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Rolling out the wow factor for Christmas windows in independent stores

Despite ever-increasing online competition, long-established high-street retailers have yet again pushed the boat out for Christmas. Department store windows along London’s Regent Street, Oxford Street and Piccadilly are choc-a-bloc with wow factor.

The “Selfridges Rocks Christmas” theme rubs shoulders with a handful of super-sized options, from John Lewis’ piano keys, and a champagne cork in Harvey Nichols, to Fortnum & Mason’s giant festive food and drinks. Hats off to the stores’ visual merchandising departments, and the occasional external design studio.

Conran Shop
Conran Shop

Likewise in Chelsea, the Conran Shop’s cavern of moving light display is the fruits of the in-house team with London-based lighting designer Amy Mae, who specialises in creating lighting schemes for theatre. 

Conran Shop model
Conran Shop model

Head of visual merchandising Betsy Smith says the window “is probably one of the most challenging I’ve ever worked on”. She works closely with creative director Stephen Briars “who feeds us with ideas and possibilities. It’s then my job to translate them into a design.”

In contrast, smaller, younger chains and independent retailers take a more home-grown approach to Christmas. Budgets are often front of mind, meaning creativity usurps extravagance. This also means that it makes sense for the shop’s raison d’être to be centre stage in any display.

Marchand Son
Marchand Son

As a Mecca for independents, retailers in the Sussex town of Lewes cannot hope to stand out just by dint of their non-chain status. Hence newcomer Marchand Son’s colourful daubings. Owner Simon March – who moved his paint shop there from East Dulwich earlier this year – reached for the materials at hand.

Marchand Son
Marchand Son

Marchand Son is no ordinary paint shop, but a reaction to the 'ready-made colour' paint companies that purport to be traditional, explains March. “Here, you can come and make your own paint, or direct one of us to make it in the particular colour and finish you like. We grind the pigment and mix with mediums. It's a kind of paint kitchen.” Ingredients are natural and mostly local: chalk linseed and gypsum “which are the key stuff of paint”, he adds.

With this paint he has created an Alpine scene, complete with white peaks, vernacular buildings, fir trees and snow flurries. “Maybe a bit twee?” March ponders.

Meanwhile in a newer, more consciously-cultivated hub for independents, one store has also borrowed from its own mantra. STORE STORE is a design shop in Thomas Heatherwick’s Coal Drops Yard in London’s Kings Cross. The space was up by Store Projects, an association of artists, architects and designers who run SCHOOL SCHOOL - an educational programme - and public events, alongside their independent, socially-engaged design practice.

The window display is a manifestation of SCHOOL SCHOOL’s output. During November, local secondary school students attending the weekly after-school club developed a wrapping paper-making machine though a series of workshops. The machine sits in the window of STORE STORE, and customers can print their own paper live in-store.

Bottletop
Bottletop

Back on Regent Street, newcomer Bottletop is also practising what it preaches. Its sustainable fashion accessories are made from recycled plastic waste, and the flagship store – created by Krause Architects and AI Build, with interior design inspired by Paoli Zilli, senior associate at Zaha Hadid Architects - was 3D-printed from the same material.

Bottletop
Bottletop

Now it boasts Aboretum 2.0, a limited edition 3D-printed Christmas tree made entirely from – guess what - recycled waste plastic. It comes in a small, 85cm-tall version and a large 170cm-tall version, which comprise approximately 260 and 520 plastic bottles respectively.

Mad Atelier
Mad Atelier

Meanwhile in London’s East End, vintage and contemporary design boutique Mad Atelier has gone traditional. The shop, which was set up by Italian-born architect Chantal Martinelli and her French-born husband Julien Desormeaux, has one green and one red window. “We have featured our favourite designs which are small enough to wrap up for a friend or loved one, such as Doodad and Fandango's big earrings (ideal for festive parties!) or Seletti's white and golden mice lamps,” says Martinelli. “We used Christmas gift boxes and books to create height and depth to the display, carefully placing Seletti's mice lamps to not give off too much reflection, and also giving our display a feeling of movement."

Mad Atelier
Mad Atelier

Because windows are about flogging product. Or as Smith at the Conran Shop puts it “as we move towards Christmas we ramp it up and make it feel more ‘giftable’ by adding those finishing touches including wrapped presents and trimmings.” It won’t be until the next batch of sales figures are in that the commercial effectiveness of these displays can be judged.