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A Look Inside Bergdorf Goodman's Dazzling Holiday Windows

We spoke to David Hoey, the man in charge of dressing Bergdorf Goodman’s legendary holiday displays.
November 25, 2014, 8:00pm
Image via Getty. Photos of windows courtesy of Ricky Zehavi, and behind-the-scenes images courtesy of Ken Hamm.

David Hoey, the man in charge of dressing Bergdorf Goodman’s windows for the holidays, is on vacation. He just wrapped up an 11-month marathon of wrangling over a hundred artists, designing decadent objects, and piecing together fantastical worlds for Bergdorf’s annual holiday window display unveiled in New York City last week. But his break is short-lived—planning for the 2015 holiday windows begins as soon as the new year hits.

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At the start of each year, Hoey chooses a broad and unconventional theme that embodies the festive spirit of the winter holidays. For this season, the five main windows on 5th Avenue were transformed into elaborate and decadent dioramas of "The Arts," with representations of literature, music, architecture, painting, and theater. The windows also fall in line with the storewide umbrella theme of “Inspired.”

Over the 17 years he’s directed visual presentations at Bergdorf’s, Hoey has worked on at least 3,500 windows. “Windows are the perfect medium. They are a combination of several things all mixed together: a little theater, a little storytelling, and a little installation art.” Whether concocting carnivals of animals or weaving icy wonderlands, “we take frivolity very seriously,” he tells The Creators Project.

By designing surprising and spectacular vistas, Hoey wants viewers to remember the moment as an example of pure unbounded creativity that’s only possible in a shop window. “It’s not going to last long. You were there, you saw it once, and it becomes a memory.”

Hoey told us the backstory for each of the five windows for "The Arts":

Literature

At least 11 million stitches are in this window, estimates Hoey. The piece overflows with all kinds of fiber art, including needlepoint portraits of Emily Dickinson, William Shakespeare and Herman Melville, felt busts of Homer and Edgar Allan Poe, a dog sculpture handcrafted from yarn, a macramé owl, knitted quotations, and a wide wale corduroy upholstered chair—all decked out in brilliant red. “One way to dazzle is to put so much stuff into a window that nobody can believe it,” he says. “It’s almost a lunatic thing to set out to do a window like this.” In order to unite a project with many disparate parts created by different artists, he decided early on to restrict the color scheme and the materials. After the holiday season is over, many of these objects will enter Bergdorf’s warehouse of legacy props, items that will be reused in years of windows to come.

© Ricky Zehavi

© Ken Hamm

Music

“I had this idea in a flash,” says Hoey, “to have a symmetrical and extremely dense sculptural environment made out of brass instruments.” He sourced inexpensive instruments from India and China, and then an artist crafted the structure, connecting the forms with copper tubing plated with silver. For all their windows, Hoey explains, there is always a mannequin wearing an important look and activating the space with an action. “The mannequin in the music window arguably improves it,” he says. “She is a character who is playing the sculpture, a customized trumpet that snakes its way back into the form.” Out of the thousands of windows he’s worked on, he counts this one in his top three.

© Ricky Zehavi

© Ken Hamm

Architecture

Hoey wondered if old blueprints could be transformed into three-dimensional forms. Papercraft, he adds, is a traditional window dresser’s medium because it has a powerful visual effect. The task turned out to be harder than he and his team originally thought, because they couldn’t find old blueprints anywhere, and it was hard to fake the look of a blueprint. It took three months of research to get the materials that they finally discovered at the Library of Congress and other colleges. Some of the buildings in the window are not actual buildings, he points out. The paper lion is a replica of its more famous counterparts that guard the entrance to the New York Public library. The overstuffed "Architecture" window is the complete opposite of the designer’s living space: “My apartment is absolutely spare.”

© Ricky Zehavi

© Ken Hamm

Painting

Everything in this window, a peek inside an artist’s studio, is “unpainted,” with the exception of a section of an oil painting by artist John Gordon Gauld. A window dresser’s job is to surprise, explains Hoey, and creating a painting-themed window with only unpainted items was a visual pun he couldn't resist. Gauld's work that includes the only segment of color took four months to create because of the artist’s meticulous technique of layering diluted oil paint, similar to egg tempera. His unique style was the inspiration for the window. Typically, the fashion that will go on the mannequins is decided on very late in the game. “I knew we were going to need a colorless dress,” says Hoey. So, they commissioned Dolce & Gabbana to create a special look with handpainted details—a dress that’s only available to the public by custom order. And notice the 12-foot tall custom-made artist’s dummy in one corner? he says. This is an example of how the team use the uniquely tall windowspace of Bergdorf’s to their advantage.

© Ricky Zehavi

© Ken Hamm

Theater

The neon light extravaganza for "Theater" was first sketched on a piece of hotel stationery last December. But the true inspiration for it stretches back to when Hoey was six years old. Hoey remembers being a precocious child who complained about living in Fort Worth, Texas, instead of a more glamorous locale like New York or Hollywood. This window epitomizes New York, Hollywood, Las Vegas, jukeboxes, shooting galleries, arcades and pinball machines with their lights flashing on and off, he describes. But mostly, it sprang from what he dreamed as a child of what fabulous mid-century movie marquees looked like. “Everything you have been accumulating your whole life can be used to create something,” says Hoey. "Anything you were inspired by in the past can be turned into something.”

© Ricky Zehavi

© Ken Hamm

Visit Bergdorf Goodman’s windows until January 2nd in New York City on 58th Street and 5th Avenue, and check out more amazing photos on Kenn Hamm's Instagram and Ricky Zehavi's Instagram.

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