After a tumultuous year for the arts, Fortnum & Mason has enlisted six artists, creative directors and stage designers to spruce up the department store’s famed window displays. The artists were asked to respond to the idea of ‘joy’, which seems darkly ironic given the displays were unveiled during the same week the latest lockdown was announced in England, but is a welcome project as the news remains bleak.
“As the pandemic really took hold, I felt incredibly frustrated and sad for the amazing freelance creatives that had little to no support and little means for an outlet,” explains Zia Zareem-Slade, customer experience director at Fortnum & Mason. After holding an open call for window installation concepts, she and visual manager Sallie Smith selected the six creatives to take part: stage designer Jon Bausor, theatre and costume designer Tahra Zafar, set and costume designer Alex Berry, theatre and puppetry designer Samuel Wilde, stage designer Jean Chan, and set and costume designer April Dalton.
“It was a different way of working for us – typically we art direct and creatively control every aspect of a window scheme, but in this instance, we were handing that over – we supplied a core frame that we know fits in each window, a creative brief and some considerations and the artists were amazing at responding to that,” says Zareem-Slade.
“The biggest challenge was probably letting go but I’m so incredibly glad we did. The results are amazing and though the streets of Piccadilly are once again quiet, we’ve already seen people enjoying a moment of escapism through looking at them.”
Inspired by how many families have had more time together at home during the pandemic, Zafar’s comforting scene of a young pine martin being put to bed evokes the fantasy and possibility of a child’s dreams. Wilde toasts life’s simple pleasures in his triptych display, as does Chan’s carnival-themed creation, while Dalton taps into nature, springtime and good news in her vibrant interpretation of joy.
As a tribute to the world of theatre, Bausor created a kaleidoscopic design that makes use of a mirror to reflect passers-by, and in turn the symbiotic relationship between theatre performers and the audience.
Meanwhile, Berry’s window showing miniature models working away on their very own joyful display speaks to the magic of theatreland – and, inadvertently, the role of these designers in the project itself. “I love seeing the making of things. Those halfway moments when the ladders are out and the paint is still wet – they’re beautiful,” Berry said. “These little people working together to paint their big message, it’s a tribute to the power of community and to all the people who work behind the scenes to bring joy into our lives.”