By Jesse Wright | Staff Writer
The weather’s cold. Snow flurries dance through the crisp air.
Even so, a crowd of people gathers on State Street, pausing to peer into windows on State Street.
The windows at Macy’s attract tourists and Chicagoans 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.
“We used to bring her father when he was a boy,” Karen explained.
But no matter how many times they come, what most people don’t see—what they can’t see—is the planning. Brian Peluso, the store’s visual manager, is the man behind the windows. This is Peluso’s first year as the visual manager for the State Street store, though he has 20 years’ worth of experience as assistant visual manager at the Macy’s in Columbus, Ohio.
Over the years, Peluso’s come to understand what these displays mean to people, both locals and tourists alike. Even though Christmas window displays take up a small amount of time and space in the Macy’s year, they’re 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 is a chain, so the store on State Street is part of a larger, national conversation that includes 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 consists of four or five people, and Peluso’s visual design team includes four people.hey add the finishing touches.
When Pelusa is designing the windows, he has to bear in mind the history of the tradition. He explained the store has shown displays since the 1870s—and over those years, they have developed quite 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 said.
“In Chicago specifically, we’re celebrating the 51st anniversary of our annual holiday window display at Macy’s on State Street.”
But that 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.”
Each window also 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, adding that 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—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 said.
Check out the window displays through Christmas at 111 North State St.