The Barneys Experiment: Live Subjects Under Glass

Simon Doonan is taking this week off so that he can prepare the Barneys (his daytime employer) holiday windows. Between Nov. 17 and New Year’s Eve, he’s got human beings posing inside them, making a kind of human tableaux on Madison Avenue.

“Earlier this year,” he said, “I thought, the whole world’s gone memorabilia mad, buying crap on eBay-and invariably, people have a favorite decade. So we put one couple from the 40′s, 50′s, 60′s, 70′s, 80′s in each window. Years ago, in the 70′s, I lived in Los Angeles, and I got the idea from a billboard on Sunset Boulevard. People were living on it; they slept in sleeping bags, and whoever stayed the longest got a big contract with a Hollywood studio.

“We put them in the windows at Barneys Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, the big nights for late-night shopping. They’re allowed to leave for bathroom breaks and important family occasions. We did a cattle call at F.I.T. But only women showed up! So we decided to just dress five women in drag. The girls are so enthusiastic, I’m about ready to turn straight. The temptation was to have them do the sleaziest thing from each decade-boozing in the 40′s, lines of coke in the 80′s. But I’ve had to rein myself in and make it holiday-appropriate, very bouncy and wholesome.

“Actually, the 80′s window was the hardest to figure out. We thought chintz would fit in-remember the Mortimer’s girls! Window shoppers can vote for their favorite live couple. The winners will get $2,000 towards tuition. The family of the Cornelia Guest look-alike, we heard, was stuffing the ballot box.

“In between installing the windows, I’ve been running around town pulling together a gift guide-for you. So please hang on until next week’s column: “How to Use Holiday Gifts as Weapons of Interpersonal Combat.” And check out the bar in the 40′s window, please-it’s the only one in town where the mannequins are mixing a Manhattan!”