Window Shopping at Bergdorf Goodman

Adam Bookbinder

The landmark Fifth Avenue store windows are once again center stage in a limited-edition book.

Here’s what you can’t do in windows: Grandeur. Serious drama. Regret. What’s needed is a moment of recognition and humor. You can’t play it straight.” David Hoey, senior director of visual presentation at Bergdorf Goodman, is expounding on his theory of window dressing as he walks through his department’s workroom, crammed to the ceiling with boxes of props and supplies. A member of the department for the past 15 years—he took on his current position in 2006—Hoey has worked on some of the store’s most memorably witty and whimsical creations: In one, a woman’s arm has grown, Pinocchio-style, to an absurd length, the better to accommodate her enormous collection of handbags. In another, two pink ladies in pink cotton-candy wigs walk a pink cotton-candy poodle against a sky of pink cotton-candy clouds. Now some 95 of these installations—of the roughly 3,000 curated in the last ten years—are the subject of Assouline’s latest Ultimate Collection book, Windows at Bergdorf Goodman, a handmade limited edition, which will be sold at Bergdorf’s in November for $550.

Hoey credits his predecessor, Linda Fargo, with establishing the Bergdorf house style. Now the senior vice president of the fashion office and store presentation, Fargo still collaborates closely with Hoey, and, as she sees it, they’ve developed a language together, each bringing a specific sensibility to the table. “I tend more toward collages with found objects and antiques,” she says, “while David is interested in craft and doing things by hand.” The two joined forces to assemble the book, which picks up where Assouline’s 2003 Dreams Through the Glass left off. “With the first book, we weren’t able to do a large format,” says Fargo. “This time we wanted to create something on par with the scale of the windows themselves.”

That scale is certainly large: At 13 feet tall, the display windows are, as far as Hoey knows, the tallest in New York, and all told Bergdorf Goodman has 35 of them, though the five along Fifth Avenue in the women’s store are the main attraction. During the year they change roughly every two weeks, though the holiday windows stay up for seven weeks. (See “Seasonal Sneak Peek” below to read about this year’s holiday spectacular.) While fashion is, says Fargo, the windows’ raison d’être, it isn’t usually the main inspiration. “Fashion often starts out as the supporting actress,” she says, “but ends up the star.” One window in the book, for example, overflowed with blue-and-white porcelain. It wasn’t until the last minute that the featured dress presented itself: a Roberto Cavalli bustier gown that looks like a giant Ming vase.

Hoey loves to work with unusual collections—60 antique vacuum cleaners, 100 period display heads—and he spends hours trolling, eBay and antiques stores on both coasts. In some cases the windows are done in collaboration with major cultural institutions, including MoMA and the Whitney, which often lend items from their own collections, like the sculptures from New York’s American Folk Art Museum in one set of windows in the book.

Everything from design to production to art direction is still done in-house, with the help of Hoey’s “precious Rolodex of artists, artisans, whiz kids and fashionistas,” who create sculptures of oversized scissors and telephones or paint portraits of animals in various styles of historic dress. In the end, he says, the main reason his windows stand out from the rest is that there is only one Bergdorf Goodman. “We don’t have any satellite stores to send directives to. We only have to do things once. Perfectly.”

Seasonal Sneak Peek

First look behind the scenes at Bergdorf Goodman’s 2010 holiday windows.

For many New Yorkers, the annual unveiling of Bergdorf Goodman’s holiday windows, like the lighting of the tree at Rockefeller Center, signals the start of the holiday season. Preparation for the displays is a year-round affair, taking up 60 percent of the visual department’s resources, most of which go to the centerpiece: the Fifth Avenue windows in the women’s store. This year’s series presents variations on the theme of “day trips,” conjuring up five excursions: One is, as Bergdorf’s David Hoey describes it, “a trip to the moon as Jules Verne might have imagined it,” with a lady in a gown picnicking on the lunar surface. Another is a nautical scene tilted 30 degrees to simulate the pitch of a ship. A third stars a vaudeville showgirl flying on a medieval Pegasus—actually an antique wooden horse in a specially made costume. A fourth window features a woman waving from the caboose of a forced-perspective train, the moving background adding to the stagey feel. Finally, a fifth window depicts a girl setting off in a fantastical contraption—part bicycle, part hot-air balloon, part carriage—surrounded by tiny monkeys in mechanic outfits.

The travel theme carries over to the 58th Street windows as well: Shown here are mock-ups for these displays, which are inspired by antique maps and globes and full of brilliantly colored handmade paper sculpture.