“Let’s light it up!” the actress Jennifer Lawrence said on Monday night as she helped to reveal the holiday windows and kick off the annual lights show at Saks Fifth Avenue.
As is tradition, onlookers crammed behind barricades near 50th Street as performers — in this case from the Martha Graham Dance Company — flooded Fifth Avenue. Behind them, nearly 300,000 lights illuminated what is described as a “wheel of fortune” installation, which covered 10 stories of the Saks Fifth Avenue New York flagship facade. The wheel is adorned with zodiac signs and decorated with symbols related to the Dior brand, like the star and flowers (for Christian Dior’s love of gardens).
Ms. Lawrence, a longtime Dior ambassador, gathered alongside other actresses, including Tracee Ellis Ross, Rachel Zegler, Ashley Park, Alexandra Daddario, Lola Tung and Maya Hawke. They packed onto bleachers across the street for the show, which included fireworks launched from the roof of the department store.
The Martha Graham Dance Company performed outside Saks on Monday night.
The traditional and ornate holiday windows, a marketing stalwart that R.H. Macy has been credited with originating in 1874, are part of a storied tradition in New York City that has declined in recent years as department stores have closed or moved away from the practice.
The four widely known window displays that remain in Manhattan — Bloomingdale’s, Saks, Macy’s and Bergdorf Goodman — continue to exhibit elaborate scenes that can take months to conceive and build.
In interviews, the people who helped craft the displays discussed the themes this year and the inspiration behind each one.
David Hoey, the senior director of visual presentation at Bergdorf Goodman, said that every year the team looks for a theme that is “slightly oblique” but will still provide a surprise factor.
“It has to be just right,” he said. “Not too specific, not too broad. And related to holiday, if a little bit tangentially.”
For the seven windows at the company’s Fifth Avenue store, they came up with a theme of “Isn’t It Brilliant,” which Mr. Hoey described as “bright lights, bright ideas, bright horizons, everything brilliant.”
The displays each feature a mélange of sparkly props with subtitles. The window “First Light,” for example, refers to dawn and shows crystal balls hovering over farm animals — two roosters, a cow and a pig — covered in a similar sparkly exterior. Another window, called “Tripping the Light Fantastic,” features creatures resembling Pegasus, the flying horse in Greek mythology.
The mannequins were dressed in designer ensembles from Thom Browne, Balmain, Rodarte, Alexander McQueen, Christopher John Rogers and Paco Rabanne.
More than a hundred people worked on the displays, Mr. Hoey said, and the installation took about three weeks and 25 people.
Describing the craft of holiday window displays, Mr. Hoey, who has worked on Bergdorf’s windows for over two decades, said, “It’s a little bit of theater. It’s a little bit of fashion. It’s a little bit of commercial art. It’s an exhibition space, but definitely a public one.”
For the third year in a row, Macy’s blue reindeer, Tiptoe, returns to Herald Square.
The theme for this year’s windows, “Give Love,” is splayed across the company’s storefront on Broadway near 34th Street. The displays focus on “togetherness and festive nostalgia,” said Manny Urquizo, the national windows director for Macy’s.
The windows center on Tiptoe and her friends in scenes that represent her favorite things from the holiday season. Like a page in a storybook, a short narrative describes the displays and an interactive component animates each one.
In a music-themed window, piano keys snake around a trumpet-playing polar bear. Viewers can play the piano by pressing on a set of keys on the glass. And on a window with a sparkling pink candy carousel, viewers can scan a QR code that directs them to a reindeer filter on Instagram.
Holiday windows at Macy’s have interactive components and feature displays with the store’s blue reindeer, Tiptoe.
Mr. Urquizo, who has worked on Macy’s windows for the past four years, said, “I really want that tradition to carry on.” He added, “I bring my kids every year. They’re my harshest critics. But you know, they really enjoy it.”
This year, Bloomingdale’s teamed with Warner Bros. to create scenes inspired by the upcoming film “Wonka,” in which Timothée Chalamet stars as a young Willy Wonka.
“We’re looking at everything through two lenses: How does this delight a child? And how does this just wow the adult?” said John Klimkowski, who is the senior director of visual merchandising at Bloomingdale’s and has worked on the store’s holiday windows for more than a decade.
Mr. Klimkowski said that the team embraced a candyland-like theme, with a hint of Wonka, for the windows on Lexington Avenue near 59th Street. One displays the facade of a candy store (a nod to the 1971 Wonka movie starring Gene Wilder), with sparkly interiors, giant cupcakes and swirling lollipops. A working six-tiered chocolate fountain is at the center of the display. One mannequin, dressed like Mr. Wonka with a top hat, a cane and a purple ensemble, motions the viewer to enter the store.
In another window, mannequins with ruffled hair display the effects of candy designed to make people fly or help their hair grow quickly, another reference to the fictional chocolatier’s fantastical creations.
A display with a theme of “Candy Wonderlandscape” was produced in collaboration with Abby Modell, an artist who specializes in handblown glass. Lollipops and floating rock candies covered in Swarovski crystals hover over glass gummy worms next to giant chocolate drops on top of marshmallows.
“I just hope that for a few minutes, no matter what is going on in the world and someone’s personal life,” Mr. Klimkowski said, “they can just relax and enjoy the beauty and the spirit of the holidays because it’s once a year.”
Saks Fifth Avenue
This year, the window displays at Saks explore Mr. Dior’s first visit to the United States and New York, in 1947, a trip that ignited his fascination with the city.
The collaboration was the first time that Saks had partnered with a luxury fashion house for its holiday display.
In the displays, with the theme of “Dior’s Carousel of Dreams at Saks,” miniature figurines of Mr. Dior, who died in 1957, are placed in various scenes of the windows along Fifth Avenue.
In partnership with Dior, the holiday windows at Saks chronicle the designer Christian Dior’s first trip to the United States.
The windows trace Mr. Dior’s journey from Paris to New York City, fusing references to the fashion house with miniature versions of notable landmarks, such as the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, wrapped in Dior’s Bar jacket; and the Rockefeller Center ice rink, with Mr. Dior and his beloved dog, Bobby, on a sled full of perfume bottles. And a model of Times Square on New Year’s Eve shows Mr. Dior standing next to a figure of a woman dressed in the fashion house’s signature New Look of 1947, which he introduced in his first collection and which helped shape his career.
In one window, a replica of the Saks Fifth Avenue New York flagship is complete with the light installation on the facade, a changing traffic light, a hot-dog stand in the corner and steam rising from the grates.
Andrew Winton, who is the senior vice president of creative at Saks and oversees the window design, said, “It really has been this devoted group of people from around the world, just hundreds of artisans crafting the story.”
He added: “It’s something that’s always been this gift to the city.”