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VM Choice: John Lewis Christmas penguins

How difficult it must have been to follow the ‘Hare and the Bear’ of Christmas 2013. John Lewis has done it masterfully with its charming penguins. Linked to the ‘Monty and Mabel,’ TV ad - which tells the tale of little boy Sam and his toy penguin, Monty, which he thinks is ‘real,’ - the store’s windows are suitably penguin-filled.

In the TV ad the boy notices the penguin is interested in romance and a mate and so, on Christmas Day, the penguin’s wish is granted. At the Oxford Street store, each white-walled window has a turquoise neon ‘Christmas’ sign across the backdrop, to be read before this year’s caption: ‘They’ve been waiting for’ below it on the glass. The sides of the glass are screened with broken-ice shaped frosted foil, which focuses our attention on the penguins and the merchandise.

The main windows feature a delightful array of penguins. I particularly love the lingerie window. Here the penguins, the larger ones about a metre high, smaller ones 50cm, are displayed in the laundry. They are beautifully observed, suggesting a mixture of curiosity and blithe enjoyment.

Washing machines make a suitable black and white backdrop for the monochrome penguins, which wear brightly-coloured lingerie. This clever use of bright colour makes the window pop, while focusing attention on the merchandise.

The antics of the penguins add dynamism and humour: one wears a green, padded, lace bra (upside down); others wear bikini briefs on their heads or interact with laundry accessories.

I’m slightly concerned about the one which seems to be blinded by the fuchsia-pink bikini briefs on his head. He is unknowingly about to step off the top of a washing machine.

John Lewis has a large haberdashery department, which sells a wide range of knitting wool for a now super-trendy pastime. The penguins wear oversized Christmas-style yarn sweaters, accessorized with brightly-coloured knitted pompom bonnets and hats.

Most charming is a small penguin preening itself at the front of the window wrapped in cream boucle knit scarf: totally girlie. Again, an array of brightly-coloured merchandise brings the window to life. This time it’s balls of ‘Wool and the Gang’ vertically-piled wool, held in place with knitting needles to add colour.

A gaggle of school-age penguins, each bearing a brightly-coloured satchel, races across another window. A large penguin carrying a handbag appears to be sending her offspring to school, just as many John Lewis customers bid farewell to their children each day.

The women’s fashion window uses the caption ‘party’ instead of ‘Christmas.’ Perhaps using black and white merchandise would have been too literal, but the pale-coloured eveningwear merchandise doesn’t ‘pop’ in quite the same way as the other windows, conveying a slightly more serious mood. Perhaps the penguins could have offered small accessories to the mannequins?

It is well known that penguins are keen cooks, at least they are in John Lewis. In front of a full-sized scarlet cooker, they wear aprons and matching seasonally-red chef’s hats, managing to skillfully hold mixing bowls and a flour sifter in their flippers. The smaller penguins look on in a most interested manner: cooking at Christmas is something for all the family.

Cameras make a perfect Christmas gift for people, and penguins clearly think so too. Behind the lens two small penguins balance, one on the head of the other, to peer through the viewfinder. Meanwhile, a curious big penguin sniffs the lens in a super-compelling manner. Another small penguin confidently carries a camera on a strap over his shoulder, wandering off to photograph the customers.

The side windows use penguins more sparingly, with one in each window. Here penguins trip over presents, pop up between them, and view flat-screen monitors, along with teddy bears and Christmas trees. A dark backdrop with a stylised triangle tree motif adds more colour to these windows and is echoed inside the store with the tree motif used on in-store mobiles and in the rear windows.

Thinking of the television advertisement, a recent newspaper article suggested 500,000 people will be alone on Christmas Day this year, and there must be many, many, more who are looking for a mate. I guess there are a lot of people searching for their special ‘penguin,' so no wonder this advertisement touches us all. But the windows have a joyful, playful feel, which makes us all smile in anticipation of the festive season. A Christmas window can do no more.