Top UK stylist Katie Longshaw-Pye, who lives in the Ribble Valley, has worked on the renowned Christmas window displays for Harrods in London. Here she shares some of her top seasonal styling tips. Photography: George Ward
We would start working on Harrods’ Christmas World in January,” says Katie Longshaw-Pye recalling her time with the top team of stylists at the famous London store.
“I was known as the Christmas Queen! We would know the current trends and what the buyers were looking at, at the start of the year. A lot goes on behind the scenes – I often think visual merchandising is very much like the fairies have been in overnight!”
“All of a sudden, as if by magic this fabulous scene pops up. I also worked on styling Christmas at the Mandarin Oriental in London. We brought in Christmas trees and garlands – working through the night to make it look fantastic!”
Starting out at Leeds Metropolitan University on an Art and Design course, Katie was part of a team of students who worked on a Celebrating Yorkshire Textiles exhibit at Harvey Nichols.
“They liked it so much it ran for a lot longer than originally planned,” recalls Katie, who has worked as a set stylist and visual merchandiser for some of the biggest names in the UK.
Having left university she went on to work for a large department store in Bolton: “I had to do all the windows over five floors on a minimum budget so I had to be very resourceful. I raided skips and used a lot of spray paint! At the time I was putting a lot on social media and one day I got a call from Harrods asking if I would like to go for an interview.”
“I got the job and started out on the Harrods in-store home interiors team – a dream job! My first day was working on Harrods’ Christmas World – as I recall it had a Russian theme, there was also a life size gingerbread house and log cabins to dress.”
From interiors Katie went on to style and dress Harrods windows: “I thought working in interiors was amazing but working on the windows was a whole new level it would be a lot of people’s dream job!”
“The windows always got lots of attention. We once had an Orient Express theme for the windows – it was called the Harrods Express with 1920s style rail carriages – the windows won ‘Best Christmas Windows’ at the VM Awards. The mannequins told the story. We would go to the wig makers and the people who did the make-up and ask them to style them in a particular way.”
“We would then dress them – often in outfits costing £70,000 or £80,000 – I remember one window in particular where we sat a mannequin on a grand piano doing a high kick, wearing Valentino! That was the first window I worked on as a member of the Harrods’ window team – it was an amazing time.”
Originally from the North West and now living in Whalley, the north beckoned Katie home and she got a job as the creative manager at Selfridges in the Trafford Centre.
“I always regarded Harrods as very traditional while Selfridges is perhaps a bit more ‘out there’ and youthful. They aim for a different audience.”
“I love rolling my sleeves up and climbing up a ladder making, sticking and fixing things, I’m very hands-on. I like the creative side and I enjoyed working on new promotions with my team,” adds Katie, who at that time started looking for a new house to share with her boyfriend, Will.
“I started looking at houses in the Ribble Valley and I saw this one in Whalley with amazing views, and I thought, ‘That’s where I want to live’. But it would have been a long daily commute. I’ve always loved interiors and styling so this gave me the push to set up on my own as freelance and I have never looked back!”
Since setting up as Magpye Creative Katie has worked on many prestigious projects within the interiors industry as well as for private clients who want professional styling within their homes.
“I have worked with one client who wanted me to style their entire home from top to bottom and another who has moved from a five-bedroom house to a two-bed – the whole place has been reorganised and styled to make the best use of the furniture and space available,” adds Katie, who travels throughout the UK with her work.
She styles brands for promotional photographic work and for TV adverts using prop houses as well as adding her own luxurious touches such as flowers or her own collection of props from home.
“I come up with the styling ideas and design the set or source a location – one I am currently working on needs to work from all angles as it’s being filmed for TV so we can’t fake anything. Normally we can move things around to be photographed in different backgrounds and at different angles – I know all the tricks of the trade!”
Having worked on a number of Christmas windows already this year, Katie points out that ‘anything goes’ in a display so long as its eye-catching, fun and beautifully finished: “It’s just coming up with the right idea and knowing how to execute it.”
On top of current festive themes in the home, Katie loves the Scandi-style ‘naturals’ trend including decorative twigs, greenery, natural wood, pine cones and fairy lights.
“Colour is definitely limited to naturals and white and there are lots of little touches that can be added. Having said that people can totally have their own individual style – personally I love gold and I have little skiing mice and gold zebras! I love the unexpected!”