Behind the Scenes: The Holiday Window Displays at Bloomingdale’s

Director of window design Leigh Ann Tischler talks about the planning, inspiration and creation of this Christmastime tradition at the historic New York City department store.
 

Bloomingdale's holiday window display, photo by BFA/ Joe Schildhorn

Leigh Ann Tischler’s interest in the art of retail window design was first piqued by the cool displays at her local New Jersey Macy’s store where she shopped as a kid. Today, Tischler flexes her creative genius in the windows of Bloomingdale’s, a celebrated New York City department store with a more than 140-year history, where she heads up a team in conceptualizing inventive high-end holiday window displays that attract local and international crowds.

Photo by Matthew Carasella Photography

Q: How did you become director of window design at Bloomingdale’s?

I came to Bloomingdale’s [from Macy’s] in 2011 as the manager of men’s interior. Then, in 2015, the window director retired and I thought, “That’s the job I want,” so here I am.

Q: What is your educational background?

I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting  and a minor in graphic design and architectural rendering.

Q: Does your architectural training play a big role in your job?

Absolutely. You need to think three-dimensionally and know lighting and ceiling plans, and how to scale drawings. I designed a lot of fixtures like table presentations that had [miniature furniture]. In the [past] there was a lot of money in the budget for that.

Q: What other key skills are needed in designing window displays?

Imagination and creativity are important. But flexibility has been key for me because it’s amazing how many people have a voice in the process: the fashion office, the buying team, our designers and our CEO. I’ve learned to juggle [their] expectations while being open and taking risks. I also have an exceptionally talented team.

Q: Where do you find inspiration for the displays?

I go to art openings, and I actually connect with quite a few artists on Instagram because I can see their art there. The inspiration for the window displays comes from all over the world, but we also collaborate with local artists and support the local community.

Q: What are some of the major roles in the creation process?

Lighting designers, fashion stylists, riggers, carpenters and electricians. It’s fast and furious and very intense. At holiday time we have a huge unveiling—the whole team is out on the street and when you finally lift the shades, it’s a fantastic feeling.

 

Fun fact? The entrance to get into some of our windows is only 20 inches wide, so we might have a car in the display, but it will have been built in the window because everything has to fit through that gap.”

 

Q: Do you have a favourite display?

Every window we do seems to become my favourite. It’s getting hard to choose as my team keeps raising the bar—I’ll come up with an idea and they explode it. This year, for NYC Pride month, we had dancers voguing in the windows on Lexington Avenue.

Q: How do you keep it all under wraps before each big unveiling?

There’s an expectation of trust, and for some displays we have to sign non-disclosure agreements.

Q: What’s the aim of the holiday displays?

Our mission is to make people smile. It’s free street theatre and we look at it as our gift to the city. So Lexington Avenue isn’t about showing product, it’s about entertaining locals and tourists. We get phone calls as early as July from people asking when the holiday windows will be unveiled because they want to plan their trip around visiting all of the city’s [department store] holiday windows.     

Q: Is there competition from other department stores in NYC?

There’s a healthy competition between Bloomingdale’s, Saks, Lord & Taylor, Bergdorf [Goodman] and Barneys—every retailer has a major unveiling for holiday windows and we try to do it on different nights.

 

More New York City Holiday Traditions

Skating at Rockefeller Center, photo by Sefano Politi Markovina/Alamy

Skate around the ice rink at Rockefeller Center

This is a New York City winter must-do. There are daily 90-minute sessions, but get there early to beat the general admission lineup.

Head to Union Square Holiday Market

Find one-of-a-kind gifts such as Spanish pottery from Valeries Creations and stationery printed with vegetable ink and recycled paper from Eunco.

Check out the Dyker Heights lights

There’s no shortage of holiday cheer from the folks who live and work in Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights neighbourhood. Stroll 11th to 13th avenues and 83rd to 86th streets to enjoy these bright, over-the-top Christmas displays.

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