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New York: Fifth Avenue Window-Shopping Tour (Part 1)

Alexander McQueen by Sarah Burton at Saks Fifth Avenue Photos by Theadora Brack

Saks Fifth Avenue

By Theadora Brack in New York

Hold on to your hats because this week, we’re trekking to New York for some hazy, crazy summertime “window licking” ( faire du lèche-vitrine)!

While day tripping, time is precious, so I’ve created a Fifth Avenue tour for you. Yes, it is possible to visit most of New York’s centuries-old department stores in one day! I’ll also throw in a few historical and cinematic tidbits. Confession: I’ve been walking Fifth Avenue since the age of eight. I’m still mad about it.

Here’s how Anaïs Nin described New York City to Henry Miller: “I love the proportions, the amplitude, the brilliance, the polish, the solidity. I look up at Radio City insolently and love it. The vitality. Just bring your own contents, and you create a sparkle at the highest power.” All aboard? Let’s glow!

Miracle on 34th Street

We’ll kick-off our whirlwind jaunt outside Macy’s at Herald Square (34th Street and Broadway). After we’ve admired the vitrines, we’ll gaze up at the nearby Empire State Building, the closest thing to heaven in this city. It’s true! However, before crossing, do look both ways or else you, too, will have a star-crossed Affair to Remember. Besides, Cary Grant left the building years ago!

Heads-up! As you stroll, study how the vitrines mesh with the reflections of the surrounding cityscape. Providing seamless backgrounds, the trees and sky scrappers play nicely with the mannequins.

Summertime at Saks Fifth Avenue

1. Macy’s 151 West 34th Street (at Broadway)

Conceived by Rowland Hussey Macy in 1843, the “World’s Largest Store” moved to Herald Square in 1902. Curious about the store’s “star” logo? It’s a nod to the tattoo Macy got when he worked as a teen on a Nantucket whaling ship in the 1830s. Perhaps R.H. had Moby Dick in mind when he created his first whale of a sale?

Film buffs: Here outside Macy’s is where the Thanksgiving Parade in “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947) was shot. Reel it back! In the film, you’ll catch actual footage of that year’s parade in action (with Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle!). Macy’s has been putting on the Thanksgiving pageant glitz since 1924. Now, let’s form our own conga line, and hit the hill!

2. Lord & Taylor 424 5th Ave (at 38th Street)

Each time I spy the mile-high stacks of silky-smooth shirts as I make my way to the elevators, Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” pops to mind: “They’re such beautiful shirts, Daisy sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such beautiful shirts.’” Pass the tissues!

Launched in 1826 by Samuel Lord, “L&T” has been sitting pretty on Fifth Avenue since 1914.  It was the first department store to embrace merchandising without merchandise. Artist James Bliss changed the window-dressing scene with his installation of mechanical bells. Soon shops worldwide followed suit! How’s that for pulling out all the props?

Head in the clouds at 30 Rock and Saks

Head in the clouds at 30 Rock and Saks

3. BCBG 168 5th Avenue (at 40th Street)

In 1989, French designer Max Azria broke the mold with his BCBG line (“Bon Chic, Bon Genre,” slang for really groovy!). Who also digs BCBG? Fergie, Angelina Jolie and Alicia Keys, along with Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez and Kate Winslet. The recent collections were inspired by Bauhaus. Celebrating also constructivism and modernism, the gowns flaunt cut and color to the max!

Across the street from BCBG, you’ll find the New York Public Library. Making more than one dramatic cameo appearance in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” it’s worth a visit. Here you’ll find free exhibitions, along with a top-notch gift shop. Also, the steps are a great place for a picnic. Keep your eyes peeled for Holly and Paul ‘Fred’ Varjak!

4. Saks Fifth Avenue 611 5th Avenue (at 49th Street)

Now let’s make a bee-line to Saks. Fashioned by Andrew Saks in 1857 the store moved to its Fifth Avenue digs in 1924. Designed by architects Starrett & van Vleck, it’s another looker. Back in the day, the dynamic duo Starrett and van Vleck also created stylish shops for Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale’s.

While at Saks, check out the futuristic Alexander McQueen ball gowns by Sarah Burton. Royalists, Sarah Burton created Kate Middleton’s wedding dress! Here you’ll also find a panoramic view of 30 Rock. Grab the camera. It’s another picture-perfect backdrop for your social media portraits!

Stay tuned for Part Two of the Fifth Avenue Window-Shopping Tour!

