By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer
The weather’s cold. Snow flurries dance through the crisp air.
And even so, a crowd of people gathers on State Street, pausing to peer into a window, to catch a glimpse of Santa.
It’s the Macy’s window displays and they are working their annual magic.
For locals, there is plenty in downtown that gets, well, regular. There’s no reason to visit the Bean every day. Few locals take selfies with the skyline.
But the windows at Macy’s attract the tourists and the Chicagoans alike because whether it is a first-time visit or a longtime tradition, there’s something in those windows everyone wants to see.
“We come every year,” said Karen Rivera, who visited the windows with her husband, Aqui and their granddaughter, Amelia Mehring.
“We used to bring her father, when he was a boy,” Karen explained.
But what most people don’t see—what they can’t see—is the planning. Brian Peluso is the store’s visual manager and the man behind the windows and even though Christmas window displays take up a small amount of time and space in the Macy’s year, there’s a big deal. It’s a lot of work getting folks coming back, year after year, for generations.
“The planning and execution process can take anywhere from nine months to a year,” Peluso wrote in an email. “Usually once the holiday windows are unveiled for the season, the brainstorming begins for the next year’s windows.”
Macy’s of course is a chain, so the store on State Street is part of a larger, national conversation that includes things like themes. After the stores agree on a look, the decorations are shipped out.
“This year’s window displays were packed and shipped in 20 pallets/crates made up of 15 double length and five standard sized skids,” Peluso wrote. “Also, we typically use about 50-60 pounds of fake snow in each year’s displays.”
The installation team is four or five people and then Peluso’s visual design team includes four people and they add the finishing touches.
When Peluso is designing the windows, he has to bear in mind the history of the tradition. He explained the store has offered displays since the 1870s—and over those years, they have developed a reputation.
“Macy’s was the first store to feature holiday windows created for the pure fun and joy of the season and, with that, began a tradition that still lives on today in numerous cities including New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Salt Lake City,” Peluso wrote. “In Chicago specifically, we’re celebrating the 51st anniversary of our annual holiday window display at Macy’s on State Street.”
This doesn’t mean the display itself is old. While some of the iconography like Santa may remain consistent, Peluso said the general themes do change.
“Each year a few new elements are added,” he said. “This year, we are excited to continue to celebrate all the Reasons to Believe.”
Besides that, each window has its own theme and color palette though there is at least one constant feature used to tie the all the displays together visually.
“Borders are placed around the windows to add to the overlying theme and to reflect Macy’s particular branding style,” Peluso said.
Pelusa said so much work and care goes into the windows, he understands why they attract people. There’s a lot to take in and he has some advice on how to do it right.
“There are so many meticulous details in each window — from the sculpting of the caricatures, to the props, to the backdrops and more,” he wrote. “I’d recommend that viewers get up close to the glass and look at every inch. Then step back, so they’ll see the small details start to pop out, showing how exciting the entire window is.”
Finally, for anyone looking to spruce up their own windows—or a room in their home—with Christmas spirit, Peluso has some advice.
“A good tip that I would recommend to anyone decorating their home for the holidays is that lighting and color go a long way, but when you add music plus a fragrance, such as a candle or potpourri, the decorations become even more captivating since they will touch on all your senses,” he wrote.
Check out the window displays through Christmas at 111 North State St.