Indulgence runs rampant in the designer section of Firenze where the window displays are less about the variety of items and more about artistic sensibilities. Frivolous, extravagant, and often totally over the top, the designer store windows deliver a message to a different audience. It’s not about the color, the fit, the elegant fabrics, the bling, the avant garde coolness, or the sleek silhouette – that’s expected and left to the designer. They are crafted to satisfy the inner need of the buyer by connecting them with a higher reality shared by others who favor the label.
At these windows, the viewer already recognizes the label, has intentions to enter and buy, and has fully developed expectations of the brand. Unlike the windows in the tourist area which are packed with selections begging the tourist to part with their money, the designer windows near Via de Tornabouni and Via della Vigna Nuova are about fashion – they’re formulated to reach deep into the buyers psyche. The windows sell a sense of self-indulgence – of how it makes you feel to own and wear the item, and that feeling starts long before you ever try it on. The purpose of these window displays is not to influence a buying decision, but rather to reinforce the essence of the brand, which provides the reason to buy. The windows are fleeting and fluid sculptural installations that capture the impression of the fashion season of a designer without forcing the viewer commit to a lifetime of acceptance as one does with an old masters work in a museum. One striking window has huge gold frames with life size photos of a handsome man and a sexy model-type female. The massive snapshot plays out the real life story of the stationary mannequins.
The cobbles on these streets are more familiar with the soles of leather bottom designer shoes rather than rubber of mass produced tennis shoes. The people shopping here are not the tourists with water bottles, zip-off pant legs, a travel book or street map in hand, and long fabric shoulder bags that resemble horse feed bags, purchased from the local street vendor. The fashion shoppers in this part of town are women and men who travel with a posse, an entourage, a companion, and charge accounts without plastic cards. They stay the afternoon as if visiting a museum and leave with logo bags of tissued treasures, which may or may not reach their hotel before the purchases delivered to their suites later in the day by a uniformed messenger. I see a man in linen pants sitting at an outdoor café next to a designer store. The café and the store have the same name. He alternates drinking wine and talking on his cell phone when I notice he is distracted by something in the store window. A woman models outfits from inside the store. Most get a thumbs-up. He is happy outside sipping wine.
I stand for an unusually long time staring into a window, fascinated by the open books applied to a wall and ceiling as a backdrop. In front of the book wall is a rack of warm winter jackets and scarves. On the floor below sit an array of sturdy boots, some with lined with sheep skin. I think of my friend Cathy and how she was appalled at the burning of the books in Fahrenheit 451. In the movie, all books are destined to be destroyed. The book-loving characters each select their favorite book to memorize and became that book for eternity. They walk through the woods all bundled up reciting their books to ensure that even after their book is found and burned, the words will live on through the spoken word. The display of coats and boots in this window seem far too warm for today’s 96 degrees, but offer just the right costuming for the characters in Ray Bradbury's controversial futuristic novel. I can’t help but wonder if I am the only person who made this connection between the window and the book, and if, in fact, the connection is correct.
Earlier this morning, I came to this fashionista part of town to shoot photos before the sun hit the windows. I watched dressers fill a life size box on wheels with metallic globe shaped decor like giant Christmas balls and then push the box flush to the street side window. I was only slightly disillusioned to see that the window display was actually a box display pushed up against a window, one I suppose that could be turned around to become a flat wall against the window and a box display opening to the interior of the store, or for that matter rolled around the store to create a free standing wall. However clever the mechanics of the window box, it dampened some of the magic retained from the Macy’s, Gumps, and Neiman Marcus authentic display windows.Easily amused, I walk down the street in search of another “can’t take my eyes off of it” window. One elevated window has a white female mannequin wearing a short skirt with her legs splayed and sitting on a park bench. Like the nude men on pedestals in the Uffizi, you can watch a sea of heads bob up-and-down and turn to catch a peek up the white resin mannequin’s skirt. Her white mannequin girlfriend reclines on the astro turf grass wearing gold glitter pumps, with her leather handbag and a second pair of gold glitter pumps resting on a plastic boulder. Photos are intermixed with props confusing the already altered state of reality. As if not odd enough, somewhere in uncharted territory, reality and fantasy meet to offer up an even stranger experience. At different times of day, the reflections from centuries old buildings invade the designer showcase windows adding yet another surreal dimension to the unusual displays – look close as the soul of Firenze sneaks into bed with high fashion.