Inside story: Meet the women who buy Christmas

It may come but once a year, yet for some it’s a 52-week job. From choosing how twinkly our trees will be to what styles of bauble will be hot, the women in charge of finessing our festivities share their seasonal secrets. 

Liberty’s Christmas emporium is famous for its full-on festive-ness
Liberty’s Christmas emporium is famous for its full-on festive-ness

Senior home buyer Julie Hassan is known as Liberty’s ‘Mrs Christmas’. She started at the store as a Christmas temp in 1981 and has been responsible for its famous festive fourth-floor emporium for the past 30 years.

We start planning Christmas for the following year on 27 December. We travel to all the big trade shows in countries such as Germany and I also work with craftspeople in India to create unique designs.

The colours and themes change each year so there’s always something new. This year there’s a carnival feel with pineapples and flamingos; there also seems to be a lot of dogs, cats and fish. We make sure there’s something for every budget, taste and tradition.

Alongside the wackier collectibles, we always do versions of Liberty’s iconic peacock and the store building to make great mementos of a visit to London. I love how people plan a trip to London for the day just to see the Liberty Christmas floor. Once someone proposed to his girlfriend, complete with a choir, because it’s her favourite place.

It's a ten-day job to haul the decs and deck the halls at Liberty
  It’s a ten-day job to haul the decs and deck the halls at Liberty

The Christmas department takes about ten days to set up – it’s like a military operation, with more than 100,000 baubles to be hung in specially made displays, all colour-coordinated, as well as crackers, chocolate, sweets, gifts, cards and games.

With its lovely Tudor beams and fireplace, the fourth floor is the most magical place to be. Every morning I step out of the lift and it takes my breath away.

JULIE’S TOP TREE DECORATIONS

Cactus, £24.95, libertylondon.com

Flamingo, £19.95, libertylondon.com

Cactus, £24.95; flamingo, £19.95, both libertylondon.com

Skull, £12.95, libertylondon.com
Rainbow, £12.95, libertylondon.com

Skull, £12.95; rainbow, £12.95, both libertylondon.com

The White Company’s cool, calm take on Christmas
The White Company’s cool, calm take on Christmas

THE CLASSICIST

Poppy Barton 

Poppy Barton

It is no surprise that for Poppy Barton, home seasonal buyer for luxury lifestyle brand The White Company, the aim is to deliver the best ideas and inspiration for achieving ‘the perfect white Christmas’. After graduating in textiles design from the University of Brighton in 2010, Poppy joined Laura Ashley before moving to The White Company in 2016, working on home fragrance and then on Christmas.

Christmas is the most magical time, so we try to think of everything people will need to create a stylish haven away from the festive chaos, and to make the festivities as smooth and stress-free as possible.

Our outdoor trees come set up with lights, we’ve hunted down the perfect carving board and designed the prettiest champagne coupes inspired by a set of vintage ones we found in a country market.

Each year we plan 12 to 18 months ahead, scouring the world – from Copenhagen to New York and Paris – for unusual pieces, as well as sourcing at craft fairs and markets in the UK.

With themes such as classic elegance, Highland escape and cosy chic, we like to create products that can be used in different ways, such as mini-decorations (pine cones, glittery acorns and ‘mercury’-finished baubles) set in beautiful bottles. You can use the decorations as gift ties, as baubles on the tree or arranged in bowls – and then reuse the jars to display treats. We want to make Christmas sparkle.

POPPY’S TOP PICKS THIS SEASON

Nordic star decoration, £35

Candle holder, from £20

Nordic star decoration, £35; candle holder, from £20, both thewhitecompany.com

Champagne coupe, £35 for four

Mini pine cone tree decorations, £10 for ten

Champagne coupe, £35 for four; mini pine cone tree decorations, £10 for ten, both thewhitecompany.com

This year’s Christmas look at H&M is ‘simple and pared-back’
This year’s Christmas look at H&M is ‘simple and pared-back’

THE MODERNIST

Kelly Harrington

Kelly Harrington

A textiles design graduate from Loughborough University, Kelly Harrington has been a multitasking whiz for H&M in London since joining in 2002. She now oversees the company’s UK Trend & Forecast team (supporting everything from womenswear to home), curates the vintage archive in Stockholm and designs many of the graphics and prints used across every department, including the Swedish fashion brand’s Christmas home collection.

 The traditional clean Scandi vibe is always our focus for H&M’s Christmas collections – emulating the Danish feeling of hygge or the Swedish idea of lagom.

I know in my own home at Christmas I like to change the mood every year with different decorations, table settings, cushions and throws.

At H&M we create inexpensive accessories – great table runners or glass bottles you can use again – that help people give their homes a little Christmas elegance. The look is a bit traditional, a bit modern – simple and pared-back with a white, green and red colour palette.

We start planning our collections up to a year and a half in advance, taking inspiration from our travels – maybe a vintage dress from a flea market or an old French label design.

We aim for cosiness – we always include lots of cute cushions and blankets to lend that wintry, warm feeling. Pieces such as the star-shaped wooden trays also give a rustic edge; they feel as though they’ve come straight from the forest.

KELLY’S TOP PICKS THIS SEASON 

Vase, £12.99

Table runner, £8.99

Vase, £12.99; table runner, £8.99, both hm.com

Faux-fur blanket, £59.99, hm.com
Cushion cover, £3.99, hm.com

Faux-fur blanket, £59.99; cushion cover, £3.99, both hm.com

  • All available from H&M, hm.com
German artisan decorations inspire Gisela Graham’s festive collections
German artisan decorations inspire Gisela Graham’s festive collections

THE TRADITIONALIST

Gisela Graham

Gisela Graham

For almost 30 years, German-born, London-based Gisela Graham has been the leading lady of Christmas, creating her own collections as well as supplying the UK and Europe’s luxury department and high-street stores with everything you need to decorate the house for the festive season, from baubles to lights, snow globes to wreaths.

 When I was a child, my father wanted me to follow in his footsteps as a lawyer, but all I wanted to do was make things and open my own shop.

I started my business from my kitchen table with a loan of £27 when my children were small.

In the early days I remember ferrying components and paint back and forth to outworkers around London in my car, usually with a child in the back seat. Terence Conran [of Habitat and The Conran Shop] was one of my first customers.

Then and now, I’ve tried to capture the same sense I remember my family having for the traditional wooden decorations we collected as I was growing up.

Made by artisans in the Erzgebirge region of Germany, they were very precious and every year we’d buy just one or two to add to our collection. I love hearing about people collecting my decorations in the same way.

Each year is completely different, with over 2,000 new designs, but with a traditional feel – fairy tales and classic festive stories, angels, forest creatures and nutcrackers are always an inspiration.

GISELA’S TOP TREE DECORATIONS  

Santa, £11.99, both giselagraham.co.uk
Bauble, £4.50, giselagraham.co.uk

Santa, £11.99; bauble, £4.50, both giselagraham.co.uk

Post box, £8.99, giselagraham.co.uk

Angel, £13.99, giselagraham.co.uk

Post box, £8.99; angel, £13.99, both giselagraham.co.uk