Williams&Griffin and Coes reveal the secrets behind their Christmas window wonderlands
- Credit: Archant
With traders all vying for shoppers’ attention and their custom in the run-up to Christmas, Lauren Hockney speaks to the teams at two top regional retailers well known for their festive displays to ask what makes the perfect Christmas window.
For Claire Tatum, Christmas is virtually on her mind all year round.
The visual merchandising manager at Williams & Griffin in Colchester is one of the creative brains behind the department store’s famous Christmas window.
It has become one of the most hotly-anticipated festive traditions in the town and this year was revealed on the same day the Christmas lights were turned on.
For her it’s the “sparkly lights and snow” which help to create the perfect Christmas window.
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“That goes a long way,” she said.
“You have to get back into your childhood. It’s about telling a story within a story. It’s been one of our simplest windows, but sometimes that works best.”
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This year, the window is half the size it has been in previous years. Due to extensive and ongoing work to revamp the store, the 2015 festive scene is a little further down the High Street in one of the smaller display windows.
But Claire explained not having a Christmas window was never an option because of its importance to the store and the town as a whole at this time of year.
However, Claire and her team, which also includes Linda Martucci, Charlotte Golding and Marnie Goodman, can’t escape the snow, fairy lights, glitter and sparkle for long.
“Christmas lasts for about nine months of the year - it’s such a big thing and takes all that effort,” she said.
“As soon as the displays come down, we start thinking about the next one. It’s like getting married, the organisation of it.”
Claire has been at the branch, which is part of the Fenwick group, for 18 years after studying an art and design college course. She has been involved in designing the Christmas window every year since.
This year, Narnia is the theme which has inspired the team to transform its window and grotto into an icy winter wonderland.
Claire said: “We wanted it to have that magical feel, but wanted it to be different to Christmas workshop themes. We’ve not done an icy one for a long time.”
As well as sparkling snowflakes, a fleet of moving, woodland animals and two hand-made sleighs, the displays feature alpine scenes, festive fir trees, a dazzling weeping willow and Aslan the lion - which is on loan to Williams & Griffin from its sister store in Kingston.
Claire said: “It’s magical. We’re telling a story from the outside in, that continuity is important.”
For decades children and adults alike have looked forward to the big reveal of the window at the start of December.
Claire explained many people have said to her that for them, Christmas doesn’t start until the window has been unveiled - a sentiment she agrees with as it is only once her work is done that she will start her own festive preparations.
She and her team have free reign to design the window as they see fit, bouncing ideas off one another and sourcing materials from around the world to make it the best it can be, designing and creating everything from the beautiful backdrops in the grotto to the giant bauble displays in store, and all by hand.
They have a warehouse, or “Aladdin’s cave” as Claire calls it, where the team has an endless supply of glitter, props and festive favourites at their fingertips to conjure up all the magic and sparkle of Christmas for customers, as well as those who just go to the store to admire the window.
Claire said: “Year on year we have built on it and made the Christmas experience bigger and bigger.
“We will continue doing it until the public say they don’t want it any more.”
But with Williams & Griffin, a Christmas without its much-loved window would be like turkey without cranberry sauce!
Proof is in the pudding for Coes’ traditional take on Christmas
It’s all about tradition at Coes in Ipswich.
For the team who put the family firm’s festive displays together, they believe the perfect Christmas window and themes that work the best are the traditional ones.
Sonja Talbot, visual merchandising manager, said: “People always like it when they’re traditional, we never get the same response when it’s non-traditional. It’s always a challenge and you always worry about if people will like it, but we get excited about it behind the curtains.”
From buying the ingredients to washing up and sitting down to tuck into a festive favourite, the Christmas window at Coes is all about Christmas puddings this year.
A union between the store and Adnams of Southwold helped set the tone for a very festive window display in Ipswich.
The Suffolk-based brewer has a pop-up shop in the Ipswich store until December 24, and customers on the store’s database will receive a free Adnams Christmas pudding when they spend £75.
The windows at the shop in Norwich Road tell a story as you walk along the shop front. Each one features something different, but all link together like pieces of a puzzle.
In one there are all the ingredients needed for a Christmas pudding, in another you’ll see washing-up gloves, tea towels, crackers and tiny milk jugs as alternative decorations on the Christmas trees.
Then you have the finished article – well not the real thing, but polystyrene puddings made by the visual merchandising team who this year have helped to make around 425 by hand to create what shoppers see now, both in the window and in store.
William Coe, managing director, said he comes up with a theme for the team to follow, but after that “I do nothing,” he admits, praising the efforts of the four-strong team who put the detailed displays together.
“All the credit goes to them,” he said.
“The Christmas window is really important to us.
“We don’t have followers now, we have fans. We get a lot of compliments from customers and people walking down the street.
“People tell us our windows always look amazing and they do.”
Sonja and her colleagues Chris Theobald, Bronya Haynes and Annette Keeble all work together to create the stunning displays.
Sonja, who has worked for Coes for 26 years, said they first thought about the figgy pudding lines in We Wish You A Merry Christmas and their ideas were born from there, with each team member sketching and putting forward ideas to bring the theme to life.
“It’s quite exciting to start with, but it’s a long process,” Sonja said.
“You have a plan and a picture in your mind of how it’s going to go, but you have to be organised.”
Their military-style operation has to run like clockwork because the team also put together the window displays at Coes’ other branches in Maldon, Lowestoft, Felixstowe and Kings Lynn so they have a huge amount of work to do in the run-up to Christmas.
However when it’s all done, there is a sense of pride in what they have achieved.
Chris added: “We do love what we do, we have fun as we go along, but we work hard.”
And this year, the proof is certainly in the pudding!