Christmas in November—and even in October sometimes!—usually means that it’s the most wonderful time of the year to listen to my iPod so I don’t have to listen to the Christmas music on the radio. It’s also the most wonderful time of the year to purposefully walk past the Christmas candy that replaces the Halloween candy a week after the holiday; this year, I had to pretend not to see the candy Advent calendars or holiday boxes that were put out in the French grocery stores around the same time as the Halloween candy was being put out in American grocery stores. QUELLE HORREUR!
But I’m never annoyed by Christmas window displays, oddly enough. I think it’s because my mom had a children’s clothing store when I was growing up and she put so much effort into all of her window decorations, especially the Christmas ones, that I can’t not appreciate the end result of anyone’s window displays. When I was older, I’d help brainstorm concepts, but she didn’t really need my help—she used to always win “Best Holiday Display” at the end-of-the-year awards ceremony given by the town’s local employers and merchant’s board.
She’d buy ten plush snowmen from Hallmark one year that would become “friends” with the mannequins, and the next year it’d be ten big cookie tins with smiling gingerbread men that would be hanging from the ceiling. And even though she closed the store about eight years ago, we still use the snowmen for Christmas decorations in our house and the cookie tins hold all of our Christmas cookies, so I’m always reminded of the beautiful window art even when I’m not out shopping.
This applies for other holidays as well. For Halloween, my mom dresses up leftover mannequin dolls in bloody hospital gowns and hangs them from the window or hides them behind columns, so you can tell she really likes decorating. I’m used to not seeing the house in its Halloween costume because I’m always in Philly for the fall.
But Drexel’s quarter system works so that I’m usually home the first week of December, which is just in time to start dressing the house in its Christmas finery. However, I won’t get back from Paris until after the tree is picked out and the house is decked out.
And to make matters worse, not only will I not be able to Christmas-ify my house, but I won’t be in the states to see how the stores Christmas-ify themselves.
This weekend was officially the start of the Christmas season for the three big fancy department stores, or grands magasins, in Paris, and I visited Printemps and Galeries Lafayette. And even though I can’t even afford to buy a pair of socks in either of these stores … I went to both of them this weekend, just to look at their Christmas displays.
On Friday I went to the Galeries Lafayette. The center of the building housing all of the women’s departments is always awe-inspiring and photo-worthy, because of its Belle Epoque architecture and a ornate colored glass dome hovering over an opening covering four floors of fashion. But it was even more beautiful because of the stately, magnificent decorated Christmas tree that touched the top of the dome.
The tree had big buttons of colored lights that would change every couple of seconds, and there was a big, classic white star all the way at the tippity top of the tree. But this wasn’t your average big public Christmas tree—the bottom of the tree had this kind of upside-down chandelier thing going on made out of Swarovski crystals. It was hard to get a picture with the crystals on the bottom and the star at the top.
The outside of Galeries Lafayette was festive as well, but nothing could ever stand up to that giant tree mounted on top of a beauty cart. The displays on the homegoods store, Galeries Maison, looked pretty but not enough to make me want to brave the tourist traffic and cross the street. From what I could see, there weren’t any models or fancy dresses and for me, then there’s no point. And the one window display I could see was of twirling doll couples wearing animal head masks. It was pretty, but not really festive. It was just kind of weird.
Right down the Boulevard Haussman is the Galeries Lafayette’s biggest competition, Printemps. Both stores have been there since the Belle Epoque, so I imagine that every year they have to compete for the best holiday displays. Well, my vote goes for Printemps.
How could it not? All of the decorations were provided by Dior. Dior, okay? Doesn’t get any fancier or more French than that. But name-dropping aside, everything was gorgeous and fun and, most importantly, festive.
There was snow and watercolor-painted scenery showing Paris in the snow—even a snow-covered Arc de Triomphe! And the seventy four little Dior dolls acted out winter activities like ice-skating and dancing outside. Yeah, there were some non-winter scenes like the girlies in strapless tulle gowns eating sparkly cotton candy underneath a Ferris wheel. But everything was so girly and cute that I didn’t end up minding.
There were even life-sized mannequins modeling actual Dior attire and accessories, so it wasn’t all dollies. But apparently my inner five-year-old isn’t really so inner, because I got really excited about the doll’s doll faces and doll hair and doll dresses. I would have totally been happy to play with the dolls when I was a kid, and even now I wanted to look at them up close, just because I knew they were hand-crafted dolls designed by the ateliers at the haute couture Dior shop located nearby on one of Paris’ most fashionable streets, rue Montaigne.
And the displays always made sure to highlight the Dior brand, whether it was randomly placing little bottles of Dior Miss Cherie (my perfume!) next to a doll holding a balloon. Or there was one window with a wedding cake-like display that looked like it was stolen from a Cupcake Wars display and was covered with random Dior products like shoes, perfume bottles, and Dior kitchenware.
One window even had a Dior Advent calendar and a 350 euro Dior snow globe. Which is absolutely ridiculous and I couldn’t believe it was listed among the products available for purchase on the tiny sign at the corner of the display. As my friend Lily said, “If I’m paying 350 euro for a snow globe, I want it to control the weather.” But I mean hey, compared to the Chanel snow globe, it’s a bargain!
Lastly, I’m not sure if the Christmas icicle lights dangling from the ceiling outside were Dior or not—and at this point I wouldn’t have been surprised if it was—but it was a nice garnish that jus added to the festivity and frivolity of the window displays.
Both of these stores gave new meanings to the phrase “window shopping” and it’s a fun, FREE way to get in the Christmas spirit, even if you can’t afford to actually go inside and buy anything. But the two are situated right next to each other in the busy Opéra section of Paris, and it’s still very easy to spend a couple hours just wandering through the stores and looking at pretty things. I went to Galeries Lafayette alone, but I had friends come with me to look at the Printemps displays.
Watch out though, because there’s going to be some serious pedestrian traffic around both of these stores. They’re such big tourist AND local destinations that there were huge crowds on the sidewalks. Just based off of what I’ve seen in the off-season, this is pretty much a constant. It’s like having to force yourself on to the Metro during rush hour, except you’re outside so the BO component isn’t as bad.
Plus, with the window displays, a lot of people are just standing taking up space while snapping photos on their camera. Obviously I had to become one of those people, and you will too if you do end up checking these window displays out for yourself.
You know how when you’re driving on the high way and all of a sudden you hit traffic and you’re not sure why until finally, FINALLY you see some flashing lights or a police car on the shoulder up ahead and when you get past them you see there’s been a car accident or even just a car that broke down? This is exactly like that. Except, you don’t think, all of that traffic just for that? But for this street traffic and the window display equivalent of the shiny lights of a cop car, you’re not going to think that. Or, at least I didn’t, and I hope you won’t too. This is an instance where the traffic is warranted. I think it’s worth fighting for foot space.
But like I said, I’m a sucker for window displays, so this was like going to a museum for me. Plus, I know my family and friends would skin me alive and eat me for Christmas Eve dinner if I tried gifting them with something that wasn’t French, so I’m not going to be heading to a mall in the States before Christmas and I wouldn’t want to considering I land in Boston on December 23rd.
But after Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, I’m not complaining.
If you’re interested, Vogue UK put up a little explanatory article and better pictures of the dolls and the windows that I highly recommend.
Editor’s note: So when I was setting up this post I realized that I now have had over 1,000 hits on this blog that has been up for a little over 2 months! SQUEE!! So thanks for reading this, whether you actually have a personal connection to me or not, and feel free to drop a comment or a question about anything!