The unveiling of Christmas windows in New York City prominently signals the approaching holiday season to New Yorkers and visitors alike. From mid-November onwards, stores such as Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, and Barney’s feature windows with elaborate fantasies more or less directly related to Christmas, which often include expensive designer dress, animated animal or Christmas puppets, music and copious amounts of glitter. Many of the windows take almost a year to design and create, continuing a tradition that has been shaping the look of New York for several decades. Perhaps the most famous windows are Bergdorf Goodman’s, whose Christmas window design process is shown in the 2013 documentary Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s and which were first created in the early 20th century. David Hoey, Bergdorf’s window dresser, explained that the 1930s windows were often surrealist, while the 1940s windows were patriotic and 1950 windows elegant. The spectacle shown in today’s windows did not occur until the mid-1970s.
This year’s Christmas windows are not only breath-taking and full of Christmas joy and fantasy, but also show great variety in themes and look. Perhaps the most clearly dedicated to Christmas, Macy’s windows are created around the theme of Believe by designer Roya Sullivan and encourage the viewer to believe in the magic of the holiday season. Similar to Macy’s window, Lord & Taylor’s 79th Christmas windows feature no products sold by the store and rather focus on creating an Enchanted Forest fantasy through animated animals. To engulf the viewer into the Christmas fauna fantasy, Lord & Taylor’s display includes an extension of the front of the store covered in leaves and lights and squirrel puppets.
Saks Fifth Avenue took sweetness in a more literal sense with displays on Land of 1000 Delights and The Nutcracker Sweet. The Land of 1000 Delights dedicates each window to a particular designer whose work is surrounded by oversized sweets. The Nutcracker Sweet, inspired by Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, shows different animated scenes of the ballet’s characters in a landscape dominated by sweets. Bergdorf Goodman’s theme for the windows is unrelated to Christmas, instead favouring Destination Extraordinary. The all-green windows are inspired by nature, travel and the Natural History Museum and feature expensive designer dress in exotic fantasy locations.
The New York Christmas windows are on display until just after New Year.
Born in Bulgaria, Yordan Mihalev is a 26-year-old fashion designer who studied at Varna Free University in Bulgaria, with a semester abroad at Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp that also educated designers such as Dries van Noten. With a first prize for “Young Designer”, television interviews and an Italian shop interested in buying his latest collection, he is on his way to establishing his brand.
What have you been working on since completing your study?
My first fashion show took place about a month before my graduation at Ethno Tendance Fashion Weekend Brussels. The idea of the event was to gather a lot of designers from different countries to create a collection that was inspired by their own culture, so my entire collection was inspired by Bulgaria and presented by models of African origin.
Afterwards, I moved to Paris where I had a normal, paid job for an American brand, which I wasn’t really interested in. In addition to the job, I did a lot of side projects with different stylists, designers and artists which was really nice, but not spectacular. One of the projects, perhaps the most interesting one, was for Palais de Tokyo. I worked with a stylist and designer who is mainly famous for working with Lady Gaga. He’s a big name and a very interesting guy and I was lucky to have the chance to work for him as an illustrator.
I returned to Bulgaria about nine months ago, because I discovered that it was impossible for me to do what I wanted to do in Paris. I was first thinking about going to Germany, but Bulgaria was a more obvious choice because I would have much more space to create my collection. Since February, I have constantly been working on my new collection, which I presented at the beginning of October at the Salone della Moda, a yearly event in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
What is your favourite part of designing fashion?
The beginning and the end. The beginning and end are the most interesting because the beginning is when you have ideas; a vision of what you want to do. You’re only drawing and sketching and it feels free and you can experiment. The end is when you finally see everything three-dimensionally; everything is done. I don’t know about other designers, but I am always surprised at the end at what it finally became.
Are you now working on setting up your own brand in Bulgaria?
Yes. It’s interesting because for a lot of years I thought that I would have to be outside of Bulgaria, in France, Italy or the US, somewhere where fashion is huge. But this collection, for example, I made in Bulgaria, showed in the Netherlands and now I am going to sell it in Italy. Fashion is very international and the world is such an open place that it doesn’t really matter where you are physically based. I really want to establish my collections in Bulgaria, so that one day I can create spaces and jobs for people in my own country, but after that I want it to be everywhere.
