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The Store Window

Shopping is theater. And the window dresser Simon Doonan, of Barneys, commands the stage.

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Simonized: Simon Doonan in the Cher-themed Barneys Christmas windows.  

When did you fall in love with windows?

I grew up in Reading, England, which was kind of the equivalent of Scranton, and in the fifties, local store windows were a very significant part of the cultural scene in small towns. Because they were free and because there was absolutely bugger-all else to do, they were a major event. I do remember standing on the sidewalk and just gasping, even if it was just some old snowman made out of tissue paper or a stuffed reindeer with one eyeball hanging out on thread. It wasn’t about the tough audience you find now on Madison Avenue.

Are store windows an art form?

No. If they were, it would be a total, raving drag. It’s design, it’s craft, it’s marketing, none of which art should be. People have said to me, “Oh, you’re an artist” because they want to pay you a compliment, but what’s an artist? It’s just another job. Having said that, Gene Moore, the Tiffany’s display legend who died a couple of years ago in his eighties, was sort of an artist. In the fifties and sixties, he collaborated with Warhol and Rauschenberg and his windows verged on art.

What was the most memorable complaint?

When we did Magic Johnson, he agreed we could caricature him, but he said we had to promote safe sex in some way. We found all these gold-wrapped condoms and put them on these little trees, and I thought they looked all nice and twinkly and adorable -- and then the Catholic League launched this whole campaign. By the end of it, the word was that we had used condoms hanging on Christmas trees. People say we do controversial stuff for publicity, but that’s the opposite of what you want going on at Christmas. You want things to be fuzzy and alluring. It’s when the retail world is most competitive, so it’s the last time you want to be pissing people off.


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