Inside the Job of a Store Window Designer
Store windows are one of those things that you see everywhere but hear very little about. Whether it’s a simpler setup at the front of your favourite mall chain or an elaborate art piece spotted at a fancy department store, we don’t know much about how everything got there in the first place—how much thought and time, for instance, goes into these creations?
Well, it turns out there’s a career centered entirely on making these windows come to life. Commonly called visual merchandising, the job entails the creative and physical development of all three-dimensional store spaces, from the one-off mannequins you see throughout the space to the aforementioned windows.
Curious about what really goes into a job like this (it sounds fun, but complicated!) we decided to speak to an absolute expert in the field, Matthew Mazzucca, the vice president of windows and exteriors at Barneys. Having worked on some of the most famous windows in the business, Mazzucca knows a thing or two about the art of the perfect window display.
Scroll down to find out what goes into creating Barneys' elaborate windows!
What’s an average workday like for you?
On an average workday, we are working on both current and future projects. We have an amazing in-house design and fabrication team that is based in Long Island City, so on any given day, I’ll find myself between our corporate office and the flagship on Madison, or in our design studio there working through mockups and experiments along with current designs. We also do a lot of collaborations with people all over the world, so that can take us to an artist’s studio or location off-site.
How far in advance do you start planning new window designs?
We have a set calendar that outlines [longterm] initiatives and then we have our larger projects, such as holiday, that [we work on over] the course of the year, usually starting before the current holiday project is even finished. Within this timeline, we are constantly adding and interjecting [smaller] design stories that may have really short turnarounds but are equally as exciting.
What do you always keep in mind when planning a new window?
I think we are constantly looking at how to innovate within our designs, whether they are simple graphic treatments or more technical projects that involve mechanics and engineering. Because Barneys works on so many different channels, we always start with the intent of strong design, but then we’ll consider how the ideas will be messaged and where they will live (e.g. print, web, etc.) once completed. The Barneys visual team has such a strong talent pool that is always looking to be challenged, and that [level of] engagement really helps drive the window planning.
Do you have a special place to test out your ideas, or does everything come together for the first time in the actual store window?
We have moved studios to support our growing staff and in-house talent, and within our studio, we have replicated our windows which have the same parameters for install and display. We'll work for weeks looking at the window elements exactly as we do when we install them in our Madison Avenue space. Of course, once we go into final install, certain things [often] need to be changed, but we've come to expect that when we go into our builds.
What are some crucial elements for an appealing store window?
[We believe that at] all our doors, the viewing experience should be different. For Madison, we know we have [a lot of] pedestrian traffic, and that gives the viewer a more intimate opportunity to stop and absorb more information, from the fashion to the design of the window. For other locations, we have to build our designs in a "louder" way to [draw attention to] the store, the design, and our branding. We use so many mediums in addition to the [physical displays], such as custom audio and soundscapes, and custom graphic typefaces/treatments that add a layer of narrative for the viewer.
What’s the hardest part of designing a store window?
I would say the challenge of designing strong windows is to not just rely on technology or other mediums to drive the concept, but to use them seamlessly to create strong, thoughtful work that displays who Barneys is as a brand and highlights the designs/brands that we support.
What have been some of your favourite window projects to work on so far?
Looking back on the past couple years, there have always been windows within our [overall] designs that stand out. We have a fair amount of windows with the same design across [the board], but other times, we'll create completely different environments that [tell a completely different story when looked at together]. Our windows are open for approximately six weeks at a time, and I'm always impressed when we come up with something "unseen" and extremely ambitious that lasts the duration of the project. We’ve made it rain in the window for Chloé, had living fish in a Louboutin fish tank, created custom lava tanks with mineral and glycerin for Proenza Schouler, and featured full human body casts for Prada, all of which we are very proud of. I’ve grown to really like holiday time, too, where we [now] work to bring live performances to the windows. We use the traditional elements of the season that the community [recognises] but try to create new ways of seeing them.