In 1961, with the inauguration of its storewide import fairs, Bloomingdale’s commissioned its first series of designer bags to omit the store’s name. The department store became known for its “retail theater,” engaging leading artists, photographers, graphic designers, and fashion designers to create accompanying bags for special promotions.

By the 1980s, Bloomingdale’s pioneered a more elaborate approach to branding by introducing a continuously changing series of shopping bags. Up to five bags were commissioned annually. These quickly came into their own as design objects. The innovation was the brainchild of John Jay, who guided the store’s marketing strategies from 1979 through 1993. For thirteen years, Jay served as Bloomingdale's Creative Director and, later, as its Executive Vice President of Marketing and Creative Services.

Christmas 1982 followed a major promotion of American products at Bloomingdale’s, and the creative team wanted to perpetuate the feeling of Americana for the holiday season. The store selected Karen Jakobsen, a noted folk painter, to depict two different views of the Lexington Avenue storefront at Christmas. The illustrations were not only featured on shopping bags, but were also used in the holiday catalog and sold as posters in the store. The portrayal of the storefront in Jakobsen’s design is a rare exception to the Manhattan skyscrapers, ski slopes, and holiday window shoppers that were typical contemporary Christmas statements for Bloomingdale’s during this decade.

Check out other shopping bags in our 1978 exhibition catalog, Bandboxes and Shopping Bags in the Collection of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum

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