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Doggies in the Windows

Life-size cutouts of William Wegman's Weimaraners dressed for the holidays adorn the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills.

November 24, 2000|CANDACE A. WEDLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Beverly Bourell is looking at the doggies in the windows--the famous Weimaraners of photographer William Wegman. "Aren't they sweet?" asks the window shopper, admiring the displays at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. "I walk a lot and I see everyone who looks at them chuckle. Everyone should have a Wegman in their heart."

There's Chip as Santa Claus, Batty, Chundo and Crooky in reindeer gear, and the dogs in other festive Christmas displays. The scenes are part of the window installations based on "The Night Before Christmas" that Wegman designed for the Beverly Hills Saks store and the one in Palm Beach, Fla.

This is the third year in a row the specialty retailer has left the winter window dressing to an artist. "It's our gift to the cities," explains Ken Smart, Saks' vice president of corporate visual presentation. Instead of using the all-important holiday windows to feature items sold in the stores, Saks is counting on the excitement of the Wegman windows, and the merging of the artistic and commercial worlds, to attract customers, he says.

Wegman began drafting the project last spring in his Manhattan studio in the Chelsea district, where he works and lives with his wife, Christine, and their children, Atlas, 6, and Lola, 3. "It's a leap of faith doing windows so far away," says Wegman. But the photographer is drawing from his new book, "The Night Before Christmas" (Hyperion), based on the famous Clement Moore poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas," as well as his 1995 video "Fay's 12 Days of Christmas."

Creating the windows required many technical steps. Wegman submitted watercolor sketches to Saks' window artists, who translated those ideas into detailed blueprints that added multimedia elements, such as moving displays and video screens.

Wegman says he originally considered sculptures of his dogs but decided that photographs best captured the individual identities of each animal. "I like to identify my dogs and having a sculpture might not work." He says that in his first batch of photos for the windows, the dogs looked enormous, like monsters in a Japanese horror movie, because the photos were way out of scale for the settings.

To turn them into reindeer, the dogs were photographed one at a time and turned into life-size cutouts. They were then positioned against a painted backdrop. "The photos are part of a larger moment," Wegman says. "They're theatrical, like they are magically suspended."

The sets were constructed over a period of eight weeks by a crew in New York, then trucked to Los Angeles, where Saks' window dressing team installed them in the store in a week.

In one of the six scenes, two dogs are busy baking in a kitchen. One, dressed in a wool sweater, flannel skirt and apron, is holding a rolling pin. The other, dressed in plaid pajama bottoms and big sweater, is watching.

Another depicts two dogs asleep as purple and raspberry colored sugarplum fairies dance over their heads. Cartoon-type bubbles above each dog contain videos showing the pooches dreaming about Christmas, having snowball fights, making a snowman and tobogganing.

"There is sort of a play on the traditional," Wegman said. "You don't have snow and pine trees. It's a New England phenomenon. Christmas as a Hallmark [card] is not L.A."

Wegman will sign books on Dec. 2, his 57th birthday, from 2 to 3 p.m. at Saks, 9600 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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