Saturday, November 25, 2006

Black Friday 2006: Fur at Bergdorf Edition

Anti-fur Protestors Start the Holiday Season at Bergdorf-Goodman, Fifth Avenue and 58th Street, Black Friday, 2006

One of my favorite things to do during the Holidays (of which, I have learned, there are both many holidays and many favorite things to do from October - December), is walking through New York looking at all the pretty things.

Pretty thing Number One, is the windows of Fifth Avenue and Herald Square! The longstanding Christmas Window Battle of Bergdorf, Saks, Lord & Taylor, Macy's and Bloomingdale's is historically funny. Each classic shoppe goes out of their way each year to make more elaborately intricate and fantastical window displays; it's a tradition and tourist attraction in New York as each retailer battles for your hard-earned buckaroos. Cartier has outdone themselves this year with a lava of lavish red boxes cascading down the front of its building, ending in a humongous Cartier box that romantically springs open every now and then, blazing synthesized Christmas musical gradeur out and about, and revealing its lush, but alas, diamond-less white satin interior. Fuckers.

Anyhoo, I don't make a habit of seeing the windows every year, but I just got a new camera (a Panasonic DMC-FX50 to replace my old Nikon 3200), and I wanted to test it out. I'm not the maestro of photography, but I do like to take a picture or two.

I got my days confused a few nights ago as I was trying to find David Blaine, who was gyroscoping somewhere in Times Square. I was two days too early. I should really pay attention to dates. Whoops.

Before heading toward my unsuccessful destination in the Square, I traveled to the Plaza Hotel, hopping off of the 6 train at 59th and Lexington first, then walking west towards Fifth Avenue. I wanted to see how the construction looked at the Plaza at night, and I like roaming around there just after dark, especially since the Apple Store opened.

(It was my first night shot, so shoot me.)

So, there's the Plaza at night! You'll notice that that pesky little Eloise will get to run around the re-hauled Plaza yet again when the residential units are opened. Damn her. Sigh.

I walked around the little plaza outside the Plaza, going slightly South toward Bergdorf-Goodman, that beautifully elegant and lush store, which I've only been in once. That one time, I saw Ivana Trump in a suit with gold-fringed epaulets. The sight unnerved the hell out of me, and I've been afraid of going back in ever since. I still shiver at the thought of it. Brrrrr.

The Bergdorf windows were amazing! The ones that faced the plaza were full of little mechanical machines mixed in with the glamourous silks and glittering fake diamonds. There were intricate metal-worked machines, wonderwheels, animals, and fantastical creatures!

I walked around to the front of Bergdorf, on the Fifth Avenue side, at the corner of 58th Street. I looked up, and before me was a lush display, full of light and play and color.

The horses were finely detailed, the lights just perfect, and the mannikin was dressed in a circuslike dressage outfit, complete with whip. I don't know anyone who would actually wear the outfit out, but I don't think that's necessarily the point. In fact, most of the garments in the Bergdorf windows on any given day aren't necessarily for everyday fashion, unless, of course, you are part of the fashionista mafia, and can afford such outrageously beautiful designs. Gold epaulets, anyone? Eek.

Anyway, the Fifth Avenue windows (as opposed to the 58th Street windows, which were amazing, as opposed to Fifth Avenue's magnificient), included two black and white windows, and one with a cascade of sweets and delicacies in every sepia tone available. Included in this display was an oversized curio cabinet inlaid with mother-of-pearl and filled with fake cakes and treats. I could eat the carefully constructed cakes and muffins, even if they were made of glue and paper.

I was completely in awe of how the displays were concieved, created, and mounted. Bravo, Bergdorf-Goodman, bravo!

The window that most caught my attention was the second black and white window that portrayed a bow-tied, humanoid polar bear, elegantly opening a glass door to a fur-clad woman seeking entrance to his abode. Looking at the window, I was immediately drawn to an allusion from an amazing series of children's book with grown-up appeal: Philip Pullman's, "His Dark Materials." The set of three books includes The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass.

I first read the Pullman books on vacation in Martha's Vineyard in 2004 (the series was first published in 1998). I decided to reread them again when I heard that Daniel Craig would be featured in the upcoming film adaptation as Lord Asriel (Craig is perfect for the part... oh hell, he's just perfect), the paternal connection to the lead character, Lyra Balacqua, a child who fights to keep the Gobblers from cutting away children's daemons. The story is a wide-sweeping tale set in an interdimensional Europe where everyone has a visible soul companion in the form of animals or daemons, and visible to others. Lyra sets off from Oxford to the North to rescue the children from the Gobblers and her Uncle from the Slavbard armoured bears. There's a lot of talk in the books about animal skins and furs as the good and bad guys head toward the cold Northern reaches. Lyra eventually confronts the evil Mrs. Coulter (played by Nicole Kidman) and meets the inestimable armoured bear, Iorek Byrnison, a noble outcast from the bear kingdom. Eventually, Mrs. Coulter meets the King of the bears, and the window clearly plays on that theme. It's a beautiful display.

Which brings us back to the protestors. As you see from the photograph, both the bear and the beauty are wearing fur. And fashion fur in New York is a hot topic. The group, Caring Activists Against Fur (CAAF), protested Bergdorf on Black Friday, and will protest at other venues now until Feburary: Steven Corn Furs, Antonovich Furs, Macy's, Lord & Taylor, and Saks. (More info here, scroll down.)

Now, I can appreciate fashion fur. Fur is beautiful, and in certain situations (those artic ones with indigenous human populations that need fur to survive the cold weather conditions), I can understand its use. I'm tentative regarding fur in high fashion, however. My mom offered me one of her mink furs when I was younger, and I turned it down. I did, however, accept a lambskin short coat with fox cuffs. I accepted it more for nostalgia, as it's my mom's coat from the 1950s and it's way pretty. However, I've never been comfortable wearing it. (I'm uncomfortable in real-life dress-up anyway. I really much prefer stage dress-up. That's me in the photo, right, at the bottom in a production of "A Man's A Man.")

I cringe a bit when I see folks in New York wearing fashion fur, even in cold weather. It's a natural reaction to feeling that the mink and the fox would much rather have preferred keeping their fur to themselves. But that's a little hypocritical of me because I do wear leather. Are the cows no less... animal?

I didn't write this post to down fur or defend Berfdorf-Goodman's use of it in its windows. I think I wrote it mostly to highlight the intersection of beauty and horror that can occupy a single space. I had been in search of a Pretty Thing in New York, and I did find it. When I saw the "Entertain" window (two nights prior to the protest, which I hadn't known about), my immediate thought was of the Pullman books and secondly, the fur. I thought to myself: somebody is going to have feelings about that fur. I had feelings about the fur; it was beautiful on the bear (not sure if it was real or not) and it was unnecessarily clad about the figure of the woman, but nonetheless, beautiful.

Animal protestors get a bum rap because they can be over the top and confrontational in their rhetoric. To them, it's a matter of life and death, as many things in this world are. Humans do kill an awful lot of animals for personal use: food, fashion, hunting. I am not of the opinion that all animal use is anathema, obviously. I can, however, understand the feelings of those completely opposed to the use of animals. I can also appreciate both sides of the argument. When you see a clothing item intricately made out of animal furs, you can't help but see the beauty in them, either. Again, though, I think the animals would much rather prefer to keep their fur. Don't you?

Black Friday is always full of interesting little things. Anyway, go and read my friend, Jennifer Michael Hecht's reverie on Black Friday in the New York Times. If, of course, you can get behind the Times Select Wall. Happy Holidays!

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