You need to see this unbelievably spectacular holiday display

This Paris department store feels surreal

By Leah Walker,

Along with the braille system and pasteurization, the department store concept was born in Paris. And although Galeries Lafayette isn’t the original department store, it certainly is the most grand.

This Art Nouveau temple of luxury, with its staircase banister inspired by the nearby Palais Garnier and soaring Neo-Byzantine stained glass dome, is jaw-droppingly beautiful any time of the year, but especially during the holidays.  

Eagerly anticipated by locals and visitors alike, Christmas at Galeries Lafayette is much more than a couple of trees and lights strung around the store. Rather, the planning and production takes nearly one year from start to store. While 2016’s theme of 'An Amazing Arctic Christmas' was thrilling Galeries Lafayette’s guests, 2017’s theme of 'Spectacular! Spectacular!' was taking shape. 

An artist works on conceptual sketches — Photo courtesy of Leah Walker

Beginning in July, at an atelier east of Paris, dozens of artisans were bringing 2017’s conceptual sketches to life. The smell of paint fumes fill the air, while the constant sound of saws buzz in the background. Kitchen sponges are used to craft the ideal finish on building façades, and the perfect amount of glossy paint is applied to create candy apples.

Hundreds of balloons in the shape of stars, candy canes and even cacti are assembled in rows, just waiting for their final flourish of glitter. It’s a massive undertaking, and looking around the organized chaos, it’s difficult to imagine that all of the pieces will come together, creating one of the world’s most famous Christmas traditions.  

A sneak preview of what's to come from the atelier — Photo courtesy of Leah Walker

Imagine the 1920s in Paris, often referred to as 'années folles' (crazy years) in French. This is the Paris of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Marc Chagall and Josephine Baker – a joyful time just after World War I.

Intellectuals gathered in cafés on the Left Bank, jazz poured out of clubs, and Surrealism was at the forefront of the art world. Now, imagine this Paris under the Big Top and that’s the concept behind the 'Spectacular! Spectacular!' theme.

Intended to ignite our childlike imagination, the store’s larger-than-life setting serves as the backdrop for the love story between Pierre the pigeon and Coco the dove. In the delightfully decorated windows along the famed boulevard Haussmann, Pierre and Coco’s story reveals itself.

The window displays alone are worth making the visit — Photo courtesy of Galeries Lafayette

Behind the glass are Paris’ iconic Haussmann buildings, zinc roofs and Eiffel Tower. Parading above the Paris skyline are moving marionettes and classic carnival attractions, such as roller coasters, hot air balloons and Ferris wheels. A soundtrack of barrel organ music helps set the Surrealist-meets-Baroque, Art Deco scene.

The 141-foot tree rises above Galeries Lafayette — Photo courtesy of Galeries Lafayette

Hovering above the ground floor cosmetics counters and rising nearly 141 feet is the always-impressive Christmas tree. Countless colorful mylar balloons cover the cone-shaped structure, with rows of red and blue ribbon creating the base and a giant gold star balloon at the top.

Additional balloons rise and fall from the stained glass cupola like an opulent baby’s mobile. The store’s surrounding four floors of balconies serve as front-row seats to this 'Spectacular! Spectacular!' show. 

From the large carousel presenting the season’s special edition Dream Bags to red and blue lights illuminating mannequin displays, the funfair theme runs throughout Galeries Lafayette. In Galerie des Galeries, a space for art exhibitions, is A Moveable Feast, an exhibition created by Arlène Berceliot Courtin. It's meant to be a celebration of life, as well as a tip-of-the-hat to Ernest Hemingway’s book that recalls life in 1920's Paris.

Climb aboard the virtual reality roller coaster and zip through the mouth of a clown, before passing by the Moulin Rouge windmill and Eiffel Tower. The seats move, replicating a classic wooden roller coaster, and there is a slight breeze, helping bring this fanciful ride to life.

On the famous rooftop terrace, step inside a glass igloo for a drink and a panoramic view of Paris that includes Palais Garnier and the Eiffel Tower

Enjoy panoramic Paris views from the festive rooftop terrace — Photo courtesy of Galeries Lafayette

In Galeries Lafayette Gourmet, the carnival atmosphere continues. Discover exclusive offerings from acclaimed French pastry chefs such as Jean-Paul Hévin, Benoît Castel and Pierre Hermé, who created the 'Spectacular' macaroon. Yann Couvreur has even produced a star-studded version of the Yule log. Throughout the Gourmet store are pop-up stalls filled with savory French Christmas favorites such as foie gras and truffles. 

What would a Big Top theme be without a reference to the innovator of the circus concept? In Galeries Lafayette Homme (menswear) are two windows giving sneak peeks of the feature film, The Greatest Showman.

Set to release in the United States on December 20, The Greatest Showman tells the tale of P.T. Barnum and the birth of show business. Starring Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams and Zac Efron, the music comes from the composers of La La Land and the film is already receiving Oscar buzz. 

Get in the spirit with a visit to this iconic store — Photo courtesy of Galeries Lafayette

Until the end of December, noses will be pressed against the Galeries Lafayette windows along Boulevard Haussmann, and Instagram will be flooded with photos of the vibrant Christmas tree. Thousands will eagerly pour into the grands magasins for a glimpse – and perhaps a bit of shopping.

Meanwhile, in the suburbs of east Paris, the Galeries Lafayette team and artisans are already imagining the theme for Christmas 2018.