Other-wordly visual displays capture window shoppers’ imaginations come holiday time

Photos: Ricky Zehavi 
Words: Nawa Acosta Wright 

When night falls on New York City during the Christmas holidays, the retail wonderland of Fifth Avenue near Central Park twinkles brighter and the atmosphere sizzles with festiveness. It’s also the perfect backdrop when Bergdorf Goodman, the old world glamour department store, lifts its curtains to reveal magical retail windows. The wow factor shows attention-grabbing mannequins wearing extravagant fashions and retail merchandise playing a theatrical role in this visual feast.

Fah Thai joined a long queue of people to gawk as a store window tourist recently and wondered who’s behind the magic. Enter Bangkok-born Jay Soonthornsawad, who was the perfect guide to the ‘show business’ of window displays. A visual display designer in New York, he works on visibly prominent projects like the iconic holiday windows of Bergdorf Goodman.

Jay’s been a visual display designer for over 15 years, a technical sounding title yet his métier elevates store merchandise from a functional use to playing a more in depth role within the four glass walls of a store window. He explains the details that make these store windows so amazing when we meet on the LES, the lower east side of Manhattan, at a Thai restaurant. We had khan toke, the traditional northern Thailand meal on footed wood trays bearing roasted chilli dips and steamed vegetable credite.

Jay’s been involved with the Bergdorf Goodman store windows for over a decade to create works that define Christmas in New York. Every year, the fashion world’s biggest designers join in the festivities with extravagant Christmas window displays that the public wait as long as an hour to see. While New York stores do their holiday windows to win the attention of local and visiting customers, Bergdorf’s, as it’s fondly called by New Yorkers, dressed up their legendary windows with more opulence.


Jay exudes a quiet and calm demeanour yet his work as a visual display designer present explosive colours and detailed-filled scenes. One season featured a window named “The Crystal Ball,” with a mannequin fortune teller, next to Swarovski crystal-studded objects. There’s “Teacher’s Pets,” from a past window done in a black and white colour scheme scattered with ‘pets’ like rabbits, a zebra, an ostrich, and other creatures made from organic materials while the mannequin dons a sequinned dress by fashion brand Marchesa.

Such spectacular displays are an annual treat for people familiar with the holiday windows. Jay is modest about sharing in the accolades that accompany window scenes that are never subdued, but also can be sublime.

The projects with Bergdorf had themes like “Inspired”. Each window featured “The Arts” in its category of Literature, Photography, Music, Theatre, Film, Sculpture and the “Literature” window had a collection of famous writers’ needlepoint portraits in different shades of red. The “Theatre” window showcased a mannequin wearing a beaded gold gown on a backdrop of colourful neon lights designed to resemble the theatre district of Broadway’s billboard lights. Any window onlooker simply stops and stares at the wondrous sight.

“We’re not selling a product, but a store’s image,” Jay explains, of Bergdorf’s visual feats. A person walking from a distance or sitting in a taxi can take a look out from their window to our window and see the products and know what the store is about, he says.

Jay also points out that it’s David Hoey, Bergdorf’s resident ‘window dresser,’ who leads … read more