I Do Windows

Window Dresser v. Fashion Stylist

Posted in Fashion 49, Fashion 54A, Fashion Styling, Learn from the Pros by Arcadia on January 31, 2013

Lately students have been asking which of my two classes should they take?  They can’t decide if they should focus on visuals or styling?  I scratch my head with a bemused look and say why not do both!?!

Some give me an incredulous look and say, “really?”   I reply, “think about it, what’s the difference, between the two jobs?”

A visual person is a stylist ,and stylists do visuals.  I guess most people never really thought about it, but it’s true.  It’s how I can teach both subjects – the skill set is interchangeable.  If you can dress a mannequin, you can dress a model.  If you can prop a window, you can prop a set.  Both employ the principles of design, take loads of creativity, and are hard work.  Sure there are some differences to working in a store, as opposed to a photo shoot, but we are all cut from the same cloth.

I’ve had a few arguments with myself trying to decide which is harder, visuals or styling?  Sometimes visuals win the argument, and sometimes styling.  When doing a store, it’s very physically demanding, but there’s fewer people I have to deal with, as I change out mannequins, set-up interior displays, or do floor sets.  I oftentimes, just follow my store directives and do my thing!  When styling there’s a lot of people on set, but the atmosphere is very fun, jobs are almost always catered, it’s not too physically demanding (unless you are a prop stylist, and working with big items), and you get to play with clothes all day.

Which is more fun?  Only you can answer that.  I don’t really like styling as much as I like building and making things, so visuals win out for me every time!  Yet visuals can get boring if you work for a chain retailer, because you don’t get to be as creative as the old days.  Now you just follow a store directive and almost everything is sent to you to assemble and install.  Freelance projects is when you get to use your own ideas.

Styling still requires your creative skills, as the client is looking to you to bring their idea to life – so this can be really fun!

You will find that lots of visual folk, freelance as stylists, or are repped by an agent for styling work, and some stylists also do the occasional window.  You should too!


Is this a display of bracelets in a jewelry case at a store, or was this image ripped from a magazine?


Is this a makeup display in a cube at a store ,or was this image ripped from a magazine?

For both images above does it matter?  They could have easily been created by either a visual display person or a fashion stylist!

(images via Pinterest)


[FASH 54A] Book Review: Style Yourself

Posted in Book Reviews, Fashion 54A by Arcadia on September 6, 2012

Two weeks ago in class I lectured on fashion research and documenting your ideas with mood boards.  The main point of the lecture was getting you to recognize how important it is for you to be able to speak with a fashion vocabulary. Being a stylist comes with a lot of assumptions, the big one being, you know your stuff about fashion!!!  Most of us do, as we have been obsessing over fashion magazines since we first learned to read, for me it was getting my dad to get me a subscription to the magazine Young Miss (YM) when I was only nine years old!

I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to learn the names and meanings of the parts of a garment.  If your boss tells you to pull blouses with portrait necklines or look for shirts with french cuffs, do you know what she’s talking about?  If not, you need to learn.  Which is why I’m recommending the book Style Yourself.

This book is really not that new, it was published over a year ago, and I thought it was a how-to book for teenage girls on dressing.  The models and stories are all on fashion bloggers.  I didn’t pay this book any attention when it was first released.  A few weeks ago it ended up in my mailbox as a gift.  I finally sat down this weekend and read it.  I use the word “read” loosely, as their isn’t much reading because there are so many pictures.  Having lots of pictures isn’t a bad thing, it’s actually a plus for a book like this, especially since we fashion folk are very visual.

This book pleasantly surprised me.  It is, as I first thought, a how-to for the digital generation, BUT the break down of various parts of a garment make this book a great reference for those who don’t have a merchandising or fashion design background.  There are loads of pictures showing you the name and illustration of everything from tops to bottoms, to accessories.  The bloggers in the book provide inspiration for how they style these various items.

When I finally put this book down I knew I had to recommend it to my students in class who wish to be stylists or work in fashion, but have told me they don’t know much about it.  This is a good jump-start, as I’m sure you’ll realize you know more than you think once you start reading it.




(all images via Rachel Phipps)

Glory Days Fashion Show

Posted in Fashion Schools by Arcadia on May 22, 2012

Art and fashion definitely go hand in hand.  I think we can all agree that’s pretty much what we do as visual merchandisers!  Below is some information sent to me of a local fashion and art showing of one of our local design schools.  If you are in the Bay Area I hope you will support these students and the local talent!


The Bachelor of Science degree students of the Fashion Marketing & Management program of The Art Institute of California, A College of Argosy University, Sunnyvale are presenting “Glory Days” on Saturday, June 9, 2012. This is the first fashion-related show for the Institute since the Sunnyvale location began accepting creative talent in 2008.

“Glory Days” is a production of The “Freedom” Fashion Show & Art Event, which debuts what will become an annual event of fashion, art, and design; revolving around the ideas and images of “freedom”. The event is taking place at 1120 Kifer Road, Sunnyvale, the location of The Art Institute of California, A College of Argosy University, with an agenda that will show case the artistic works of the various programs offered through the creative arts institution.

Doors will open at 11am, beginning with a reception and gallery event of open and juried submissions of art and design work by current and alumni students. In addition, tours of the facilities and information about the institutions programs will be offered. This will be followed by a student produced fashion show at 1pm, which will feature a variety of looks focused on the use of America’s most-iconic, fashion staple – denim.

Viewing of the gallery submissions will be open until 3pm.


Thanks Woody Anthony for sending this in!

Green Windows

Posted in Learn from the Pros, Sustainable Design by Arcadia on September 15, 2011

Just to recap, my 9-to-5  job is as general contractor, and I teach part-time.  How I got into construction was by building window displays which led me to wanting to build bigger and better things.  15 years later I’m a general contractor who builds green (and is still addicted to fashion!).

