A glittering golden spider’s web fills the window of Selfridges in Oxford Street, London. Hanging from its skeins are shoes with impossibly high heels, jewel-encrusted bags and a pair of designer sunglasses. At the base is a spinning wheel, its drive wheel slowly turning under the warm glow of the lights. Next to it sits a mannequin in a Simone Rocha dress, her legs crossed and a hand placed nonchalantly on one hip. Everything is spraypainted gold. This is Sleeping Beauty, Selfridges style.
The window was one of the store’s 25, unveiled on Wednesday night by workmen dressed in high-visibility jackets as they peeled back sheets of vinyl to reveal the eye-catching displays.
This year, the theme of the store’s Christmas window display is storytelling, and the Selfridges design team has gone to town with surreal scenes from fairytales – with a twist, of course.
Inside, 197,000 baubles in five colours are draped across balconies and ceilings.
Inside, 197,000 baubles in five colours are draped across balconies and ceilings. Photograph: Linda Nylind/Guardian
The centrepiece of the Ugly Duckling window display is a model dressed in an exclusive AF Vandevorst dress made from feathers, which customers can order by request. The Rapunzel window contains three long-haired mannequins, their cascading tresses handmade in pink and auburn. Even Little Boy Blue gets a look in. The story is depicted by the only male mannequins on display, dressed in designer black and blue suits, sitting on top of a pile of gift boxes next to – with, no doubt, a nod to the overseas tourists – an old-fashioned red letterbox.
The Selfridges team must have been relieved the night was not colder. If the temperature had dropped too low, the glue would have frozen under the vinyl window coverings and they would have to be snapped off – somewhat tempering the dramatic “reveal”.
Inside, 197,000 baubles in five colours were being draped across balconies and ceilings and 1,005 Christmas trees were being dressed. Outside, tourists and passersby stopped to photograph the scene, some tweeting pictures to their followers. “Selfridges have absolutely killed it on the window displays this year. Unreal,” tweeted one.
Workmen toiled through the night at the iconic department store.
Workmen toiled through the night at the department store. Photograph: Nils Jorgensen/Rex
But for some, 22 October is just too soon to announce the countdown to Christmas. “Christmas lights are up – I love it, but perhaps a little too early?” tweeted another.
Certainly, Selfridges’ Christmas spectacle stands out like a beacon on Oxford Street, where the trees are still holding on to their green leaves and the festive lights have not yet been turned on. The window display is, however, months behind the fourth floor of the store which, for the second year running, was turned into a Christmas emporium – in August.
Slightly bemused-looking shoppers were wandering around the emporium before closing time. A man from Kuwait and his two young children were shopping for Halloween “not Christmas”, he laughed; while a Japanese couple were hoping to find a birthday present. “It’s much too early for us to think about Christmas,” the man said.
A slightly spooky-looking Red Riding Hood.
A slightly spooky-looking Red Riding Hood. Photograph: Nils Jorgensen/Rex
Only one, Faaria Monk from Essex, had the festive season in mind. “I’m not really shopping, just browsing for things,” she said. “I am usually a bit more last minute, though I have noticed in lots of places that I’m now seeing Christmas stuff advertised in the summer. That’s a bit early.”
Poor sales and fewer autumn shoppers because of the unseasonably warm weather have piled pressure on retailers to make the most of Christmas.
Research released on Thursday by Shoppercentric, a research agency, reveals that 65% of consumers believe they are influenced by TV adverts, while 19% say a Christmas window display has triggered them to make a purchase. And, if the stats are to be believed, an early start seems to pay dividends. A third of shoppers claim to have started their Christmas shopping in September and, of those, one in five has completed a quarter of their shopping.
Santa gets a helping hand with a few London maps.
Santa gets a helping hand with a few London maps. Photograph: Nils Jorgensen/Rex
“Excitement around Christmas does seem to start a bit earlier every year,” said a spokeswoman for rival department store John Lewis, which will reveal its Oxford Street Christmas windows on 4 November. “On 3 September ‘Christmas’ was the most popular search item online.”
Back in the West End at midnight, no amount of bah humbug over Christmas displays would have slowed the 200 staff and contractors assembling the windows.
As the passersby changed from late-night shoppers to early morning revellers, the enormous two-tonne canopy installation was hoisted into the roof over the main entrance to the store. At its heart sits, perhaps, one of the most decadent fairytale characters – the Golden Goose. Only this one, in a nod to the store’s famous founder, Harry Gordon Selfridge, wears a monocle and top hat.
Linda Hewson, Selfridges’ creative director, said: “This year, we have gone back to the simple pleasure of a great story well told and have decided to celebrate the art of storytelling. We are doing fairytales and enchanted stories with a Selfridges twist.”