NEW YORK — For several weeks in November, the offices and conference rooms on Bergdorf Goodman’s eighth floor begin to resemble a flea market.
One room contains antique boxes, stuffed birds, clay mushrooms, bronze shellfish, rare books and stone sculptures. Others house musical instruments, furniture and any manner of props for Linda Fargo, vice president of visual presentation and imaging, to assemble into lush, fantastical Christmas tableaux.
Her visions will be unveiled in the store’s windows on Friday.
Fargo, author of “Windows From Bergdorf Goodman: Dreams Through the Glass” (Assouline, 2003), is known for her nonliteral approach to the holiday season. Leave the dancing Santas and busy elves to other stores. Fargo wants to surprise and delight customers with humor, beauty and irony.
“Our windows have always been untraditional,” she said. “We don’t rely on overdone, overused Christmas symbols. Without meaning to, I always celebrate the natural world and I almost always do something with food that’s over-the-top.”
Pretty much everything Fargo does would be considered over-the-top, unless one thinks a 7-foot stuffed ostrich is an everyday sight. Fargo considers the fashion as carefully as she chooses the props.
“We do a presentation for the fashion office and buyers,” she said. “Then it almost becomes a bidding war. Everyone wants their designer to be used in the window. The fabric has to be in sync with everything else.”
This year, Fargo was inspired by refrains from holiday songs, which she interpreted to the nth degree.
One display, “Do You See What I See?” corresponds to a curiosities window, where pages from Tashen’s “Albertus Seba’s Cabinet of Natural Curiosities” book cover the back wall. A cabinet holds oddities such as finger sponges, coral, seashells, lizards and birds. Standing on a chair eye to eye with the aforementioned ostrich is a mannequin dressed in Marni with a giant moth attached brooch-like to her sweater.
During a recent tour of her studios, Fargo’s phone rang. “Don’t forget there’s another gold music stand,” she told an assistant. “Do you have the bird? You might want to grab the rooster.” Asked if she forgets to include an object in a window, Fargo said: “All the time.”
Her staff swells during the holidays with artisans, painters and property masters. Fargo declined to reveal the budget for Bergdorf’s holiday windows.
“Ebay has become our best resource,” said Fargo, who also scours dealers Linda Horn, Benjamin Steinitz and Amy Perlin for antiques. “The antiques are very important to me as underpinnings for our windows. I love to work with real things. There’s such an evocative spirit to them. They start to speak to me and I know they speak to consumers.”
Fargo doesn’t do fashion literally. In a window inspired by the lyrics “as we dream by the fire” from “Winter Wonderland,” she pairs Roberto Cavalli’s blue Ming gown with a white Dutch bonnet. There’s a white porcelain stove, blue and white antique tiles on the back wall and Delft plates and platters everywhere. “It sort of has a little bit of a Mad Hatter tea party allusion,” said Fargo who often takes cues from fairy tales.
Fargo’s whimsical side can be seen in a small window inspired by the lyrics “are you married, I’ll say no, man,” where a singing frog proposes to a girl in a vivid Angel Sanchez gown.
Other tableaux are sophisticated and exotic. Alberta Ferretti’s ostrich-feather dress and John Anthony’s silver flapper gown star along with a zebra from Deyrolles in an Art Deco window lit by two immense Newell sconces. The back wall is covered in ostrich feathers, and orchids and magnolias sprayed with black glitter fill the frame.
The line “three french hens, two turtle doves” from “The Twelve Days of Christmas” sets the tone for a scene with a huge gilded birdcage, a 6-foot metal peacock and Roland Nivelais’ gold sequin dress. “We gilded some real birds we had,” Fargo said. “Everyone said it wouldn’t work, but it did.”
The most valuable prop on display is a 16th-century panel from Steinitz, which is found in the music window. Around the corner, the travel-themed window is lined with chinoiserie lacquered wallpaper and hung with a mirror from the Forties. Trunks, vintage travel books, letters and spices help tell a story that also includes a Maggie Norris couture outfit and Steven Dweck jewelry.
“I think I get a little more baroque every year,” Fargo said. “It’s like theater. It’s a little movie, a little story being told.”