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NEW YORK — Lord & Taylor’s definition of cutting edge used to be Christmas windows with mechanized miniature figures and a lot of tradition.
But as the company updates and overhauls its assortments, the look from the street is also changing. The windows, while still crowd-pleasers for the holiday season, have become showcases for demonstrating the connectivity of culture — how fashion relates to photography, painting, illustrations, antiques, music, or the human condition.
The current windows, through Monday, put the spotlight on designer Yeohlee Teng, gallery-style. Day and evening designs are displayed on fiberglass torsos suspended by cable in mid-air, with four-foot by eight-foot light boxes to create a glow, tall head shots of Teng and her quotes reflecting on fashion. It’s a portrait of the designer, one of the finalists for the Cooper-Hewitt Museum’s National Design Award, featuring her functional, low-maintenance but striking clothing, that transcends the usual window statement.
Last month, 48 flat-screen plasma TVs played clips of the making of the L&T fall fashion catalogue to promote pre-season shopping. The tagline, “Advance Notice,” was boldly emblazoned across the flagship’s 14 windows fronting Fifth Avenue.
“That was more modern and more high tech than anything we did before, and it was supported by a direct mail piece to 700,000 homes,” said LaVelle Olexa, the store’s senior vice president, fashion merchandising, public relations and visual. “It was really stepping out for Lord & Taylor.”
The “Advance Notice” videos were produced by Orasis, a Greek film company that made ads for the Olympics. Last June, Olexa traveled to Athens to edit the videos, which were shot in New York. She’s also been in Shanghai this year, gathering ideas for future windows.
“If the Christmas windows are interesting, why can’t you sustain that high level of interest throughout the year? We want to offer our customers, and those who pass by the windows, something they can’t see anywhere else,” Olexa said.
“Fashion is the most important element in the windows, but we like to do more than just present the fashion. We like to do the unexpected,” added Manoel Renha, creative director for visual merchandising, fashion and special events, and a former set designer. “In my mind, there is a complete relationship to windows and set design.”
“We’re doing more cross-branding,” where fashion meets technology, art, automobiles and music,” noted May Lau, special events coordinator.
For example, for Father’s Day 2003, gifts and men’s sportswear were juxtaposed with Corvettes and Gibson guitars. Three years ago, the late artist-musician Larry Rivers jammed on his sax on the main floor, hyping his Fashion Show Monte Carlo 2001 exhibit in the windows. The art had a quirky, kind-of-inflated focus on shoes and accessories, with one piece showing a woman wearing a turban of straps and belts called “Straps and Belts Can Make a Turban.”
Aside from the store’s Fifth Avenue bank of windows, there are two smaller windows on the side streets, both three feet by three feet by three feet. L&T plans windows a season in advance, so in August, the team already has a good idea what will be displayed in January.
The strategy, Olexa explained, is to attract younger customers and reimage Lord & Taylor as hip and modern, without resorting to the irreverence that Barneys New York is known for with its windows, or the opulence and surreal imagery projected by Bergdorf Goodman’s windows. Lord & Taylor is trying to underscore its repositioning, led by Jane Elfers, chairman and chief executive, which emphasizes contemporary, bridge and better-priced lines. There’s less merchandise that can be considered moderate priced and dowdy, which had been most prevalent at L&T compared to other large fashion flagships in the city.
From Aug. 18 through Sept. 8, close-up photos of pristine sand dunes by Roberto Dutesco and furniture by Robert Bristow will create the platform for Calvin Klein sportswear, conveying simplicity and purity through different creative venues. The Ralph Pucci International showroom on 18th Street is supplying the furniture and photographs, as well as mannequins for Klein’s clothes.
“Bristow looks at things in very clean lines, very architecturally, and very pared down,” said Pucci. “With his dining tables, side tables, coffee tables, barstools and desks, he likes to use the ingrain of the woods to make a statement, and accentuate the beauty of the wood, which is mostly walnut. It’s consistent to the Calvin Klein spirit, very clean and modern, not overdone.”
With the sand dunes, “The shapes are a little more sexy, but also very clean and pure,” Pucci said. The mannequins follow the mood, created with minimal body sculpturing and spray-painted in a sand tone.
“This will be the first time I worked with Lord & Taylor,” Pucci said. “I like the idea of putting all of the elements together to make a theme.”
“With each window display, we just continue to raise the bar,” Olexa said. “It’s one of the most interesting things for me personally to be a part of. You don’t have any statistics or numbers to prove that your windows are successful, but you can just check outside and see the response of customers.”