Guest Post by Debra Kristi: The Art of Window Dressing

Posted: March 30, 2012 in Art, Guest Posts
Tags: , , , , , ,

I have a super special guest for you guys today! Debra Kristi is here to visit and share one of her fabulous experiences. This is all about fashion and the art of display pieces. Take is away, Debra!


Thank you for having me, Karen. *waves* When Karen first asked me if I would guest blog about art, I wondered what I could possibly say that would be of any interest. She’s had so many interesting posts on some pretty amazing talent, how could I possibly fit? But Karen knows that I come from a family of talent and she seemed determined to squeeze something out of me. Little did she know I’m the less talented of the bunch! *laughs*

Growing up I was surrounded by my mother and grandmother’s rich oil paintings. My mother even went on to teach classes in her soft Impressionist style. I, on the other hand, always preferred to work with pencil or ink, sticking primarily to the black and white hues.

Painting never became my thing, but working with tangible elements that I could move and arrange – that was something I got into. I learned a lot about art over the years. It has a lot to do with placement – where you want the eye to be drawn. Upper right corner is the usual, natural location. I almost always recommend up. And, of course, color palette – will you be using similar colors, complimentary, or strikingly different? The combinations are endless.

A few years after graduating from college with a degree in business (Operations Management), I ventured back into the artistic world, attending the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. It was one of those crazy expensive decisions we sometimes make in life, looking for validation of what we think we know, but are yet unsure. It is a project from this period in my life I thought I’d share today. It’s definitely different from anything Karen has shared with you so far.

Think about walking down 5th Avenue in New York City and taking in all the fabulous window displays. For someone like me, that’s like a six-year-old stepping foot onto Disneyland’s Main Street filled with Disney characters. I bubble over with excitement. Those windows are what visual designers aspire to. Of course, I’m not going to tell you I was the superb designer on any of those beauties. I’ve never even been to New York. But I have created artistic displays in a similar fashion.

My personal taste has always been “less is more.” I don’t like clutter. It confuses the eye, leaving you with no idea where to focus. If your display is a mannequin, be it just one or several, include minimal props. Smaller windows use the same concept, using only a few supporting elements to make the focal items look more attractive.

In 1996 my visual design partner and I got the opportunity to create a window display featuring two 1960’s vintage dresses. We didn’t have much to work with, but I did say less is more. What we had were a couple of blank mannequins. Painted in an old flat white paint, they did little to highlight the dresses and make them pop. Yes, I know. White is good, even great, when you want the focus to be on other things. Yet there are times when you can do better. Our dresses demanded a little more drama and pizzazz. A simple change to flat black alone made a huge difference. The fun little go-go dresses suddenly found new life.

There may have been life, but was it enough? Turning to the dresses for further inspiration, from each of them we pulled out a pattern to wrap around their respective mannequin, pulling color from the dresses in a thin, less conspicuous line. After that, only one more element was needed to give the window a complete look. Oversized chains were added, dropping them down in a clean straight line from the ceiling.

POW! We had the look we were striving for. A simple white backdrop, two nondescript flat black mannequins, a couple of amazing vintage dresses, some foam core, metal hoops, paint and brushes and voila – an eye catching design.

Not many stores take the time to do more than slip an outfit on a mannequin these days. Unless, of course, you’ve made your way to 5th Avenue in New York or some other trendy fashion district. Do you notice when a store designer takes the extra time on a display, be it in the window or on a vignette inside the store? Is it something you’ve ever done or had the desire to try your hand at?


Debra Kristi lives with her husband, two active children, and one White’s Tree Frog. She is currently working on her first Young Adult Fantasy novel, but has many more stories to share. She holds a degree in Operations Management and a Professional Designation in Visual Display and Spatial Design. She graduated from FIDM as Valedictorian, receiving the Niedermaier Merit Award and the special honor of creating the California Student Aid display for the State Capital. When not writing, she is usually building puzzles or Legos with her kids in her free time.

