Christmas in New York is a magical time of year. With the recent report that a record breaking 50 million tourists will have visited the big apple this year, it is no surprise that the holiday season is one of the busiest in recent memory. New York's holiday windows are as American as apple pie. Each year, thousands line up to see the classic displays at Macy's, Saks 5th Avenue, Lord & Taylor, & More. As you would expect, the stores on the Upper East Side have more designer themed displays to help spread the holiday cheer.
Of all the stores, Barneys New York has had one of the most dedicated followings for their holiday windows over the last decade. Under the creative direction of Simon Doonan, the windows (like Doonan himself) were over the top and whimsical, with a big dose of kitch. More important than any one designer item displayed, Doonan's windows made you smile, which is what helped Barneys develop a unique personality that set it apart from the other "department" stores.
This year under the new regime led by CEO Mark Lee, Doonan was not involved in transforming the windows into a festive explosion of cheer. No surprise for those reading the tea leaves from the new directions taken since Lee took over. Lee named Dennis Freedman Creative Director of the stores, replacing Doonan, and giving him a Creative Consultant title. Since that time Simon is involved less and less at Barneys. This means, Freedman is the man responsible for what passed as the 2011 holiday windows at Barneys.
Partnering with Lady Gaga to create windows and a shop in shop dubbed Gaga's Workshop with custom Gaga products to benefit charitable causes sounds like a win win. But it was a lose lose. Sculpted art installations and boudoir scenes in the window came off cold and austere, not exactly what you want from holiday windows. Not to mention the fact I couldn't help but be reminded of Daphne Guinness' performance in the window of Barneys as she got dressed live (horrific) on her way to the Met Costume Institute Gala earlier this year. I'm partial here because Guinness drives me nuts. I still can't understand why the fashion world has gone so Gaga for Guinness? A middle aged empty nester who has millions of dollars to spend on clothing and just can't get enough attention is not my idea of chic. That's what you call a Kardashian. Yes, she is beautiful - but so what? She is the Paris Hilton of the fashion world, and the more it celebrates her, the more I cringe. (It's about as nauseating as the department stores reaction to Rachel Zoe and her so called "collection").
Let me be clear: I love Lady Gaga. I think she is a talented and smart performer. full of energy and enthusiasm, she speaks for her generation. Gaga cares about causes and people less fortunate - and she is a cultural icon around the world. Daphne Guinness is a millionairess who cares about celebrating her ability to shop without a budget. She then revels in other people celebrating her ability to shop. If she were a size 14, no one would know her name. Stay tuned for her inevitable QVC collection.
I never thought I would be saying "I miss Simon Doonan", but Barneys has made me do just that. It's a word of warning for Mark Lee. Lee should remember that Dennis Freedman is a very talented and well liked man, but he is also the guy who made W magazine nearly irrelevant to fashion shoppers under his tenure. Before leaving in the last changing of the guard management shuffle, it resembled an issue of ARTFORUM more than it did a fashion glossy. His passion for the art world is clear, and maybe that is where he belongs.
Oh, don't feel too badly for Simon Doonan. He is not going anywhere from his perch as a style guru. In fact, I think his dimished role at Barneys has given him the greater flexibility to expand his iconic handle on snarky style. His latest book - Gay Men Don't Get Fat is out in January. (click on the book cover to pre-order).
As for Gaga's Workshop, the products in Gaga's where more in line with Bloomingdale's than Barneys NY. (I think the late, great Kal Ruttenstein is looking down with a smile). Needless to say, so were the throngs of customers who poured in. If this is the customer Barneys is targeting, then bravo to them this holiday season. If they still intend to be the arbiters of style for well heeled clients who have their finger on the cultural pulse and aren't logo obsessed, then this year shoppers got a big lump of coal!
Well, there's always next year! Happy Holidays!!