January 11, 2012

Holiday Windows 2011

Now that the Christmas window season is wrapped up and behind us, I want to record a few thoughts. First, I'm not entirely on board with the entire concept of Christmas, as it has become in modern times. I could do an entire blog post on THAT, but I won't. Suffice it to say that my skepticism about what's genuinely GOOD about the holidays guides my evaluation of my own work as well as others.

I had a hand in multiple retailers' windows and I'm quite pleased with how things turned out. Note that I'm NOT posting pictures here or anywhere else of windows I was involved with. I'm not refraining because I feel bound by non-existent stipulations in a contract I never signed, but rather that the web is saturated with these images. I also never brought a camera along on my many trips to the windows, other than my iPhone, and never got great shots. Que sera sera.

I was responsible for the initial design phases of Lord & Taylor, under the aegis of Spaeth Design as production company, and guided/directed by the client's dreams and wishes. They bring to us the central idea and we flesh it out. Then we build. In Lord & Taylor's case - build and rebuild and rebuild. Though the product we installed was true to the central concept and looked very good, with continuous thumbs up across the internet, the process to get to that was more convoluted than it should be. There must always be time for reflection, evaluation, and necessary modifications as the design is being brought to life, but I'd say that that has been taken to an unhealthy extreme in L&T's case. On the commercial side, I don't see how it can possibly be a sustainable business model for the production company. But that's their fight to take to the client, not mine.

Spaeth has my final color models of the windows on display at their offices, which horrifies me. Models are not the product and are certainly not art. There's a certain archival value to them, but these are not meant to be seen by non-L&T clients. But whatever. I don't own them, Spaeth does. And there's plenty of artifacts floating around those offices that I *am* proud are on display.

Macy's is a riddle in a puzzle in an enigma blah blah blah. Along about May, I was tasked with taking the initial sketches of the Macy's Herald Square designs and converting them to tell the same story in Macy's on State in Chicago. There wasn't much time to do this and much of the drafting was supposed to hinge on what was planned for New York. But much of THAT didn't exist - and so I made up fresh designs to explore the concept and the client, the production company, and I boldly stepped forward into building. Of the pictures I've seen, I like the results. Fun and unusual. Really liked the puppets. We have separate motion and costume designers and I have to give them credit for doing a great job.

I had nothing to do with Macy's Herald Square's scenery, beyond what was copied out of Chicago drafting for use in Herald Square - a few gear shapes, some lettering. My job in New York was lighting, which was an enormous undertaking. I was able to talk the production electrician I used in 2009 into coming back on the promise that there were fewer lights to deal with - less cable to run in advance, maybe 60% of the number of lighting units, and some miscellaneous practicals to power. I didn't LIE, but....well, I knew it wouldn't be as simple as all that. Yes, there were less units to put on the ceiling - but more on the floor. And there was an enormous amount of LED lighting to power. I did any LED installation myself, if it wasn't already dealt with at the shop, but poor Shu ran a lot of 12v power this season. If this style of lighting continues as a trend, I am wondering if dedicated 12V lines, powered from a main transformer, wouldn't be a better idea.

Anyway, the actual total count of lighting units runs to about 325 to 350. Conventional lighting planned for about 160 units, and LED lighting doubled that. For counting purposes, I define a unit as any piece of lighting powered by it's own connection. So each LED is not counted, but a group of them in one housing that then connects to a breakout or a transformer is counted as one unit.

What was shocking to me and a major obstacle to overcome, was Spaeth's reluctance to put money into the lighting. They had contracted to DO the lighting, but hadn't considered the actual costs. I had to get fairly blunt with them and explain what it really takes to light Christmas windows, labor costs, etc. They conceded on labor and also purchased all the LEDs needed. I got the client to purchase other needed items, including some units we can reuse for several years and some color. All told, though, the total lighting expenditure had to have run pretty close to what it did in 2009.

I am pleased to note that the LEDs held up extremely well. Only two units actually died the entire season. Maintenance was reduced (one of my goals), though the store employee responsible for changing burnouts really didn't like the birdies. :)

So how do other retailers' windows compare? Well, I thought Bergdorff-Goodman's Carnival of the Animals was awesome, though not especially Christmasy. Tiffany's got more accolades than I thought it deserved, but they were well-executed. I loved Van Cleef & Arpels small windows. I was disappointed with Saks. And while everybody was talking about Barney's GaGa windows, I was just puzzled. Wrong time of year. But whatever.

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