  1. Debra Kristi says:

    Thank you for having me, Karen. I am thrilled to be here! 🙂

  2. I definitely notice when a store designer takes a little bit of extra time, but I’m also the kind of person who will stop dead in her tracks when she sees something beautiful. Some things just need a few extra moments of admiration 🙂

  3. Emma Burcart says:

    Very cool, Debra! I, too, pay attention to the store windows. There is a very shi-shi part of town where I live that has a lot of fancy boutiques. I love to go window shopping there. Sometimes I don’t even need to step inside the store! Just looking at the window display is all need to enjoy my time, and to inspire me with new ways to wear the clothes I already have in my closet. You make window designing sound like such a fun job!

    • Debra Kristi says:

      I do the same thing, as far as looking for fashion inspiration. Store windows can be a great source. Of course, the mannequins never represent a real woman’s figure and the clothes re always pinned in the back so they never look the same on me. 😦

      Window dressing can be a lot of fun! I have done a fair amount of varied designs, all different and they are never anything you would do at home!

  4. Karen McFarland says:

    Oh how I do love this post Debra and Karen! You’re speaking my language Debra! I started off in retail and so I appreciate so much your attention to detail! I love what you did with those mannequins. How creative and refreshing. Most people don’t realize how important the background is to the article you want to display in order for that article to quickly catch the eye! How exciting for you to have had the opportunity to work in this field. I love window dressing! It was just so much fun! You are so talented Debra! I know that your talent will enable you to write a beautiful story! 🙂

    • Karen Rought says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! Weren’t those mannequins just beautiful? I love how they painted bits of the designs from the dresses onto them. It really brought the two together!

    • Debra Kristi says:

      Thank you, Karen! That’s cool that we have that in common. Because the visual didn’t pay much and I had a degree in Business, I ended up managing in retail rather than designing for a while. It wasn’t nearly as fun and they required I work through the holiday. 😛 Needless to say I left. But I met one of my best friends there so it was well worth it. I really appreciate your kind comments. 🙂

  5. So cool! Also great to learn more about you Debra! I definitely pay attention to window displays. I like when there’s a story to see in them. 🙂
    Hi Karen!
    Hope you both have a great weekend!

    • Debra Kristi says:

      The Storybook windows are so much fun! I can stand in front of the windows in Downtown Disney for hours if my family would let me. LOL. There is so much to see. Back when I was still at the institute we would put together entire collections for display. It was a lot of fun. This is part of the 60’s set. One whole floor of the building was like a museum for fine collections. We showed off vintage Hollywood gowns and attire from the turn of the century. It was a lot of fun.

      Thank you, Coleen. I hope your weekend is absolutely fabulous as well. 😀

  6. Fabio Bueno says:

    Oh, Debra and Karen, two of my favorite people together! Yes, please.
    Fascinating view into this art, Debra. I’m design-challenged, so I can just marvel at your eye and your ability.
    Great guest, Karen!

    • Debra Kristi says:

      You’re so sweet Fabio! I suspect you aren’t as design-challenged as you led us to believe. It may simply fall to a lack of confidence. I have faith in you. 😉

  7. So fun to see more of this side of you, Debra! Thanks for making way for it, Karen. 🙂

  8. This was so interesting, Debra. I have no eye for color or design, so I’m totally in awe of your ability to put something like is together. Thanks for sharing this bit of your life!

    • Debra Kristi says:

      Learning to pull things together is probably easier than you think. Thank you for your kind compliment. I’m glad you liked it. 🙂 Thanks for popping in here at Karen’s blog!

  9. tedstrutz says:

    I think I have seen that Debra Kristi girl somewhere before… the plaid blouse with the cutout sleeves and the tousled blond hair seems oddly familiar.

    What a fun post. I often thought it would be exciting to create a department store window. Painting the mannequins black was quite an idea, and the result with the wild dresses and added touches was eye catching. This is what brings buyers into the stores. I bought a blouse for my granddaughter last week, when I saw it in a store window… I’m giving it to her tomorrow night.

    • Karen Rought says:

      Thanks for commenting both on my guest post and this one! I’m sure Debra will pop by with a followup comment, as it seems you two know each other. Hope your granddaughter loves that shirt!

    • Debra Kristi says:

      Hey Ted! Fancy meeting you here. 🙂 Glad you found Karen. She has a great blog. Display/window dressing is a lot of fun. It led me to other things. Eventually we started an annual haunted house. Now that was work! It all comes from the same place, art wise.

      I hope your daughter loves the blouse. I’m sure she will, it’s coming from you after all. 😉

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