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Take a first look at Barneys' beautifully frozen holiday windows

Written by
Dana Varinsky

It’s easy to tell when holiday season arrives in New York—the tree lights up at Rockefeller Center; the Winter Village opens at Bryant Park; and pumpkin-spice flavor seems to invade everything edible (whether we like it or not). But there’s no holiday tradition as quintessentially New York as the holiday window displays in the city’s biggest department stores. 

“What’s extraordinary in New York is the ambition for what windows can be, what they can bring to the public,” says Dennis Freedman, creative director at Barneys New York. “For me, the excitement is making them come alive.”

Barneys has become known for its motion-filled, over-the-top displays, which have involved collaborations with celebrities like Lady Gaga and Jay Z. But Freedman says this year’s windows are some of the most ambitious his team has ever attempted. 

Two of the four displays, all of which were unveiled today, are completely frozen—a first for Barneys. One features intricate ice castles created by spraying and dripping layers of frozen water. In the other, a father-son team of ice sculptors will carve penguins out of ice, live from behind the glass.

To ensure the interiors remain cold enough to house the ice creations, Barneys installed custom-built glass ice lockers to keep temperatures below 13 degrees.

“It has tested our abilities and certainly raised the risk factor,” says Freedman of the project. “If anything goes wrong with the refrigeration unit, we could end up with a big swimming pool.”

But the frozen windows aren’t Barneys’ only ambitious displays this year. A third window features an installation made of 700 hand-blown glass components, by famed artist Dale Chihuly. The work, called Winter Brilliance, features what Chihuly describes as “starlike sculptural clusters” that float over a pond of water.

“It doesn’t look like anything else Dale has ever done, and it’s something we would never have done on our own,” says Freedman. “That’s the goal of collaborating.”

Though Chihuly is known for the intense colors of his glass, the new work uses only clear pieces. Instead, the color comes from choreographed light projections set to the music of composer Claude Debussy.

“Visitors will experience a digital interpretation of fire and ice projected onto the artwork,” explains Chihuly. “This was all new technology for me.”

By the time the display is over, the installation’s 700 pieces will have been assembled and taken apart three times—first in Chihuly’s Seattle studio, then in Barneys’ staging area in Long Island City and finally in the window itself.

The complexity of the displays means Barneys’ holiday windows typically take nine months to create and involve approximately 75 people. But Freedman says the team won’t have much time to rest before starting on 2016: “The minute we uninstall this year’s, we sit down and start to think about next year."

Ice Carvers WindowPhotograph: Barneys New York

Penguin Chase WindowPhotograph: Barneys New York

Ice Castles WindowPhotograph: Barneys New York

Winter Brilliance WindowPhotograph: Barneys New York

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