Give Simon Doonan a window, a cause and enough chicken wire and he can turn nearly any storefront into a retail wonderland. That’s exactly what happened when Pay Pal (yes, Pay Pal) asked the fashion expert and creative ambassador at large of Barney’s to design windows for its new brick-and-mortar showroom in New York City.
Pay Pal, the service that makes it easy to pay for things on eBay or donate to Occupy Wall Street over the Internet, has set up a real, live store to demonstrate how its features can be used in the traditional retail space — stores like Barney’s where Doonan has worked since he was a teenager. The company will use its space at 174 Hudson Street to pitch retailers on ushering in the future of shopping: things like letting customers use the phone and pin numbers associated with their Pay Pal accounts to make electronic purchases — handy if you ever happen to misplace your wallet and need to buy something fast.
Doonan’s job was to make the store look as festive as anything on Fifth Avenue during the holidays, and he delivered. He clad the windows in miles of ribbon and chiffon in Pay Pal’s signature blue, and bought box after box of wooden artist’s models in varying sizes to represent “the hundred million people that use Pay Pal,” Doonan said. “I think we bought a hundred million of these for the installation.”
So if a hundred million people are buying things online through Pay Pal, does that mean traditional retailers — who see less and less foot traffic every day — have to worry about keeping their doors open? Doonan says no, so long as they don’t resist change.
“I think this is a period where we as retailers have to be incredibly nimble. All bets are off,” he said. “I remember five years ago, someone said to me, ‘Maybe one day people will shop on their phones,’ and I said ‘That’s insane.’ And now it’s quite normal.”
But his windows in the space are anything but — just as retailers have to be nimble to get business, Doonan says his windows have to be a little out there to get people’s attention.
“I’m always looking for an unconventional way to do holiday. So here’s a wreath, which is essentially conventional, but what can you do with a wreath that makes it unconventional?” he said, standing outside of the store looking at the windows. “You don’t have to deviate from the iconography. You can do sleighs, you can do wreaths, you can do garlands, but how can you do them differently? You can do that at home. You can make yourself a wreath but make it out of old tin cans and reflective things, found objects, things that are readily available. At Barney’s we’ve made reindeer out of old Coke cans.”
It’s that kind of thinking that’s kept successful retail operations alive, Doonan says.
“You have to get involved, otherwise you do end up like Whistler’s Mother, sitting there knitting and watching it all unfurl and having less and less of an understanding of it.”