Windows to a Memory
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Sunday, December 17, 2017
By Austin Rese
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Once upon a time, a runt of a boy stood before the holiday windows of the department store, L.S. Ayres & Co. As it was below freezing, he was wrapped in layers of wool, buckle boots and a hand-knitted toboggan. His father held his little hand tight and asked, “What do you see, Little Britches?”-- To which the boy would quickly point out the most obvious element within the display. The father would repeatedly respond, “What else?” Each time the boy would dig deeper into the composition of the display. His old man wasn’t being a nuisance; but rather, he was teaching the child to appreciate the details within the total picture.


That kid was me.


No matter how old we become, the holiday season has a way of moving memories of those we love out of storage and into our pockets for easy access. I suppose it keeps our hearts stoked.


This year, I decided to experience the fantastic holiday windows of New York City. The best way to savor their beauty is once the sun has set and the night’s cloak of darkness seems to electrify them with magic. With an agenda of seven stores to visit, my schedule was full.


The city was abuzz with excitement and adorned to the hilt. Snow had just began to fall and the temps were well below freezing. It felt like Christmas. It was the ideal evening to go "window shopping!"


The crowd outside of Saks Fifth Avenue indicated there was a show to be seen! The lavish light display on the store’s façade certainly supported the brand’s level of design authority.  This year’s theme was the tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The windows were a feast of animated characters. Every window was more fantastical than the last.


Further down Fifth Avenue I spotted the creative genius of our nation’s oldest department store: Lord & Taylor. This retailer opened its doors in 1826. During the Victorian Era, they gifted the nation with the first holiday windows, followed by the first motion-windows in the 1940’s.  As a multiple-“Best of Show” winner for New York City, they never disappoint!


This year’s theme included a snow globe or bubble motif throughout. The cool blue lighting most definitely gave a visual clue to the season at hand! The windows were a wonderful mix of sophisticated style and youthful jubilance. A smile seemed to be attached to each display.

Macy’s at Herald Square is “Grand Central” for all things holiday. This store just has an aura to it that feels magical.  I found the windows to be the most “classic holiday” in orientation. One could nearly smell the hot chocolate and cinnamon by looking at the windows! Their whimsy included a nod to The Night Before Christmas poem which reads, “….not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…” Every window had one of the little fellas busy doing something in preparation of the big day.

Ah, “The Greatest Holiday” could be experienced through the windows of Bloomingdale’s! In a very clever collaboration with 20th Century Fox, the entire store was dressed as an ode to the film, “The Greatest Showman” (a musical based on the life of P. T. Barnum) which is being released for this year’s holiday season. The vision was high fashion + history + the circus + the holiday season. The results were electrifying! A true high-wire palette of sensuality and fantasy.

Barney’s New York has had a longtime love affair with the avant-garde. The brand takes great pride in celebrating the artisan, creativity, and social justice. This year’s windows certainly upheld their passion. The creative minds of the Haas brothers filled each window with a wink and a giggle.


To experience visual intoxication, one simply heads to Bergdorf Goodman. Neighboring The Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue, it is a cache of luxury. This year’s windows celebrated the cultural institutions of New York City. Each window exemplified a significant museum with a mixture of finery and fantasy. Of noteworthy interest were: The New York Historical Society Museum, The Museum of Natural History (where its monumental dinosaurs were encrusted with crystals), and The New York Botanical Gardens. For those addicted to fashion, this is a glimpse of pure heaven!

Having finished a stroll through the outdoor holiday market on Columbus Circle, I remembered there was one more collection of windows which I needed to see: Ralph Lauren. I have long been enamored with this designer’s fresh approach to classic American style.


Like a scene out of a romance novel, the falling snow had covered the streets and sidewalks of the city. Everything was cloaked in white. Central Park was aglow with the “halo” that only snow can create. The sounds of the city seemed to be muffled, spawning a solace in this typically busy park as I made my way east.

At last, I stood in front of some of the city’s finest holiday windows. Each was a careful mix of fine apparel, furnishings, and décor. The designer’s signature of timeless sophistication was easily recognized in every detail. A touch of the season’s playful cheer appeared in the form of the Polo bear as mannequins within each setting. It was a Rocky Mountain dream, as the furry folks were dressed in finery for cold weather and lush living.  Elegance prevailed.


As I savored each detail, the snowfall seemed to increase and the wind whipped to a howl between the buildings.


Funny, I wasn’t cold. Instead, my hand was warm and my heart was full. For just a moment I thought I heard, “What do you see, Little Britches?”



This was A Moment in America.

Leave a comment:
Lynn - Absolutely BEAUTIFUL! You are such a talented writer, Austin. I felt like I was there! The pictures are awesome; I love the one of Central Park. Hope you had a Merry Christmas. Happy New Year!
Marcia Hobson - Austin,
Over the years we only made it once to New York during the Christmas Season. You are genius at describing the feeling of being in the City with all the spectical of site and sound.

What a wonderful experience and memory to share!

Merry Christmas Austin!

Jenny Mozgai - Hi Austin!

I just had to tell you how much I love your work, both photos and writing. Your vision is extraordinary while you convey images and feelings precisely to the soul. I am so glad to become acquainted with you and look forward to meeting in person!

Merry Christmas to you,

Jenny Mozgai