London is a city of institutions, from the Tower’s ravens to those guys who dress as yoda and pretend to hover over Trafalgar Square (look carefully at his arm, it’s a metal stand). But even in a world where traditions and institutions are two-a-penny, Claridge’s Christmas tree stands tall – an annual celebration of design and beauty. And we never needed it more.
And once again there’s a new tree, thanks to Kally Ellis, the founder of celeb florist McQueen’s. As each year, it’s there plonked in the middle of the hotel’s foyer, for all to see in the arc of the grand staircase, with the official plonking ceremony taking place at the same time each year, and this time, as ever, it’s something special.
So we’ve taken a moment to whisk you back over the years to see some of the best trees the iconic hotel has treated us to…
202o – Kally Ellis for McQueen’s
Florist and McQueen’s founder Kally Ellis is back! Rounding off the most tumultuous year in recent history, 2020’s tree was inspired by the roaring (19)20s and intended as a nod to post first world war hope and happiness.
The design, dripping in over 10,000 crystals and glass pendants, is more etherial than her 2012 tree (scroll down and keep going) and echoes the Art Deco styling that Claridge’s is famed for.
2020's tree was inspired by the roaring (19)20s and intended as a nod to post first world war hope and happiness...
If you’re in need of a dose of normality, the tree will be on show over the Christmas season and is well worth a visit.
2019 – Christian Louboutin
The ‘King of Shoes’ proved that he’s got more to offer than high heels and blisters by lending his brand and creativity to Claridge’s for the 2019 tree.
Christian Louboutin, a long-time fan of the Mayfair hotel, unveiled The Loubi Express, a glittering red train stationed in the hotel’s black and white checkered lobby.
And, of course, the train was glistening in the signature Louboutin red of his shoes’ soles (before you’ve worn them once and it’s all disappointingly worn off) and you’re just left with damaged £500 heels…
There was an immersive element too, guests could book in for cocktails and canapés aboard the carriage. And for the tree, it was one of Claridge’s tallest, topped with a glorious twinkling golden crown and surrounded by smaller trees toppled with ‘snow’.
2018 – Diane von Furstenberg
So the first thing you’ll probably notice about Diane von Furstenberg’s tree is that it’s not exactly a Christmas tree in the true conifer sense.
But then it’s not got tinsel or a fairy either, so perhaps we’re on an artistic plane above all that. The tree, dubbed ‘Tree of Life’, DVF’s tree is surrounded by a number of sculptures, a deer representing gentleness, a peacock for beauty and a sleeping mouse, meant to symbolise curiosity (we had mice once, they got curious in my jumper drawer so I poisoned them all. I think von Furstenberg and I may have a different approach to mice). There’s an owl in there too.
The 18-foot sculptural tree has an eery blue iridescent lustre and shimmer (a bit like the loos in McDonald’s), and the beauty continues across over 8,000 hand-painted silver-leafed leaves, glass spheres and 150 hand-blown glass hearts.
2017 – Karl Lagerfeld
So this one is my absolute fave, because it’s a Christmas tree, but upside down. Even my limited artistic appreciation gets that joke.
The creation of fashion world icon, oddball Bond-villain and sadly now dead Karl Lagerfeld, 2017’s tree was spectacular even by Claridge’s Christmas tree standards.
Don’t try this at home unless you want to spend December hoovering up pine needles...
Apparently inspired by Lagerfeld’s childhood memories (presumably he grew up in Australia), the 16-foot inverted tree, roots and all, was topped off with a large mirrored star.
Sheepskin rugs (Icelandic, no less) were strewn at the base to suggest recent snowfall. I totally love it, but don’t try this at home unless you want to spend December hoovering up pine needles.
2016 – Sir Jony Ive & Marc Newson
Jony Ive is the Chief Design Officer at Apple and has basically designed everything from your laptop to the phone in your pocket so when he stepped forward to design the Claridge’s tree presumably there was only one stipulation: make sure the battery doesn’t randomly die at around 4pm.
