Giving shoppers a complex Holidays: New York passers-by aren't sure what to make of Barneys' 'Neurotic Yule' window display. But that's their hang-up.

December 16, 1996|By Ron Dicker | Ron Dicker,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

NEW YORK -- David Rakoff isn't a doctor, but he plays one in a storefront window.

In a town where shopping and psychotherapy are cherished year-round pursuits, Rakoff is helping Barneys celebrate both during the holidays. He portrays the eminent Dr. Sigmund Freud, centerpiece of the tony department store's "Neurotic Yule" display, a multimedia ode to the id that is mesmerizing passers-by.

The scene is the latest in a tradition of nontraditional holiday windows at Barneys. The store's edgy tableaux usually offer a counterpoint to the warm and fuzzy windows of traditionalists like Lord & Taylor. But this year, Barneys' decision to feature patients on a couch instead of kids on Santa's knee seems to have struck a chord of identification among Gothamites.

Crowds at the window, on Madison Avenue between 60th and 61st streets, are sometimes three deep during Rakoff's shift, Saturdays and Sundays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Rakoff's analysis? "The glass is a real separation," he says. "They tend to react as if I'm in a zoo."

Rakoff, 32, bespectacled and sporting the trimmed mustache and beard of the young Freud, sits in a leather chair facing a weathered divan amid all manner of Freudian references. One of seven TV monitors features a chugging locomotive superimposed over sketches of busty women. Another repeats the line, "You remind me of daddy." A third shows a woman's head being rubbed with gel, apparently being prepped for either electroshock or a lobotomy.

Other items include a baby carriage rolling back and forth on a track, a skull hanging sideways from the ceiling, and a chart defining "ego," "super-ego" and "id" -- just in case curious windowshoppers need a quick lesson in the self.

The window's designer, New York commercial artist Josh Gosfield, said he wanted to represent the "whirling, chaotic contents of a person's psyche" with live-theater flourish, even if the doctor and patient are relatively static.

"There's a funny dichotomy with therapy, where nothing's happening, yet it's an incredibly vibrant, active experience," he said.

While "Neurotic Yule" is the big draw this season, Barneys also features six other windows on the theme of forces that have shaped our culture. Gosfield and Barneys creative director Simon Doonan have erected displays celebrating Martin Luther King Jr., Frank Sinatra, blondes, hip-hop, the Beat Generation, and the blues.

Rakoff, the son of a psychiatrist, looks quizzical when asked whether he sees a shrink. "You're asking that of someone who lives in New York City?"

His role as Freud lasts through Sunday (though the window will remain until New Year's Day). "I'm not actually getting money," he explains. "I'm doing it for the sheer material richness."

Rakoff scribbles furiously in a composition book as if taking notes on his patient. He's actually jotting down his experiences for a story he hopes to sell to radio. He's getting plenty of material.

Comedian Billy Crystal stopped by and wouldn't get closer than eight feet from the window. The strangest response came from "one woman [who] stuck her tongue out at me," Rakoff says indignantly. "What kind of a grown woman would stick her tongue out at a person?"

Our time is up. Rakoff balks at a suggestion that someone off the street be enlisted to serve as patient for a photograph. "I'd rather not make crypto-therapeutic chit-chat with a stranger," he says. Just then his friend, Laura Barnett, arrives and takes her place on the couch. Rakoff grabs a pipe to complete the ensemble.

Outside among the onlookers, Diane Rosenkrantz notes the space pedestrians are giving the diorama; few get closer than five feet from the window.

"Maybe it's because it's a performance, and we in New York see performance as sacred," she says.

"You don't want to distract them," says Virginia Fortino, standing a respectful distance back, "but I'm dying to go up there."

Even though for many in the Big Apple, 50 minutes of weekly analysis is as routine as brushing their teeth, Brit-turned-Manhattanite Margaret Albert says Barneys faux Freud won't inspire her to seek counseling.

"I don't feel comfortable doing something like that," Albert says.

Hmmm. Repression. Denial. Freud would have a field day with this one.

Pub Date: 12/14/96

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