Bah humbug

Design has taken a back seat in a charity event to auction off big business-produced Christmas trees. But it’s OK, it’s for children, says Matthew Valentine.

Christmas comes but once a year. Admittedly, it seems to come a bit earlier every time, but there is still realistically about a four-month period each year when we are not bombarded with Christmas merchandising.

Retailers and marketers the Western world over are now getting well into the swing of things. High streets are awash with neon reindeers. Office party-goers already feel justified in wearing silly hats. Everybody is fed up with the hints they are getting from their spouses or partners. In short, it’s Christmas: in November.

Fortunately for the more sensitive, or Scrooge-like, souls among us, not all Christmas activity is about turning a fast profit.

As we are constantly reminded, Christmas is really about children. It is fitting then that Save the Children is to mount a free-to-enter exhibition of spectacular “designer Christmas trees” this year, each one sponsored by big business. Hard currency for the charity will come from an auction of the exhibits in time for them to be taken to their new homes for the remainder of the festive season.

The exhibition will brighten the windows of bank Coutts & Co on London’s Strand, with free entry for those seeking a closer look from 2-15 December. The trees will be auctioned at a private gala dinner in the presence of Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, attended by a host of charity-loving big nobs and their wallets, the day after they are removed from public view.

Some lucky kids will therefore be able to crow over their less fortunate neighbours with some pretty impressive living room displays. No ratty old artificial trees brought down from the attic and covered in Woolworths baubles for this lot.

There are familiar names involved in the project, all doing their bit for a good cause. Early glimpses of their work suggests Charles Saatchi is unlikely to be among the eventual bidders, though. The designers of these trees have not used the exhibition as an opportunity to push the envelope of design or reshape our perception of Christmas. Instead, they have kept to the spirit of the occasion, and of the charity involved, and created fantasy-like trees to appeal to the child in all of us.

From jewellery group Asprey there is a tree mounted on a working rocking horse, dressed in Ferrari colours, designed by Tom Ellery. Lucky, in a way, the event is for Christmas – even his biggest critics are likely to forgive Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher his recent foul play for a Yuletide charity event.

Bluebird Toys will provide a Polly Pocket Tree featuring one-off creations for its pocket-sized doll range. And Olde-English style toiletries chain Crabtree & Evelyn is going the surreal route, with a “Wonderland-ful” design based on the Mad Hatter’s tea party, by Zo&#235 Harrison.

The most appealing tree is from The Caviar House. Actually made of furniture, it would probably appeal to the Absolutely Fabulous cast as well as children. A drawer full of toys is complemented by plenty of beluga, foie gras and truffles. Just add Bolly for a truly festive experience.

A number of the contributors haven’t actually provided trees at all. David Linley Furniture has produced a dolls house so detailed that each room features real plaster cornicing, and the Festival of Trees Committee has thrown in a miniature Austin Rover J-40 full of toys.

Harrods, meanwhile, is to do exactly as you’d expect, and is supplying a 5ft-tall tree surrounded by “fantastic traditional gifts for children and adults alike”. These will include teddy bears, dolls, kites, drums, and bears.

The Harrods approach seems to sum up the feel of the exhibition. But hopefully harking back to Christmas past will make Christmas future a little more bearable for those it is really for.

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