Harvey Nichols's windows are, famously, absolutely fabulous.
IT ALL started here: Harvey Nichols, undisputed master of the art of window dressing, found its latest fenestral inspiration in the Sunday Review - when, last September, 34-year-old artist and illustrator Paul Davis sketched out his winter predictions for our fashion pages. His naive, colourful drawings were spotted by Mary Portas, then marketing director at the Knightsbridge store; a few days later she was on the phone to Davis, asking him to create an 11-window display.

That call - whose unofficial brief was "it shouldn't be art wank, you know, it's about people enjoying our menswear floor" - was the beginning of Davis's seven-month stint of story-boarding, drawing, painting, lifting, carrying, and starting over again. A window "scheme" takes months to prepare - right now, for example, Harvey Nichols's in-house team are planning their Christmas display. Davis's first sketches took shape while travelling on the London Underground. "I enlarged my drawings on a photocopier, and blew them up to giant proportions with a projector - but my studio wasn't big enough to paint the images," he says. So he decamped to a 3,000sqft studio in east London and, with the help of fellow artists Tony, Jock and Spud, set to work. "I've never worked on such a large scale before, but it was easy once I got the hang of it."

Davis's windows are designed to promote the expansion of Harvey Nichols's contemporary menswear department - a successful money-spinner since it opened last March. Sales of cutting-edge fashion for men have shot up 71 per cent over the last two years, twice the growth rate of the company overall. The popularity of men's clothes has been a revelation to the store, which only a few years ago believed its core male customer to be merely the tag-along husband of the classic, glamorous, AbFab female shopaholic. Now it has realised that Harvey Nichols man is just as demanding as any woman - he wants to smell sexy, use the best cosmetics, and be a bit of a sex-god (in a quirky, cool, understated way, of course). Who better to portray this image than Davis? After all, he's just the kind of man Harvey Nichols hopes will buy its clothes.

His finished window displays were finally unveiled last week. They feature, among other things, 8ft-high paintings of naked men holding their genitalia and saying they "desire" the underwear worn by male mannequins; a top- flight businessman, bearing the tag "Captain of Industry", who can't decide what to wear; and a still-life in praise of the classic men's loafer. "I wanted to come up with a way to show men's clothes, but in context with mens' lives, using these huge painted images," says Davis. "The whole project has been great fun - like having the ultimate gallery space." A good point - his work is likely to be seen by tens of thousands of passers- by in the next month.

Davis has already spent a few hours standing on the street, gathering the opinion of pavement critics and fashion fans alike. Reactions have been mixed. "One old dear with a Pekinese called it 'heinous'; but most look, point, laugh and walk on, giggling. Which is just what I wanted to achieve."

Sections of the display by Paul Davis will move on to Harvey Nichols's Leeds branch in mid-May. Davis's work, in the form of an 80ft mural, can also be seen outside Sir Terence Conran's new Bluebird restaurant in SW3.

Windows of opportunity: in his studio, artist Paul Davis tries out the position shop dummies will eventually take in the 'Captain of Industry' display (bottom left); making a few final adjustments as the store's new 'Knightsbridge front' is unveiled (bottom centre)

Centre left: white loafer with etched 'S', pounds 130, by Oliver Sweeney. Above: orange shirt, pounds 115, and grey suit, pounds 635, both by Paul Smith; print tie, pounds 40, by Victor Victoria. Below: tan and blue stripey shirt, pounds 240, and tan suit, pounds 725, both by Dolce & Gabbana

This column, from top: stripey top, pounds 185, by Missoni; red socks, pounds 15, by Armani; orange shirt and grey suit by Paul Smith, as before; pale blue jumper with stripes, pounds 140, by Dolce & Gabbana. All from a selection at Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge, London SW3 (0171 235 5000) and 107-111 Briggate, Leeds (0113 204 8888)

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