I got into sustainability when I was joking with my boss on a former job that we could build a whole other house with just the stuff we throw away!  I think we as display artists are kings and queens when it comes to recycling, re-using, refurbishing, renovating and any other “re” words!

When designing a store it is important to focus on the store layout, fixtures, lighting, and storefronts.  It is now becoming equally important to look at sustainable design – Design work that is eco-friendly.  I won’t go into a monologue on the benefits of building green, as I’m sure a few of us are probably suffering from green fatigue because we’ve heard it so much, but whether you are opening a new store or working on your displays it is good to keep it in mind.

Some helpful tips:

I always use low or zero VOC (volatile organic compound) paint and finishes, luckily for those of us here in California almost all of our paint sold in stores meet this requirement.  Benjamin Moore is my favorite, for color choices and quality of paint.

Whenever we need wood for a display or prop I use scrap wood I’ve been saving or reclaimed wood I’ve purchased from my favorite junk yard.  I very rarely use brand new lumber for display work as it does not require the same structural integrity a house would need.

I’m starting to source fixtures from places that specialize in manufacturing fixtures in a sustainable way.  This also forces me to look at new ways of using non-conventional items as fixtures (e.g. barrels, luggage, wine crates,etc….) and come up with new ways to incorporate them into the design plan.  Check out Green Store Inc.

I’m NOT a fan of carpet, but I have installed them for clients, luckily there are some great choices that use renewable materials.  I recently installed FLOR into an office space.  I like this floor covering because you can easily determine how much you want to use.  I use it for a lot of office/retail environments.  Natural linoleum is also a good choice for high-traffic areas.

When your old incandescent light bulbs burn out I hope you are replacing them with CFLs (compact fluorescent light bulbs), and if you have lighting in your cabinets you had LEDs installed.

Do you offer your customers a small discount if they bring their own bags for their purchases?  The Goodwill I shop at does this.

I could preach ad nauseam about this subject as it’s my lively hood, but I won’t bore you.  I am more than happy to answer any questions.  Go Green!!

An email question from a reader

Posted in Q and A by Arcadia on October 6, 2010

Here is a great question from a new reader:

Hi there,

I just stumbled across your blog as I was doing last-minute prep for my interview with Macy’s tomorrow for a Seasonal Visual Associate. I don’t have any formal studies, but have had some creative experiences in merchandising, floral event design, styling and photography as well was retail sales experience.

Just wondering if you have any tips or input on what to expect for the first interview.


Here’s what I wrote back:

Hi J,

Really emphasize your “hands-on” experience in the areas that you mention.  Skills in styling, floral design, etc transfer over into merchandising because you have trained your eye on what looks good and creating optical balance.  Explain what you learned in retail sales, I’m sure you paid attention to how the sales floor was laid out, and which areas are the prime selling areas in the store (It’s always the front).

Visual Merch. and Window Display are “artsy” hands-on jobs.  You can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty or move around store fixtures when called upon.  You need creativity, organizational skills, and good time management, and it doesn’t hurt to be self-motivated.  This is what I tell my students and what I would look for in a potential employee.

I started at Macy’s as a part-time Xmas trimmer as well.  If you have a portfolio showing creative work you’ve done that’s a plus.  When I applied many, many years ago 🙂 – I didn’t get the regular permanent position because of my lack of a portfolio even though I had all kinds of experience.  The guy with the portfolio, who was an artist got the position over me.  The manager called me up a few months later and offered me the seasonal part-time position.  I took it and worked really hard to learn how they did things.  I was the only seasonal trimmer they kept once the holidays was over.

Best of luck to you!


I heard back from J and was told she did not get the seasonal position but was contacted for an interview for a full-time position instead!!  That is wonderful news and I sincerely hopes this works out, as I could tell from our email correspondence J has a real passion for this kind of work!

Design Inspiration – Maison Moschino

Posted in Just Genius by Arcadia on March 7, 2010

Susie over at the blog Stylebubble has posted some amazing photos from her trip to Milan.  She went to visit the Maison Moschino and their hotel is truly inspiring:

I love this use of dress silhouettes as lampshades

Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf!

I will be building this bed shortly!

I actually did a design similar to this in college.

To learn about the hotel go to Hotel Philosophy – Maison Moschino

(All photos are via  Susie at stylebubble.com)

Visual Display Is Needed Everywhere!

Posted in Fashion 49 by Arcadia on February 13, 2010

Students often think window dressing or visual merchandising is for clothing retailers only.  All stores need to display their merchandise.  Can you think of some other establishments where your skills could be put to use?

Here’s a clue for one idea:

But there are so many more…..in fact everywhere!  The skills you acquire doing visual display can be used for interior design, set design, even event planning.  Start looking around as you go about your daily errands and pay attention to the displays you see in the bookstore, grocery store, trade shows, big box retailers.  What looks good and what doesn’t?  The hardest part for me as a teacher is not teaching you about the principles of display:  balance, symmetry, color, etc…..it’s trying to teach someone how to have that “eye” for style and good taste.

Why is it that some people can throw together any outfit and still look good?  Why is it that some interior design work is a mish mash of found objects but still looks well-edited and really pulled together.  I’m sorry kids but having that “eye” is not something that can be taught, but you can train yourself to be able to pick up on what is aesthetically pleasing and what is not.

How you do this is? – by paying attention, everyday to what you see!  I understand beauty is subjective, but good taste is not!  I’ve seen lots of designs that don’t fit my aesthetic but were done really well.  This is why I give you that store study assignment to complete every week.  The only way to learn is by doing.

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