Pulp Magic

DECEMBER 23, 2015

Paper & Packaging in Magical Store Windows

If you have ever visited New York City between Thanksgiving and the New Year, it’s the window displays that capture our imaginations and beckon us inside. They range from minimalist to outrageous riots of color and movement as each store tries to outdo last year’s fantasies. There’s even an interactive walking tour on Google Maps so you don’t have to miss a thing.

Follow the map down Fifth Avenue and around the corner on 34th Street and you’ll find looming before you, Macy’s, the mother of all department store Christmas displays. It was about 150 years ago, according to Dr. William L. Bird, Jr., a curator at the National Museum of American History and the author of “Holidays on Display,” Macy’s made its name in seasonal decor when the store built an animated shop window in 1883 using wood, a mechanical sleigh or a circular track and plenty of paper decorations. The “panoply window display” as they called it filled all of the store’s front windows and was considered a mechanical miracle to the shoppers who traveled to see it.

Within a decade, all the major department stores from Chicago to London were mounting ambitious Christmas displays with Lord & Taylor in New York going so far as to install hydraulic lifts under the windows so that new displays would magically appear overnight.

A display designer named Joshua Lionel Cohen invented a miniature railroad for one of his windows in 1900 that was so ingenious that he built a whole company around it – the Lionel Train Company.

Christian Louboutin
Christian Louboutin, London, November 2014 [WindowsWear.com]
Fast forward 115 years and window displays are a business all their own. Jon Harari, CEO of WindowsWear, tells me that paper, especially prints, are used in about 10% of all window displays globally, mainly as backdrops. “There are certain brands, such as Anthropology,” Harari says, “that often use paper-based materials to create artistic and creative props and fixtures for their window displays.”

Banana RepublicBanana Republic is another one, creating chic minimalist displays with an environmental message from reused boxes.

According to Harari, paper and packaging continue to play a significant role in visual merchandising. “There are many creative and economical uses for paper and packaging that we often see time after time. Proper packaging is the first and foremost key to selling a product,” says Harari.  “And customers are always drawn to products that look good.”

That’s a lesson that retailers like Macy’s has never forgotten.