It's not quite the warm and fuzzy crowd one imagines around most Christmas trees, but Barneys New York is celebrating the holidays with a motley crew that includes Roseanne Roseannadanna, the Church Lady, Father Guido Sarducci and Wayne and Garth.
Two dozen Saturday Night Live favorites have been transformed into life-sized, papier-mache ornaments to hang in the windows on Madison Avenue as the flagship store puts on its biggest visual show of the year. There's Will Ferrell as Janet Reno looking very prim and proper and Mike Myers as "Coffee Talk" Linda Richman with bright red nails and lips.
Atypical? Yes, but the quirky characters seem as if they'd be right at home at a holiday party with Simon Doonan, Barneys' renowned creative director.
"We like to set ourselves apart by picking something that's a little out there," Doonan says. "Our windows can't be elitist, but we can't do 'traditional.' We'd have to make Santa out of ketchup or something if we went that way."
Doonan decided more than a year ago that this year's holiday message would, above all else, be witty. "We had to have fun — it had been such a dismal year," he says.
Holiday windows, he explains, are supposed to generate traffic, bring hordes of shoppers and tourists to the front of the store to "ooh" and "aah," and garner some media buzz. At the same time, the windows need to convey taste, luxury and humor, all of which Doonan considers the core of the Barneys brand.
So, just how will John Belushi's King Bee in the window help sell some of the most expensive apparel and accessories that hang on the racks inside?
He doesn't have to, exactly.
"What we've got to have in our windows is something 'current.' We look for things that have a surge of interest," says Doonan. The 35th anniversary of SNL, coupled with its spot-on coverage of last year's election, convinced Doonan that now was the right time to honor these oddities of pop culture.
New York may have the most famous holiday window decorations, but it's not the only city where the stores dress up in December. Here are some other displays around the country that provide free, festive entertainment — sometimes at the big, splashy stores, sometimes at small hidden gems:
Children visiting Neiman Marcus' flagship store this year will get the chance to be transported into its fancifully decorated windows. Typically, there's glass separating the viewer from the setting, but it has been replaced for the holiday season with an 80-foot plastic tube that kids can crawl right into, says Ignaz Gorischek, a store vice president.
Small videocameras will capture images of the children and broadcast them to the parents waiting on the sidewalk.
Displays surrounding the tube were inspired by schoolchildren's ideas on future energy sources. One window features "music energy," where musical instruments in a giant container are being ground up to fuel a hovercraft. Another features "peanut butter energy," where elephants walking on a conveyer belt grind up peanuts into peanut butter and then eat the treat, which gives them the energy to fly.
Neiman's windows also feature an approximately 15-foot tall tree made entirely of books — which will be donated locally after the holiday season to organizations supported by First Book, a national organization that provides new books to children in need.
Hipster boutique OOU has a front window in the Los Feliz neighborhood that's just 6 feet wide, but that doesn't stop the shop's buyer, Theresa Goncalves, from organizing a crammed holiday panorama.
The window is inspired by a Vogue editorial, a winter escape for two friends, Goncalves says.
The mannequins will carry suitcases spilling clothes, posed to look like they're running, with pine leaves on the floor, a blownup photo of a pine forest in the background, and possibly a tree decorated with beads and rhinestones.
"It's kind of like they're running away, metaphorically, that they're escaping into the fantasy world, away from everyday life," says Goncalves. "We're going to dress them in vintage, but beaded, sequined, opulent luxury, over the top, but not too precious. But up close, it won't be perfect. There are imperfections. That's a sign of the times."
Sidewalks along Chicago's State Street get crowded with people looking for a glimpse of the decorated windows that have been created at Marshall Field's since 1968 and now Macy's since 2006.
Over the years, famous fairy tale and children's movie characters like Cinderella and Mary Poppins have been featured. This season the Macy's windows will follow a letter on its route to the North Pole.
Macy's visual director Jon Jones says designers began planning "The Journey of a Letter to Santa Claus" back in May with illustrators, writers, sculptors and costumemakers spending months to create the nine window scenes that collectively tell the story.
In an all-important last window where it all comes together, Santa is collecting letters written by children and a digital counter ticks off wishes fulfilled.
The Cameron Village shopping area is home to an annual holiday decor contest that fuels the creative juices of many of its stores. In previous years, belly dancers and puppies have taken places in windows, and the Lilly Pulitzer store Palm Avenue summoned Santa Claus and put him in cheerful printed shorts and a spot on a tiny beach. About 20 percent of the retailers use live models in their windows.
Last year's winner was the designer boutique SoHo Clothing for its chicken-wire trees covered in recycled newspaper trim that paid homage to a local art museum's 50th anniversary. Owner Martha Parks says gloves are this year's theme, with trees made out of men's canvas gloves that look like dripping icing and others that mimic reindeer antlers.