to gaze into the shop and admire the overhead gantry, from which lights that take the shape of gift-wrapped presents and scent bottles are suspended.
This is, in name at least, a pop-up shop and the low-cost attitude that has been adopted to Christmas is symptomatic of this form of retailing. However, it is not a matter of throwing money at the problem, but coming up instead with something that has not been done elsewhere. This is one of the better-looking pieces of visual merchandising along the strip. It’s also a fair bet that it will still be around this time next year, in spite of its pop-up status.
About a mile from Boulevard Haussmann is the Champs Elysée and here, with the exception of a Louis Vuitton flagship and Lancel, is where the mid and upper-mid market comes out to play. Lancel is at the top of this long thoroughfare and has adopted an almost North American approach to Christmas with the strapline ‘Holidays by Lancel’ plastered across its windows. The Lancel store, filled with luxury handbags and luggage, is at the top end of the Champs Elysée and, equally, is at the top end in this area as far as price is concerned.
Its windows are simple, however, consisting of translucent acetate blocks that are supposed, presumably, to put the shopper in mind of the building blocks for an igloo. On each block that has an unencumbered horizontal surface there is a bag, while some of the blocks have strayed from the arrangement and been suspended, wrapped in red ribbon, from the window’s ceiling.
The backdrop is white and the few props that there are are red, indicating the time of year. This is a surprisingly minimal take on ‘holiday’ for a luxury brand and may have cost a lot of money, although this does seem unlikely.