voyage-voyeurism trend: seeking “belonging”

wish you were here

Flash Gordon-inspired window of Bergdorff-Goodman.

I believe the holiday windows of the swanky NYC department store, Bergdorff-Goodman, are a good cultural snapshot, reflecting the mood of America. I’m always eager to interpret what the windows are saying about society… this year, BG’s windows (by David Hoey), titled “Wish You Were Here,” are focused on fantasy travel, far flung places and cartography (yay, maps!).

I’ve noted in various blogs how culture in the US and Europe has been uber-romancing voyage for a few years now (since the recession), illustrated by fashion’s fascination with trunks and aviation.  Previous interpretations of this trend have included the consumer’s:  need to escape via flights of fancy; fascination with discovery and exotica; yearning for simpler times; arrivals and departures, marking an end/start of eras.

However, lately I’ve come to think there’s something else at work in American culture which is driving the voyage-voyeurism trend: pursuit of “belonging.”

“Belonging” means: acceptance as a natural member or part; feeling at home; the state of being accepted and comfortable in a place or group. “Belonging” is a basic existential question that everybody deals with from time to time, if not everyday. “Belonging” becomes more important to us, however, when things “go wrong” with our usual lives. When something challenges our comfortable reality or defies our expectations. Today, we often find ourselves in new realities – new school, new job, new relationship or… new country, any of which demand some reinvention of  “belonging.” I believe the travel/map theme is a cultural metaphor for our voyage in pursuit of belonging somewhere.

vintage futurism

Pegasus window.

BG’s East-facing 5th Avenue windows this year feature a bewildering array of different modes of transportation, with a nod to vintage visions of the future (think: Flash Gordon). Travel takes the form of  the wildly fantastic, yet somewhat comforting familiarity, of a souped-up choo-choo train, cruise ship and hot air balloon.  I found in the window dressings references to both Pegasus and Icarus – reminding us to dream of flight.

These windows remind one of the “other”: foreign customs, peculiar animals, curious floating objects and indecipherable languages.  Like new immigrants to a foreign land, we are forced to wonder how to navigate these strange new places and modes of transport?  Much like the daily struggle to survive in today’s complex and shifting world.

cultural cartography

Homage to map-makers.

BG’s North-facing 58th Street windows this year feature maps, globes, trunks, sextants, gyroscopes and other nostalgic accoutrement of the cartographer, navigating strange new lands… and presumably the cross-roads of fashion.  Orgasmic for me, for obvious reasons.

There’s a decidedly Old World feel to these windows, which feature ancient, incorrect and outdated maps of the heavens and earth. I can’t help but interpret this as a subtle reminder that we – culture – have a long history of misinterpreting reality.  Our world views are constrained by the technology of the times. This is ironic because BG’s windows feature QR codes (an emerging technology that’s a wink to the future, off-setting the Old World window content)… and the QR codes did not work. (I tried in vein to connect my smart phone to the QR codes with several different QR Code Reader Apps. Another disappointing failed use of technology.)

So, all together, this set of windows beg the question, do we even really know the world we live in today?  Is the pursuit of belonging futile? Are we trying to belong in the unknowable… unattainable… or, “un-belongable”?


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