A Preview of Holiday Windows Through a Photographer’s Lens

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While the mannequins behind the windows of Bergdorf Goodman had politely drawn their curtains to make final preparations for their holiday appearance on Fifth Avenue, 43 year-old photographer Rudy Pospisil stood outside at 10:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night, disappointed, ready to pack up his Nikon D700 and trudge back to his Inwood home.

Dressed in black from head-to-toe, complete with a woolen beanie and tripod clipped on to his camera kit on his hip, Pospisil intrepidly stepped into the middle of Fifth Avenue to capture the wide shots that he needed for his online photo archive, “Another Normal.” Even though the holiday windows were closed, he adjusted the lens to fit the body of his camera and started to photograph one of the other windows.

A night like this would have been standard in practice for Pospisil, who is a senior art director for the jewelry company Scott Kay by day, and a photographer for his website “Another Normal” by night. But in a fortuitous twist of fate, the creators of the windows walked out of the department store at that moment and greeted Pospisil with professional courtesy, having seen his work of photography and archiving of the window scenes for four years. Senior Director of Visual Presentation David Hoey, in charge of the women’s windows, and Shane Ruth, in charge of the men’s, gave Pospisil a rare sneak preview of the holiday windows, the theme entitled “Carnival of the Animals,” while deliberating on the final arrangements of the scenes encased in immaculate glass frames.

“I’ve shot so many other windows, nothing really rivals what Bergdorf’s does on a continual basis,” Pospisil said. In his opinion, the windows of Bergdorf Goodman tend to stand out among the other department stores, not only with their holiday windows.

While the dollars and cents that make up the holiday window budget for many stores, including Macy’s and Bergdorf Goodman have always been a well-guarded secret, Bergdorfs in particular is known for its classic extravagance and intricate windows, the sheer detail and volume of material of which indicates no small cost. Macy’s, on the other hand, retells similar holiday stories each year, but is more adept at incorporating new technologies, like the 3D visuals that the windows will feature this year.

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David Hoey outside the Bergdorf Goodman windows in Pospisil's 1995 archive. Photo: Rudy Pospisil, Another Normal

But Pospsil’s website, “Another Normal” is dedicated to windows of all department stores at all times of the year. Pospsil’s photographs do not discriminate: he provides a visual stimulus in the hopes that people will find inspiration in the images he captures, no matter the source.

Pospisil noted, “Bergdorfs is more baroque, from back in the Linda Fargo era.” Fargo, one of Bergdorf Goodman’s previous creative minds behind the window displays, was also Vice-President of visual merchandising and was referred to by Time magazine as the “luxury department store’s chief trend spotter, ambiance master and gatekeeper of style.” But he admires David Hoey for taking Bergdorf Goodman in a more contemporary direction, and thinks that there is strong correlation between inputs in terms of cost, and output in terms of aesthetic quality and extravagance.

Pospisil still makes regular visits stores like Macy’s, Barneys and Bloomingdales with the odd feature of single-brand stores like Louis Vuitton on his website. He added, “Bergdorf’s are always very artistic about it, they fill it up nicely, they spend the money. I think a lot of stores don’t have the budget that Bergdorf’s allocates, which is a shame.”

Although he never visited the holiday windows as a child, his love affair started when he began working across the road from Bergdorf Goodman in 2005 at Clinique as an art director.

Pospisil said as a child he had always heard girls talk about the clothing at Bergdorf Goodman, but when he arrived on its doorstep, it was the artistry and sculpture of the windows that caught his attention, prompting him to start his online photo archive.

“It wasn’t like my first kiss or anything,” Pospisil recalled, but he admires the visuals of windows to such an extent that he dedicates many late nights to compiling and widening his archive.

He has no official studio, but an image library of some 15,000 images, he estimates, only a small proportion of which make the final cut and are posted on his photography website.

Pospisil grew up before the digital era imposed itself on photography, and had taken photographs all his life. But he embraces technology, even though when he was just eight years old, he held his first camera: an Argus twin lens reflex which looked like nothing more than a simple square box. Soon after holding his first camera, Pospisil started his photography in the dark room, and developed his film by hand. Much later in his career, Pospisil said, “I still have six undeveloped film canisters I need to process,” which are from before 2000, when he bought his first digital camera, a Nikon Coolpix. “But I love film, it’s much more romantic and tactile,” he said, paying homage to the classic medium of film rolls and negative strips, even if it is no longer practical to use on a day-to-day basis. He knows that digital photography makes life much easier: he would have the images up from Wednesday night’s photography of Bergdorf Goodman posted that same night.

As the droplets of rain threatened to distort Pospisil’s photographs on Wednesday, Hoey and Ruth stood on the street with their arms folded and instructed their assistants behind the glass on positioning of the props. “The Brass Menagerie” themed window, a gold birdcage that looked closer to the inside of a jewelry box than a display, was being shuffled around among an array of brass and steel props. A few inches here or there made a vast difference to the critical eye of Ruth and Hoey, but when the crowds flock to see what creative feat the department store presents this year they may hardly notice the minute alterations.

In a the clutter of the windows, “Carnival of the Animals” tells a deliberate story, one that encapsulates natural environments and the high-end fashion that is Bergdorf Goodman, the manager of public relations and special events told the Midtown Gazette by email. The window that follows “The Brass Menagerie,” entitled “Breaking the Ice,” is filled with crystal chandeliers lighting up the tiny space, surrounded by a polar bear, a moose, an arctic mountain goat, seal and a pair of wolves. A seashell dress reemerged from the late designer Alexander McQueen’s Spring 2012 collection in the “Testing the Waters” display, surrounded by mosaicked crustaceans. And “Teacher’s Pets,” shows a life-sized zebra, ostrich, panda bear, aardvark and a white peacock to name just a few of the animals, among an array of calligraphy printed on hand-lettered labels.

Pospisil has been a creative soul for has long as he can remember, with his career coming to fruition in the past decade as an art director at Clinique and Estee Lauder for four years, starting in 2005, and teaching from 2006 as professor of communication and design at Pratt Institute. Pospisil knows how much preparation goes into Bergdorfs windows, which are planned  as far as 18 months in advance, well before the previous year’s holiday windows were even installed.

Hoey and Ruth drew the curtains of three of the windows so that Pospisil could photograph them. A few lucky pedestrians passing by also got a preview of the windows, applauding the drawing of the curtains and taking out their smartphones in order to own their own small piece of the action.

“A lot of stores already have their windows set up, but I was brought up in the era of Christmas decorations not starting until after Thanksgiving, and so I would like to respect that,” said Pospisil, but made an exception for Bergdorf Goodman this year. Pospisil will not be among the pedestrians during Thanksgiving, but is expecting a busy schedule upon his return, when he treks the streets of Manhattan to photograph all the holiday windows he can fix his lens on.

Bergdorf Goodman’s holiday windows are not to stand alone this season, allowing viewers a short multimedia presentation to complement the centerpiece of their creativity, which still remain the iconic windows. Watch the YouTube video below:

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