Sunday, 1 March 2009

Windows of wonder: the legendary Harvey Nichols window displays

London Fashion Week has just ended.  But don't feel bad if you didn't even know it was occurring.  At barely 4 days of catwalks and coat-hangers, to call it a 'week' is pushing it.  This year's Autumn/Winter collections have been and gone before most Londoners are out of their 2008 winter coats.  Although Fashion Week is hailed in shop fronts from the Kings Road to Oxford Street, its most recent home has been, slightly incongruously, The National History Museum. Twice a year the ground outside this wonderful old gothic building has been covered by a vast white marquee, housing models, clothes and cameras, overseen by the wonderful creatures of the zoological collections within the museum.  This year it has been announced that from September (for London Fashion Week comes twice a year) the festivities will relocate to Somerset House, to give the dinosaur skeletons and stuffed birds a break. I confess that in my 18 months in London so far, despite the passing of three such '4 day fashion mini-weeks', I have not seen a single show or glamorous champagne-fuelled event.  Yet I don't feel I have missed out; partly as watching ridiculously expensive clothes draped over ridiculously thin individuals doesn't really pass, in my eyes, as a roaring good time, but also as I have the Harvey Nichols window displays to sustain me.  And these put on their show all year round.
A typically riotous Christmas window display from Harvey Nichols (image courtesy: Universal Display)
Harvey Nichols is a high-class (i.e. prohibitively expensive) department store, stretching across 8 floors of Knightsbridge real estate.  Originally a linen shop founded in 1813, the current Harvey Nichols building was completed in the 1880s, opposite Hyde Park.  It's wide windows run down Knightsbridge on one side, and Sloane Street on the other, and their contents contain award-winning, fashion-promoting works of art.  Mannequins enrobed in thousands of pounds worth of couture pose before pedestrians in elaborate dioramas worthy of museum galleries; less of a storefront, more of a fashion exhibit.

Past windows have held willowy ladies on swings in nautical gauze, with perfect blonde curls blowing in a permanent breeze driven by discrete fans.  Prada and Gucci have clad mannequins dressed as magicians' assistants being sawn in half, vanishing and appearing, and producing rabbits from expensive millinery.  Neon paint has been flung Jackson Pollock-style across pristine white canvases behind sculptured plastic bodies wearing day-glo dresses and high-vis heels. Their Dubai store once contained a 'virtual puma', projected to skulk through the windows, behind the stock on display.

London Fashion Week provides the window-dressers of 'Harvey Nicks' with a fresh design brief; to create a display which reflects the new season of international fashion, as well as the unique culture and backdrop of London.  For the Spring/Summer 2009 collections, last September, they outdid themselves.  The front windows facing Hyde Park became home to two full-sized dinosaur skeletons of a prehistoric fish and a monstrous land-dweller; iconic residents of the Natural History Museum, the home of London Fashion Week.  And just to hammer home the 'fashion' in Fashion Week, instead of bones the beasts were made of coat-hangers.  Utterly fabulous.  Even the Sloane Square side windows tipped their hats to the Museum's ever popular (at least with the under 10 year olds) 'Creepy Crawly' halls, as vast and evil-looking bugs appeared between plastic drainpipes and designer labels.
(Image courtesy of South African Elle's blog)
To celebrate this February's fashion-filled four days the window-dressers have turned to the jungle for their inspiration.  Maybe even the urban jungle, judging by their choice of materials.  In these times of financial austerity as we're all being encouraged to grow food on our window ledges, and reuse our left-overs (as if we were in the middle of a war), even window-dressers are extolling the virtues of recycling.  Zoological specimens created from landfill ingredients, stare out at shoppers and commuters, behind cavorting Amazonian mannequins clutching bejeweled handbags.  A cling-film elephant's head, chipboard cheetahs, toilet roll zebras and an acoholic's giraffe, his giraffe-print fashioned from dozens of broken wine bottles.  Another nod to the soon-to-be-replaced host of London Fashion Week and icon of the city. Paris or Milan, even New York, may seem more naturally synonymous with haute couture and designer runways, yet London manages to make fashion part of the city effortlessly, without our noticing. And unlike those places where fashion is taken just a little bit too seriously, in London it can still make us stop and smile.

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  1. Milan knows how to throw a Fashion week. Its everywhere.

  2. I couldn't imagine walking by windows in London and just seeing the pictures above! Especially bone structure one. Thank you for sharing your article and blog.


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