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78 thoughts on “New York: Fifth Avenue Window-Shopping Tour (Part 1)

    • I know! I know! The feeling is mutual. I’m now off to spend more time with your exquisite “Castiglione della Pescaia – Grosetto – Tuscany – Italy” post. I loved your market shots. Green with envy. And the dishes, my word!! Big hugs!! Theadora

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  1. Paris to New York Theadora? I do love you! I am not a department store shopper much but I do love a look into Barney’s….I prefer to boutique shop in Nolita and Soho…that’s if I am feeling a little well deserving!! Love this post! XO!

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    • Theadora – I’m with Shira! Stay in Soho but venture up to Barneys and go shoe shopping at Bergdorf Goodman! (If I’m feeling rich!)

      I love all your quotes and referencing. Just gorgeous (as ever) – makes me want to be there again. Perhaps I should be planning Paris AND New York…?

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    • Shira! I’m also with you. I’m a small boutique (and Zara) shopper! The department store scene is great for window-shopping. I also love searching the interiors for traces from the past. It’s nice that we have so many still standing and open for business in New York.

      Say, do you have a favorite shop? During my New York years, I used to buy my black dresses at Trash and Vaudeville at 4 Saint Marks Place. I adored that shop! Theadora

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      • My faves would be small designer shops and being from Vancouver it is so exciting to hit the sources! Faves in NY are Built By Wendy and Steven Allan but there are so many amazing shops! Another fave I discovered was Assembly in Noho..a great vintage section at thd back :)!! Ooh!

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    • Thank you!! The 5th Avenue Tour will continue on Friday. Next stop: Tiffany & Co.! Theadora (I’ll also report on the flea market scene. I scored a few vintage magazines at the 25th Street Flea!)

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  2. I often walk down 5thAvenue and admire the store windows. I always like to catch the new displays at Bergdoff/Goodman. In my opinion, one of the best.
    You continue to inspire me with your creative use of photography. The pictures of the window displays with building reflections is a work of art.

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    • Thanks, Thom! Have you seen Bergdorf Goodman’s Schiaparelli and Prada vitrines? They’re gorgeous. I plan to file a report on Friday. Say, did you happen to catch BG’s Christian Louboutin and dragon windows back in January? They were also stunners. Bergdorf’s dream team artists Aaron Wexler and Demetrios Argyropoulos are amazing!! Theaddora (I’m looking forward to seeing your shots of New York City vitrines!)

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  3. I’ll be a fist time tourist in New York in July! You’re tips couldn’t have come at a better time! Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to part 2!

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    • Ah, thanks! You’ll love New York. I’ll complete the list of historic department stores later on this week. It’s possible to visit all of them in one day! Here’s another shopping tip! The new Zara at 689 5th Avenue recently opened with a jazzy, hi-tech look. Also, the Zara on 34th Street is temporarily closed, and but will reopen soon as a Zara Cosmetics. I’ll keep you posted! Theadora (Also, the Flea Market on 25th Street is worth a visit.)

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      • More about the food and architecture and of corse the Stationery Show. The Village is my favorite haunt…love the mix of shops and tiny restaurants…never seem to have enough time to really shop between everything else than has to be done on my trips here.

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  4. Wow what fun! Thanks for taking us with you. I rode right down Fifth Avenue once. We couldn’t stop. 😦 It was amazing! Absolutely stunning. I wanted to get out and walk around so bad. I love how much coverage those huge sunglasses would give but I think the model wears them better than I would. The outfit is so Carrie Bradshaw!

    An Affair To Remember, what a great movie.

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    • That was fun!! Thanks for strolling along with me. I also admired the large sunglasses. Imagine wearing them while running. I wonder how much they weigh? I do a little Nancy Drew work! Theadora (I’ve seen “An Affair to Remember” about 50 times. I cry each and every time. Scratch the word “cry.” I weep! I sob!!)

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  5. Love this, Theodora! Have walked past these shops plenty of times. Christmas is a wonderful time to stroll by these as well. Beautiful pics and wonderful descriptions, as always!

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    • Thanks, Brigitte!! T. (My grandmother took me on my very first Fifth Avenue tour. It was muggy August but I insisted on wearing my newly-acquired red wool coat! I was there to be seen and make the scene, I told my grandmother. I was eight. And my grandmother was very patient!!)

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  6. New York New York, it’s a toddlin’ town. You’ve done a magnificent work toddling around New York. As usual Theadora, your prose sparkles with thoughts so wonderful they are almost indecent.

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    • Merci, Virginia! New York is still a toddlin’ town! Say, I bet Oswald the Rabbit would look pretty darn fabulous floating high in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Has he ever tried such a feat? Theadora (Also, has he seen the new High Line Park? It’s gorgeous!)

