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VM inspiration: Cath Kidston Christmas windows

I have to admire Cath Kidston’s flagship store windows on London's Piccadilly. The VM is mostly paper, with a little foam board, wood and acrylic, but so appealing.

Strings of tinted transparent stars in varying sizes dangle from the efficient wire grid that lines the ceiling of the open-backed windows, interspersed with looped chains of old-fashioned Christmas decorations. I’m sure everyone in VM made these as a child from specially-coloured paper with a gummed strip across the end. Together, these fill the top of the window above eye level where it would be pointless to display merchandise, but filling the space adds an air of festivity to the overall impact of the window.

This close-up of the paper loops shows they all have the retro, white polka-dot print that Cath Kidston has made its own.

The main part of all the windows are filled with painted, wooden-outline houses, some with shelves. Wrapped with Christmas lights these allow merchandise display, and focus customer attention on what otherwise would be merely a shallow window offering a view into the store.

The cutest houses include a outline chimney, suggesting both home product and Santa, as he reputedly arrives that way. Cubes filled with merchandise add complexity and, unusually, the merchandise is also displayed across the floor of the window. This is rather low as customers tend not to look below 40cm: moving their heads more than the eyes’ natural swivel is too much effort for most passersby. But part of Cath Kidston’s branding is the deliberate panoply of choice and adding more merchandise below the 40cm cut-off adds to this illusion. The only graphic in the windows is here too: inviting customers to the basement to experience the Christmas shop.

I particularly like the simple, timber house cutouts: these frame the stack of transparent boxes, which would look rather dull by themselves. As the height varies a little, they can be interlocked adding complexity. Notice too that the lighting cables are wound consistently, adding a little structure to this apparent chaos. And the white ‘snow’ polystyrene granules unify the display and add a little reflective light to the bright colour merchandise.

Besides overhead lighting, side-mounted spotlights make this merchandise pop, all focused on the area within the natural sweep of the eye.

This is a good moment to draw attention to the colour palette of the houses: grey, a soft orange, a pale leaf green, a shell pink, a dull blue, and a dull red, all complimenting the Cath Kidston palette of 40’s-coloured merchandise. Add flashing white fairy lights, with bulbs the size of small circus bulbs or those surrounding theatrical mirrors, and the illusion of fun and sparkle is conveyed besides the gentle echo of the corporate, white polka-dot print.

My favourite part of the windows is the trees. Very neatly constructed from cut-out boards with a black, birch-tree-like print on a white ground, these super-simple trees are made from two overlapping layers, secured by two semi-circular pieces at ground level to form a hash tag-shaped footprint.

These could be used to display merchandise, or to make a complete window in if festooned with small accessories. What really appeals is the use of an inexpensive medium to create an aesthetically pleasing, imaginative backdrop. These could surround David Chipperfield’s architecture, or be a stage set. Another example of great foam-board thinking.