You might not know the name Gayle Maccia, but if you’ve ever strolled down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, you probably have admired her work. Currently principal of The Style Ranger in San Francisco, Maccia and her display creativity have been in demand from such tony Manhattan retailers as Bergdorf Goodman, Barney’s New York, Ralph Lauren, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Escada.
“Display is expensive – which is why it is a dying art – but it really works,” she explains. “Smaller stores can create windows with a lot of impact; it’s just a matter of understanding the techniques that the big retailers know,” she adds.
The first step for a lighting or home accent store is to know your market and set a budget for display. “Even if you can only change out your window five times a year, as long as it is visually impactful, it will work,” Maccia advises.
Ultimately, the goal of a good display window is to engage customers while highlighting specific products. “It all begins with the merchandise,” she comments. “If you have a diverse blend of styles to feature then perhaps keep the window more generic [instead of dramatic] but use humor or clever wit to make a statement. I love the idea of a running game of words for the front window. Get the staff involved and make it fun! When I was the visual manager for the women’s store at Barney’s, I would have everyone bring in something interesting from their weekends. It could be from something they did in New York or anywhere else, perhaps from an event they attended, a page in a magazine that showed an idea they liked, or a photo of something cool they saw. These are the types of things that can create displays with impact,” Maccia notes. “For example one time we had to do a window for Barney’s, but we had run out of budget. I knew I’d have to pull a rabbit out of my hat! It was around Valentine’s Day and we took empty wrappers from snacks like Cheetos® and Fritos®, crumpled them up, and hot-glued them onto foam-board that we cut into a giant heart with Christmas lights on the perimeter,” she recalls. “Then we lit the window very dramatically. It was a success! In fact, a woman asked if we were selling the hearts!”
Try to approach your store from the consumer’s point of view. “It’s all about capturing the attention of the market that walks and – don’t forget – drives past your store,” Macchia says. “A successful window not only looks good up close, but from afar. After arranging a front window, I’d typically run across the street to see how it looked from there. Because I am height-deprived (5’2″), I also look at the display (whether it’s an interior vignette or a front window) while on a ladder to see it from a tall person’s point of view,” she adds.
If you don’t have a lot of money to allocate to displays, Maccia encourages retailers to consider strategic partnerships. “This is done often with the big stores. Small retailers should take note and develop relationships with other local retailers and team up,” she remarks. “It’s especially helpful in a bad economy and is a way to become a part of the community and support local markets.”
In the case of a masculine display she did that featured a motorcycle as a prop, Maccia recommends approaching a dealership in the area to loan you a cycle in exchange for credits in the window. “This serves as another source for the other company to enjoy exposure in a different location than it normally draws from. It’s also a great method for building community,” she says, adding, “When it comes to finding access to expensive props, you need imagination and a resourceful nature.”
September is the perfect time to create a Back to School-themed window. “I think the words in your head that you begin with are important when creating a display,” she says. For a lighting store, she muses about how important its products are for reading and education. After selecting the specific task lamps and lighting fixtures you want to highlight in the window, it’s time to think of props and backgrounds that underscore that message.
“How about using maps for the back wall,” Maccia suggests. “They can be made to look old by tea-staining the paper and with a careful burn on the edges. This would seem to be a more upscale look for lighting and furniture and be in keeping with learning and education.”
Perhaps go to the local thrift store and buy lots and lots of books, she advises. “Buy them in all sizes – big and small – and make a giant pile of books. They can be covered in paper bags to look generic or kept in the form they are already in for vintage appeal,” Maccia states. “Pile them on side tables that you have for sale or create a wall of books by tying them up in bundles with brown paper wrap in a way that subtly implies the back-to-school theme.”
As a finishing touch, Maccia suggests quoting a famous author on the window glass. “Handpaint the words for a fun look, or have the words printed on vinyl for use on glass. Remember, the words need to go inside the glass window, not outside where people can alter it,” she warns.
Finally, Maccia’s rule of thumb is to utilize three props or elements. “Odd number work best; take my advice on that! I prefer using three, and that third element is where I try to be funny, irreverent, or intellectually interesting,” she recommends.
Do something unexpected. “Consider hanging just one extraordinary light upside down – from the ceiling – in a display window filled with floor lamps,” Maccia remarks. “Do you see the irony? Hanging a floor lamp from the ceiling is the funny, stops-them-in-their-tracks moment, but intellectually, it also applies as an irreverent twist to the idea of FLOOR lamps. We window dressers are crafty and clever in our designs – at least the really good ones,” she jokes.
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