Paris is a city of boutiques and a city in love with visual design, so there is no shortage of beautiful windows to look at wherever you go, especially at Christmastime.
In the window of a toy store on the rue du Commerce, large pneumatic bears, in various shades of the rainbow, frolic amid a flurry of fake snow. At haute grocery store Fauchon, near the Madeleine, the window is filled with jewel-coloured Christmas pastries as brilliant as any stained-glass window.
Most dazzling are the Christmas windows of Les Grands Magasins — the connected but rival Galeries Lafayette and Au Printemps department stores — presenting onto boulevard Haussmann, directly behind the ornately sculpted Palais Garnier on the nearby Place de l’Opéra.
The opera house, with its Chagall ceiling and eight-ton crystal chandelier, is where one might pay dearly for a ticket to see a choreographed show. But there, outside these belle époque temples of commerce, the spectacle is free, but no less impressive.
The windows don’t showcase toy shops. No families eating plum puddings, either.
Beyond a scene showcasing a sultry-looking mannequin swathed in fur and a pack of ferocious animals, themselves brushed and styled, the windows depict a winter wonderland made up of globes, glitter, mirrors and simulated white stuff that carry out the Printemps’ Nordic Christmas theme with aplomb.
Designed by artists possessed with that distinctly Parisian flair for work that combines, in equal measure, the whimsical, the poetic and the absurd, the windows are light-years from anything that spoke to the ye-olde-yuletide windows of one’s youth.
In true Paris fashion, they are up-to-the-minute creations, propelled as much by technical know-how as by imagination. Anyone looking for a trip down memory lane would be disappointed — but also delighted by the sudden shift in point of view.