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      • Oswald, that little scutter, is a bit of a high flying activist . He was involved with the Friends of the High Line and fought to save it from demolition. It seems if it’s not bees he is saving, it’s trees, and of course the High Line in New York. The inability to create deep burrows did cause some concern to some of his friends, but it would appear they came up with a solution. Oswald is so happy to hear how successful their cause has become.

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  7. Say, I just had a flash of insight after looking at your photos. Didn’t Cubism come along at about the same time as the first department store window displays? Is it too wild a guess to wonder whether Picasso, Braque & Co. might have been inspired by the same kinds of juxtapositions that you captured? Hmmm–seems like there might be an art history dissertation lurking there somewhere . . . . Anyway, your images certainly inspired ME and gave me food for thought. Thanks!!!

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    • Ah, thanks!! I’m now obsessed with department stores worldwide. I’ve been enjoying the research!! Theadora (By the way, I love your purple door. It’s a beauty!)

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    • Thanks for jumping on board!! We’ll continue the Fifth Avenue tour on Friday. Our next stop is Tiffany & Co., followed by Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys.and Bloomingdales. T. (Let’s not forget Daffy’s!)

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    • Thanks, Rhonda!! Theadora (I just discovered this funny tidbit! According to jazzy gossip, Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald used to surf down Fifth Avenue while riding on the top of taxis. Imagine!)

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      • They sound like MY kind of people! What fun it would be to be your shadow on one of your tours! 🙂

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    • Thanks, Richard!! As you know, I’m a huge fan of your street portraits. I’m still thinking of lady in the “blue coat.” Lovely coat. Regal expression!! Theadora

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  8. Window shopping is great, you have some really fab piccies….got some inspiration and went to town , it’s raining so can’t do birding, will post piccies later from famous fashion houses!

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  9. I love the photos with the reflections! Usually if I’m taking pictures with any sort of reflection involved, I get an image of me taking the picture. It’s great how you have everything blended together without the picture taker in there. I’m guessing that your expert window-shopping skills helped with that sort of thing! 🙂

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    • Thanks, Sheila!! Ha! I appear often in my window-shopping shots. In fact, my collection of “bloopers” probably inspired the department store series!! T.

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  10. New York!! Have a wonderful time – these pictures are brilliant! Love the mannequins and the windows reflecting the scenery. You know more about the city than I do and I only live an hour away usually. Great job! (And LOVE the Gatsby reference!)

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    • Thanks!! It was great to get back to the city. I miss the sights, sounds and energy!! Signed, a former Staten Islander (I also love Fitzgerald’s descriptions of New York during the hot and hazy summertime. It’s almost time to pull the book out again for another reading!)

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    • Thanks, Rob!! I really lucked out with the sunny weather, mannequins and garb patterns. I think the window display artists at Saks and BCBG were inspired by the surrounding streetscape. It shows! Theadora

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  11. Wonderful tour, Theadora! How I wish I had the money to splurge on all those lovely things out there. I can only sigh and dream and imagine being there with you. Did you buy a lot???? 😉

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    • Thanks, Malou!! Did I spend a lot? Oh, no! I picked up a few black tops, along with pair of silver ballet slippers from Zara. I’m a bargain shopper. Patiently waiting for the big summer sales!! T.

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    • Well, thank you!! As you know I’m a big time fan your work. It’s always vibrant and gorgeous. Your recent café shot was especially lovely!! At first, I thought I was looking at a window scene. Bravo! Theadora

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  12. How awesome. I love window shopping in exciting cities. Did NYC at Christmas once – has to be the best Christmas shopping experience ever (and I didn’t even buy anything!!!) Love your photos – the way you added the vibrant window displays with the reflections of buildings across the street – awesome. Can’t wait to check out your “shoes” tag!

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  13. I work for a travel company and we have a group going to New York in November. We are sending them to this blog for shopping ideas! Just thought you’d like to know that!

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    • Very cool!! Thank you for spreading the word!! I really appreciate it. New York in November is the perfect time to visit the city. The Flea Market on 25th street is pretty darn fun. Where are they staying? The Gershwin Hotel on 27th is funky and pretty affordable. Have you seen it? Plus, location on its side. The address is: 7 East 27th Street. From top to bottom, it’s full of art. Let’s not forget to mention the front facade. It’s very surreal! There’s even a “vibe” curator on staff. Again, thanks for always being so supportive!! Theadora

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      • You’re welcome! They are staying at the Crowne Plaza in Times Square. Very nice. We do this trip annually and that’s where we stayed last year. Great views!

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  14. Pingback: Holiday-induced shopping: The credit-card coma. The regrets. The unworn souvenirs. | the sorella-hood

  15. Pingback: Mini-Blog * Where could I be? « thombradley

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