Donegal Woman talks to Eilish Kennedy, the creative designer behind the McElhinneys Christmas window.
An enchanted magical forest came to life in Ballybofey last Sunday when McElhinneys unveiled their Christmas window. Children and adults were in awe at the glittering landscape which was filled with woodland animals, peculiar plants and a real, beautiful fairy.
Crowds gathered to marvel at the incredible detail of the window display, and many wondered how it was brought to life. Department stores like Brown Thomas and Arnotts in Dublin are famous for their festive decorations, but Donegal and the surrounding counties have never had such an exhibit.
McElhinneys Creative Designer Eilish Kennedy spoke with Donegal Woman to share the secrets behind the magic.
“The ethos of McElhinneys is built on family, friends and the community. I tried to incorporate a mix of tradition and high-end fashion, and the opening was really all about family and friends coming together on the night,” Eilish said.
Eilish had started planning the concept of her design last Christmas. As the Creative Designer of McElhinneys, she is always attuned to the latest fashion trends throughout the year. Her travels to fashion events in January and February inspired her to choose the woodland theme that is associated with the current folktales style of 2016.
“We went down the road of a magical fairy forest, where two kids at the beginning enter a gate marked ‘No Entry’. They walk into a forest filled where everything is oversized, including giant butterflies and mushrooms,” Eilish said.
It was as early as February when McElhinneys bought the enchanting mushrooms and butterfly decorations. They had been working on adding lights to the features in March.
Eilish was obviously very on-trend with this theme, as other big retailers such as Brown Thomas had created displays with forest creatures too. The famous John Lewis ad campaign this year also had woodland critters.
“The woodland look is a big part of our trends for this season, and I felt people needed to connect with nature.
“I felt this year with so many disasters and so much going on that everyone wanted to go back to basics and back to family values. There is so much technology in today’s world that I felt people needed the simplicity and needed the magic for the kids to believe in.”
“We also added some motion this year, which kids connect to because it seems real to them. We added a big moving dog to bring the theme back to the family,” Eilish said.
On the night the display was unveiled, a real fairy was dressed up to stand in the window. This life-sized fairy proved to be the star attraction.
“The kids wouldn’t let the fairy leave the window! They stayed in front of her and loved the fact that she moved.”
“This was one day for the family to be together, for kids to get lost in the magic and for everyone to forget about technology for a few minutes,” Eilish said.
Santa Claus, a troop of seven local Twin Towns elves and a brass band from Derry brought the festive atmosphere to the opening night. The town centre of Ballybofey was buzzing with Christmas cheer on that cold November evening.
“It was a special day for McElhinneys, a special day for the customers and special day for the community.”
For Eilish and the team, the event was all about sharing something they held great pride in creating. The project called for artists, carpenters, electricians and graphic designers, all of whom already work in McElhinneys.
“Every single person that worked on that window is from the business. We hand-picked the creative people with different skills for the task.”
“We were very lucky that Martin and John McElhinney allow us to express our creativity in this way. The people, the staff and the customers connect to it in a very personal way.”
Looking back on the special night when all their hard work was revealed, Eilish was relieved and delighted to see the impact it had on the community.
“When you see people’s faces on the night, that’s what makes it all worthwhile. For an hour everyone was connecting – kids, parents grandparents and family. Everybody has been saying how it really brought the community together.”
“There’s something really powerful about that. It’s so lovely to see everyone together for an hour, and see them get lost in the magic. We all forget to connect again, it’s in our DNA, and that’s what I’m trying to get people to do – to come back together. That’s when you smile to yourself and say it worked.”
Christmas is a busy time in retail, and for designer Eilish, she has already begun dreaming up her window for next year. That idea, however, will remain a closely-kept secret until Christmas comes around once more.