Through a Glass Darkly

Smug penguins and bitchy snowflakes: An opinionated tour of the season's department store windows

But if Bergdorf's stock-in-trade is a subtle, achingly elegant irony, Barneys fairly clobbers you over the head with the contradictions of the season. Could the store's current obsession with Andy Warhol ("Happy Andy Warhol-idays!" is repeated ad nauseam throughout the shop) be due to the Ric Burns PBS documentary that aired earlier this year or the upcoming Edie Sedgwick biopic? Whatever the reason, Barneys' Simon Doonan, the doyen of window dressers and the fellow who single-handedly introduced irreverence to the world of holiday vitrines, has chosen to reproduce, amid a multitude of soup cans and cookie jars, a 1956 rejection letter from Alfred Barr, the director of the Museum of Modern Art, unctuously turning down one of Andy's shoe drawings. Here, at last, is something to encourage and inspire those legions of New Yorkers desperate for their rock band, their Off-Off-Broadway show, their downtown fashion line, their experimental novel to finally make a hit in 2007! Other windows offer depictions of the usual suspects—Liza, Basquiat, et al.—and there's even a dialogue between Warhol and Bridget Berlin concerning gift giving: Bridget asks Andy to buy her a vacuum cleaner; Andy answers that she should just get it herself and bring him the receipt. (So that's Barneys' idea of Christmas spirit . . . )


Barneys's Warhol-idays
photo: Holly Northrop/hnorthrop.com
But even Andy, who once said, "I am a deeply superficial person," would have a hard time tolerating the story line at Saks Fifth Avenue, a tale that manages to be syrupy, secular, and stunningly silly, even by the standards of the season. The text-heavy windows are a little hard to read, especially with the crowd of fellow lookie loos pushing and shoving in all directions—not that this seems to be doing Saks all that much good. Though the main floor is packed and there are long lines at the toilets, the upper floors, where they sell the $900 Comme des Garçons skirts, remain a relative ghost town.

The tale concerns an ice crystal named Allie, who, for reasons that are clear only to the people who run Saks, longs to become part of a snowflake. She hooks up with another discontented crystal, a faintly disreputable-looking guy with a top hat named Tay-Tay, and together they gaze with envy at a passel of bitchy snowflakes who are wearing skimpy chorus-girl outfits, performing Busby Berkeley–esque dance maneuvers, and won't give them the time of day. Allie and Tay-Tay subsequently find common cause with other disenfranchised ice crystals who have been rejected by snobby snowflakes: pint-size Chip; Winnie, who has braces and spectacles and appears to be a crystal of color; and the chubby Timmy.

Bergdorf Goodman's twisted sisters
photo: Holly Northrop/hnorthrop.com
Bergdorf Goodman's twisted sisters

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See also:
  • Window Wonderland
    Twisted sisters and wacky Warhol-idays: The seasonís dazzling department dioramas
    by Holly Northrop
  • In the tradition of the maligned Rudolph, whose ribbing by the other reindeer was at least as nasty as the literal cold shoulder extended to this band of outsiders, there's a jolly ending just around the corner: Allie, Tay-Tay, Chip, Winnie, and Timmy embrace their misfit status, form a coalition, and become their own snowflake.

    As they rotate gleefully over a stylized skyline of swaying icons that includes the Chrysler and the Empire State buildings, the final script declares, "We are all unique masterpieces." And maybe it's true, maybe we are, even those of us who will never lose our ice crystal status or date a polar bear or have our work hung in the Museum of Modern Art. As Andy himself once put it, "If everyone's not a beauty, then nobody is."

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