A collaboration between Ive and Marc Newson, along with set designer Michael Howells, they created more than just a tree (in fact ‘tree’ wasn’t even on the roll call), but an immersive experience.
Their series of 12-foot high light boxes, along with cast models of Scots pine was innovative and incredibly pretty.
2015 – Christopher Bailey for Burberry
Despite being a British institution, until 2015 Claridge’s hadn’t had their tree designed by a British designer yet (this is their official line, at least, but seems to overlook John Galliano, perhaps it’s because he did it for Dior or because he was still persona non grata).
Either way, they put that all right by bringing in mac and Essex baseball cap specialists Burberry, and their then-CEO Christopher Bailey.
And the man credited with taking the British fashion brand global celebrated our culture in the only way possible: with brollies. 100 of them, each one finished in bespoke gold and silver metallic fabric. And excitingly (geek alert) each one was laden with thousands of motion-sensor lights, each programmed to sparkle as guests walked by. Pretty cool, huh?
2014 – Dolce & Gabbana
Finally, a proper tree, am I right? This time Dolce and Gabbana were taking on the Claridge’s Christmas Tree mantle and the result was, for once, an unambigiously Christmassy Christmas tree! Even Kylie (pictured) was wowed!
They had a far less disturbed childhood than Karl Largerfeld...
Proving they had a far less disturbed childhood than Karl Largerfeld, the tree was inspired by their memories growing up and aimed to celebrate ‘children of the world’.
2013 – Dolce & Gabbana (again)
It’s Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana again (technically not again, because we’re traversing time backward, so really last time was ‘again’. But that would have confused you. And me. In fact I’m now really puzzled…).
2013 saw the duo celebrate their Sicilian heritage. No, it wasn’t paid for by the mafia, but the 21-foot tree was covered in more than 450 hand-blown Italian glass baubles and a bespoke ‘luminarie’ framework and a base that featured 30 hand crafted Sicilian marionettes.
2012 – Kally Ellis of McQueens
Florist Kally Ellis, foudner of McQueens, was responsible for “Forest Murmurs”, a rather exquisite tree that wouldn’t be her last.
Studded with crystal and emerald jewel eggs in white, gold and silver...
The creation featured magnolia branches and lichen moss and was studded with crystal and emerald jewel eggs in white, gold and silver which was meant to reflect the art deco beauty of the iconic hotel (they all say this, if you hadn’t clocked).
2011 – Alber Elbaz for Lanvin
The former creative director at Lanvin put 2011’s tree together, intended as ‘a dreamworld of colour and fantasy’ (isn’t that all Christmas trees?).
Perhaps the most bizarre aspect was the traditional angel...
Perhaps the most bizarre aspect was the traditional angel, which wasn’t very traditional at all but instead Elbaz had, ever the humble, substituted it for a silk figurine of himself, complete with his trademark bowtie and glasses.
2010 – John Galliano for Dior (Again)
John Galliano’s 2010 tree, his second, has the dubious accolade of being one of the last projects he worked on before his bizarre career curtailing anti-semitic outbursts.
And the question that’s probably on your lips is: ‘But what is it?’ The unsatisfactory answer is ‘Um, I think it’s an ‘under the sea’ themed Christmas tree’.
Replete with the traditional festive jellyfish (so often overlooked from the nativity story), this is probably the most outlandish one yet.
And the question that’s probably on your lips is: 'But what is it?'...
2009 – John Galliano for Dior
And this is where it all began. 2009 was the first year that Claridge’s decided to go with a famous designer for their Christmas tree.
They plumped for Dior star John Galliano who set the standard that subsequent designers who would follow. His haunting twist on tradition was a tropical tree along with a snow leopard, dragon flies and parrots, which, according to Claridge’s, is ‘echoing Claridge’s art deco surroundings’.
They don’t go on to reveal how many snow leopards are prowling round the hotel on a daily basis, but we’re guessing its in the low 10s…
And that’s your lot. Do go and see the tree while it’s still standing. You can always slip in and just have a browse (go in the front doors and turn right. If you think the doorman’s onto you, keep walking past, keeping the tree to your right, and the loos are beyond the next set of doors…)