Since the interview, a shop from Dubai has also shown interest in selling Mihalev’s latest collection.
While Charles William Stewart (1915-2001) mainly enjoyed the spotlight as an illustrator in the Royal Academy of Art’s 2014 exhibition “Charles Stewart: Black and White Gothic”, he also contributed to one of the most significant dress collections in the United Kingdom. Having personally worked with Stewart’s collection at National Museums Scotland, I found his collection to contain extraordinary pieces, whilst providing a valuable insight in the process of collecting fashion and the remarkable life of its collector.
Born in the Philippines, Stewart was sent to live with his uncle at the family home of Shambellie House, near Dumfries, Scotland, as a three-year-old boy. The land had been in possession of his family since 1625, while the Victorian mansion was built in 1855 after the design of principal Scottish architect David Bryce. In 1932, he started his study at Byam Shaw School of Painting and Drawing, during which time he was inspired to take up ballet by Colonel de Basil’s “Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo”. In 1936 and 1937, he was hired “by a freak of fortune” as a dancer at Covent Garden and was asked to design the male costumes and Lydia Sokolova’s solo costume for Thomas Beecham’s “Aida”. He continued work as a costume designer or assistant designer until the war, when his refusal to take lives led him to become a conscientious objector and join the Air Raid Precautions instead. With the 1946 commission to illustrate Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Uncle Silas”, he made the permanent career switch to illustration.
Like many historical fashion enthusiasts, Stewart’s passion for historical fashion began at a young age, when he came across a china doll in a mock 18th century dress in Edinburgh’s Princes Street. He later said: “[it] seemed to me supremely beautiful and I coveted [it] with the sharp acquisitive desire which collectors know so well”. To aid him with his historical illustrations, he collected numerous items from Portobello Road and Bermondsey Market (historical fashion had little value at the time so was cheap to acquire), although he favoured a shop in Soho. Shared by 23 cats, the trunks of garb were in an attic “where the rays of a winter sunset could scarcely penetrate the grime of ages on the window panes”. Here he found, illustrative to the diversity of his collection, two 18th century men’s dressing gowns as well as theatrical costumes worn by actors of Sir Henry Irving’s theatre company.
He used small labels to keep track of where he had found each item, his year of origin estimation and any additional information about the wearer. Many of his labels are still attached today as can be seen in the photo of accessories below. While mid-20th century methods of textile conservation were at times dubious, he was adamant about the care of his collection and had his housekeeper launder and pack his entire collection in plastic bags (see the trimmings in the plastic bag).
By 1977, the anxiety about his collection being dispersed upon his death led him to donate his entire historical fashion collection, consisting of 2,000 pieces, to the Royal Scottish Museum (now National Museums Scotland). His family home, Shambellie House, was donated to the Scottish Government with the intent of displaying some pieces of his fashion collection. The Shambellie House Museum of Costume first opened in 1982, but sadly closed as a public museum in 2013. The pieces on display were then returned to NMS where the vast majority of his collection had been stored since donation.
His fashion collection is as diverse as his life’s experiences and includes dresses, skirts, bodices, capes, shoes, hats, hair pieces, belts, hosiery and men’s suits from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, both branded and unbranded. The collection covers dress for different occasions and parts of the day, including daywear, eveningwear (many skirts come with day- and eveningwear bodices), dressing gowns, wedding dresses and performance costumes. The non-textile part of his donation includes fashion plates from the late 18th century, full publications from the 19th century such as bound copies of “The Lady’s Magazine”, and his stunning watercolour designs for period stage costumes created in c. 1972-73. While Stewart bought most of the pieces, he also received many donations and an endearing part of the collection consists of his mother’s 1950s dresses.
The beautiful purple bodice (A.1977.737.1), a Worth dress and Lanvin cape from Stewart’s collection can be seen in the new “Fashion and Style Gallery” at National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh, whilst other pieces of his collection can be viewed by appointment.