New York Christmas: Behind the scenes at top holiday sights

Get a peek behind the curtain at beloved New York Christmas sights, from the city’s most famous Christmas tree to a holiday-window tribute to Al Hirschfeld

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Behind the scenes at the Henri Bendel holiday windows


The Fifth Avenue department store is known for its chic window installations—in recent years, it’s featured spectacular displays inspired by Art Deco fashion and New York icons like the Statue of Liberty. This season, the shop’s associate VP of visual, Gilberto Santana, took his cues from two very different sources: He incorporated sketches and caricatures by illustrator Al Hirschfeld, along with opulent materials that recall stage designer Tony Duquette’s over-the-top aesthetic. The result, which took about three days to install, is a study in contrasts—as you can see when you click through the slideshow below.


  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    It’s hard to miss the two-story tree sitting in Bendel’s atrium—especially since it’s been covered with faux malachite, a bright-green mineral, for the duration of the holiday season. The material is an homage to Duquette, who frequently used malachite in his stage designs; the figure, based on a Hirschfeld illustration of Charlie Chaplin, is a full-size 3-D likeness. “We wanted to glorify someone who was a pioneer, [similar to how] Henri Bendel was a pioneer in his time,” explains Santana.

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    The centerpiece of the windows is a rollicking dinner party featuring celebs like Sarah Jessica Parker, Woody Allen and Bernadette Peters—or at least sculpted representations based on Hirschfeld’s sketches. “I would love to be seated at the table,” says Santana. The models were carved out of foam core, then covered in plaster and finally hand-painted to look like their 2-D doppelgängers.

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    Santana and his crew worked with Margo Feiden Galleries Ltd., which represents Hirschfeld’s estate, to create sets based on the late artist’s work. Santana envisioned the scenarios that play out across Bendel’s windows as leaping out of the caricaturist’s mind; to that end, a 3-D model of Hirschfeld at his desk (based on a self-portrait) can be found in the corner of the store’s main window.

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    Some of Hirschfeld’s original sketches can be found both in the display and throughout Henri Bendel. While many are presented in their original form, for some, Santana continued the motif of the drawings coming to life by adding three-dimensional elements (including the necktie hanging over the frame in this image).

Photograph: Jessica Lin

It’s hard to miss the two-story tree sitting in Bendel’s atrium—especially since it’s been covered with faux malachite, a bright-green mineral, for the duration of the holiday season. The material is an homage to Duquette, who frequently used malachite in his stage designs; the figure, based on a Hirschfeld illustration of Charlie Chaplin, is a full-size 3-D likeness. “We wanted to glorify someone who was a pioneer, [similar to how] Henri Bendel was a pioneer in his time,” explains Santana.

Henri Bendel’s holiday windows are on view at Henri Bendel (712 Fifth Ave at 56th St; 212-247-1100, henribendel.com). Windows are on view 24hrs daily through Jan 2; free.


RECOMMENDED: Christmas in New York guide



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