Christmas in July!

Made_Queens_6While displays had long been stuffy, traditional affairs, featuring Dickensian figures and cherubic carolers, Spaeth said that by the 1970s, windows were largely designed with an eye towards the simple, modernist aesthetics of the mid-century. While other department stores were decorating their windows with plain green Christmas trees bedecked in simple strands of lights, Lord and Taylor unveiled Spaeth’s mechanical display in 1976 to an incredible reaction “No one had ever seen windows done like that,” he said. “Our figures didn’t look like Dickens characters, they looked like real people, but scaled down with historically accurate costumes. And all our figures were moving.”

The display told the history of Lord and Taylor and included meticulously researched costumes, a scale model of a 1914 Cadillac, and a moving elevator, among other elements. No department store had ever unveiled a display with so many mechanized parts, he said, and New Yorkers ate it up. “The lines were so long you couldn’t get near the windows,” he said. “Our costumers lived around the corner, and every night instead of watching TV they would go to the windows to listen to people’s comments.”

Soon, he said, Spaeth Design was getting calls from other major department stores in New York, like Saks Fifth Avenue, as well as from stores around the world requesting similar moving displays. “Certainly it put animated displays, and us, on the map,” he said. “It showed how it could be done.”

What’s followed has been a rich and diverse body of work, including huge displays for some of New York’s swankiest stores, including Saks, Bloomingdales and Bergdorf Goodman’s, as well as Made_Queens_pic_4small-scale displays for yet-swankier stores, like Hermès and Cartier. Spaeth has also dabbled in film sets and props; his workshop is responsible for Zoltar, the mechanical circus fortune teller that turned a 13-year-old boy into Tom Hanks in the 1988 film Big. David’s favorite project to date? “That’s like asking who my favorite child is,” he said. “And if I had a favorite child, I wouldn’t tell you.”

Spaeth is sworn to secrecy about the projects he’s currently working on, but a tour of the factory revealed a flurry of intricate, Santa’s Workshop-type work underway. In one airy room, a young woman with a fine-tipped brush painted a delicate diorama of a forest. In another room, shelves brimmed with hand-molded elf faces contorted into an array of expressions, and limbs of various lengths and widths scaled the walls.

Spaeth and his crew are still getting used to their new Queens environs, having moved their whole operation to Woodside from Manhattan a year ago. A homecoming of sorts for Flushing-born Spaeth, whose parents began their business in Queens and operated out of Astoria before switching boroughs. He said that his new location has been more convenient than he could have imagined. “Most of our clients are on 5th Avenue, and they can get here faster than they could get to 12th Avenue in Manhattan,” he said.

Having worked on Christmas displays for close to four decades, Spaeth says he still feels a sense of pride over the windows he creates.  “There’s really a tradition involved with the displays,” he said. “I think a lot of people would be disappointed if they didn’t see them. I think the windows are a big part of Christmas in New York City.”

He said that after all these years, he still visits his windows to see revelers’ reactions. “We don’t tell the people we’ve made them,” he said. “But we’re really proud.”

1 2

Short URL:

Posted by on Jun 11 2015. Filed under Featured Articles, Made In Queens. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

Leave a Reply


Search Archive

Search by Date
Search by Category
Search with Google


Log in | Designed by Gabfire themes