[ London Xmas ] Fortnum and Mason

Window display at the famous department stores in London is always very fascinating to see. Not only are they displays of the creativity of the artistic directors of the department stores, they can also be very inspiring. The theme of the Fortnum & Mason’s window for Christmas this year is “Show Time!” I love the cover photo I took of…one of the windows in front of the department store. The woman in a peacock splendor is on a swing in a glided cage. Then you see the reflection of the people on the bus passing in front of the store, all drawn to her (or maybe the store as a whole). Peacock seems to be theme that runs through several department stores’ windows. You can see peacock in the Libery Mall window as well here (see my previous post on Liberty Mall).

Some said that the Fortnum is often compared to a theatre with its historical building and its classic fascade. So they went along with that idea to create a world of glamour for the season.

Each window gives a different scene or set in a theatre. This is before the curtains go up.

This is the backstage scene.

The windows are very colourful in their own ways. A lot of old-fashioned props were used to create a sense of theatricality.

The theatre theme continues into the F&M store.

Even on a a weekday, the store is filled with people. This gets even worse when it’s almost Christmas time!

The purple and red style continues inside the mall.

The ground floor area where you can buy Fortnum & Mason’s famous tea, biscuits, Christmas cakes, etc. On a weekday before Christmas, it was actually pretty hard to walk around in there without constantly bumping into other people (or people bumping into you).

This must be the most photographed window.

Another scene in another window.


These standing models rotate like a revolving door.

The side windows of the F&M building.

Fortnum & Mason has been here for almost 300 years. It was a major importer of exotic things from the British Empire. It also had an “expedition” department that supplied “provisions to the explorers and adventurers of the day”.

Fortnum & Mason is between Piccadilly Circus & Green Park.

The clock that’s on the Fortnum & Mason’s logo is right outside of the F&M building.

The following is the story of the Fortnum & Mason Christmas Window 2011 taken from the F&M official website.



There is surely no bigger show in the social calendar than Christmas. The lights, the glitter, the dressing up, the elaborate preparations, the sense of anticipation as the main event draws near… So when Fortnum’s creative director, Paul Symes, went searching for inspiration for his Christmas windows, a theme of ‘Showtime!’ seemed an obvious candidate.

It was inspired not (as one might think) by too much exposure to ‘Strictly’, but by the 1980s Pet Shop Boys video for What Have I Done to Deserve This?, in which the singers are surrounded by a troupe of glamorous dancers, who swirl through the scene, dressed in sparkling costumes and trailing immense feather headdresses. The sense of glamour, magic and excitement is unmistakeable. It was this atmosphere that Paul set out to capture in his latest Christmas windows.

A sense of theatre

Fortnum’s itself has often been compared to a theatre, thanks in part to its elegant and historic façade, its red carpets and tailcoats and the general air of luxury and elegance that lifts one out of the everyday world. ‘Fortnum’s is so like a theatre,’ agrees Paul, ‘so we wanted to create the feeling that a show was going on around you.’ To that end, there will be mannequins in the store as well as in the windows, including a rather spectacular display of showgirls suspended in gilded bird cages that descends right down through the atrium. ‘We had to use abseilers to install them,’ says Paul. It’s tempting to call the whole effect ‘burlesque’, except that that is a word with many and varied connotations. ‘We’ve been very careful to stay on the glamorous side and not stray into anything seedy,’ says Paul. ‘This is a bit of Folies Bergère and a bit of Busby Berkeley. We’re just putting on a show.’

Each of the windows looking out on to Piccadilly shows a different scene, each set in the theatre – inside a dressing room, outside the stage door, a cab dropping off the star dancer, dancers chatting on stage just before the curtain goes up, and so on. The idea was to give a sense of something even more exciting about to happen beyond the scene. Each scene is completed with lots of old-fashioned props, such as dial telephones, old stage-lights, pieces of stage set and old chairs. ‘There was a lot of ebay purchasing’ says Paul. Thanks to the current love for all things vintage, this part wasn’t as hard as it might have been.

The work begins

The Christmas windows project began in earnest in June with an idea and a mood board. The team made some sketches of the mannequins and the sets to flesh out the idea, then, once the theme had been approved, the construction work began. One team built the window sets offsite while Paul and his team began to source the many different elements needed, from the mannequins to the Christmas baubles.

‘We bought 2nd hand mannequins, as new mannequins don’t come in such a range of poses as they used to,’ says Paul. ‘Dressing a mannequin is a skill and few people have it these days, so mannequins tend to all look the same. So second-hand was the only way to go. We had them resprayed, had wigs made, had a make-up artist come in and make them up on site. For me it was like going back 20 years, when I worked on shop window displays and it would take a whole day to dress a single mannequin. We bought shoes from the high street and feathers from the internet, which we dyed ourselves in buckets with Dylon.’

In late October, the first wave of decorations was installed inside the store. Paul and his team spent a week working through the night to decorate Fortnum’s sales floors so there would be no disruption to customers. If you had come in every day that week, you’d have seen something new each day – Christmas trees popping up on each floor, fully decorated in vibrant pinks, reds and purples, garlands on every banister and display cases filled with Christmas decorations and gifts, not to mention painted faces at the top of the Food Hall pillars.

Once the interior decorations were in place, the windows along Piccadilly and Duke Street were shrouded and emptied and the team worked flat out to install the mannequins in their new home. Finally all was ready for the grand unveiling on 10th November, and the dancers were revealed to the Piccadilly crowds. To accompany them, Paul compiled a soundtrack that includes the noise of the theatre – audiences clapping and calls from behind the scenes – as well as some jazzy showtime music. In December the music will change to Christmas carols, but still in a jazz-band style.

Light fantastic

The finishing touch is a spectacular, neon-lit Christmas sign installed on top of the main canopy, in place of the usual Christmas trees. Typically for Fortnum’s, the neon lights were commissioned from a small family of neon light-makers based in Walthamstow – the use of old-fashioned craftsmanship is an ongoing theme for F&M. And now, with all the lights ablaze, the dancers in position and the jazz tunes playing, there’s no doubt that the Christmas show has well and truly started. ‘This is the biggest free show in town!’ says Paul.


Related Posts (Xmas Window Displays 2011 London):
1. [ London Xmas ] Oxford Circus, Liberty & Canaby Street
2. [ London Xmas ] Fortum and Mason – Show Time
3. [ London Xmas ] Chrystal Christmas at Harrods insp. by Swarovski
4. [ London Xmas ] Selfridges White Christmas

Related Posts (Xmas in London & Bath 2011):
1. [ London Xmas ] Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
2. [ London Xmas ] Hyde Park Winter Wonderland – Zippos Circus
3. [ London Xmas ] Tiffany’s at Somerset House
4. [ London Xmas ] Taste of Christmas
5. [ Bath Xmas ] A Jane Austen Christmas 


9 thoughts on “[ London Xmas ] Fortnum and Mason

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  8. Pingback: [ London Xmas ] Selfridges’ White Christmas | Partie du Champagne

  9. Pingback: [ London Xmas ] Chrystal Christmas Inspired by Swarovski | Partie du Champagne

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