Once upon a time, it was like the Nutcracker had come to retail, and only a pane of glass stood between us, our noses smashed against the window, making steam clouds and a magical world within.
Mothers and nannies held hands for hours, while store staff maintained the lines at Lord & Taylor with a red velvet rope.
The bar had been set since childhood, so my expectations were high.
Sadly, I had not been wowed by the Christmas windows this year. I didn’t see long lines of children mesmerized by them either, as we walked down Fifth Avenue. So I looked for that moment where my heart would burst out of my winter scarf to float somewhere above the New York skyline in love with the City at Christmas.
I enjoyed the sight of the snowflake hovering over Fifth Avenue, and admired the branches lit to look like the entrance to a European forest or chalet placed by the windows outside Chopard, but I hadn’t found my masterpiece.
On Saturday we battled the crowds to see the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center. It was smaller this year , but still delightful. I stared longingly at the ice rink I grew up twirling on, but five tourists in toe wouldn’t allow me to pop on my skates tonight.
I put my head down, held the hands of our children and pushed our way by the angels with their horns facing to heaven to get to Fifth Avenue for the walk home. I was comforted by their appearance. They were always there and that was right and good.
Finally we came upon the magnificent light and music show that now invades the entire facade of Saks Fifth Avenue. I watched children’s faces bent so far back to the skyline above, I thought they might fall over. They were gripped as they watched the public light show, twice, that transformed Saks’ exterior into a winter castle with a Franco-Russian feel. They had found their Christmas…but I still hadn’t found mine: the window that would turn my heart upside down, where sugar plum fairies would dance in my tummy, where just the window was enough.
I decided maybe Christmas just belonged in a New York past, that is until Sunday morning. As we wandered down Madison Avenue I glimpsed a crowd of all ages stopped at Barneys, shuffling for a spot at the front. We stopped and I pushed into position to see what was happening.
At first, all I could see were blocks of ice and it was exciting. They had created an ice room in this corner window. And then I saw a sculptor dressed in silver, ready for the arctic with his tools and electric saw and I almost fainted. He was carving ice sculptures in the windows of Barneys for the public! I almost died and went to heaven. What a magnificent idea.
Each moment we watched him work his magic, a piece of Christmas — of his art — would come to life. We witnessed his struggles, lugging pieces of ice around and moving some of it with machines, and even his mistakes. We were entranced as ice castles emerged from the hand of the artist I later discovered was Okamato, of the world-renowned ice carving collective Okamoto Studio.
There was performance art inside a stylized studio-away-from-studio igniting the holiday fire in the hearts of New Yorkers at 30 below. Decked out in custom gear by Thom Brown for Moncler Gamme Bleu, he was donning enviable arctic finery.
My New York Christmas is now complete. My retail gaze is satisfied.
And my belief that art is everywhere, even in unexpected places, is still true. Art is everywhere…even in a shop front window.
I won’t give away the other windows at Barneys. They’re equally fantastic, but you should go discover this surprise for yourself at the store. It’s all on display through December 31st.