I found this article on nydailynews.com. It’s rare that we get to hear the thoughts behind the process.
11 questions for a Macy’s holiday window master
BY GINA SALAMONE
Thursday, November 13th 2008, 4:00 AM
Paul Olszewski is the man behind Macy’s Herald Square’s legendary holiday windows.
The man behind New Yorkers’ favorite store windows (some 7,000 people go by every hour during the six-week display) lifts the curtain on what’s coming this season.
Job: Macy’s Herald Square director of windows
Hours: Between 60-80+ hours per week, 7 days a week during installation of holiday windows
Time on the job: Four years
The theme for this year’s holiday windows, officially being unveiled on Nov. 23, is “Believe.” What inspired it?
It’s the campaign for the whole company’s charitable event. For every letter that is written to Santa Claus and put into one of our mailboxes in our stores, we donate a dollar to the Make-A-Wish Foundation (which grants wishes to chronically sick kids) – up to $1 million.
How are you bringing that idea to life in your displays?
I wanted to take the most simple things that are around us during the holidays and make you believe that there’s a lot more magic that goes into them than meets the eye.
How far in advance did you make that decision?
I was at my friend’s house last Christmas, and we were admiring her tree and looking over all the ornaments on it. This one’s from her childhood, or she got this while visiting another country. Then I looked at a simple red ornament and she said, “Don’t look at that. It’s just a plain red ornament.” And I said that’s exactly what I want to do – make people think that simple little things are magic, too.
What’s the longest stretch of time you’ve spent working on the holiday windows?
I remember working my first 50-hour day – never leaving the store or sleeping, and that was just, Wow! That was during the holiday installation two years ago. We were installing an exterior of the windows, too, because that year we brought the windows outside the store, and we could only do that overnight. So I worked all day with the windows inside, and then all night outside.
Tell us about some of the obstacles you run into during the design process.
Reality is one thing. So many times we have these great ideas that just can’t be done. It’s not a compromise, but figuring out how we can get as close to that as we want to.
A touch-pad for visitors will be part of one window this year. What other technology are you using?
In window 4, there’s a big arcade game where you can grab ingredients with a crane machine. To have the controls outside of the glass is pretty unique. Just making a crane machine that would be able to run for six weeks, 24 hours a day and actually work and be able to pick up those things was pretty challenging.
What other challenges did you face for 2008?
Coordinating the music and sound with everything, because I work with a composer every year, and this year we did all original music for each window.
For kids who would like to become a window designer, what type of schooling or training might prepare them?
I got a bachelor’s degree from California State University, Long Beach, in art. And I actually didn’t know what visual merchandising was when I got my degree. When I graduated, I was like, “Oh, what do I do with an art degree?” I didn’t think about that when I was going to school. So I just sent résumés to everybody – magazines, stores.
What was your first job in the field?
Neiman Marcus picked me up, and that’s where I fell in love with visual merchandising. I actually started off making their signs for the store, and then eventually started doing interiors with visuals and working with the window people, and worked my way up from there. And I’ve been in windows for 20 years now.
After completing the Macy’s windows, do you ever actually get around to decorating your own home?
During the whole process I keep thinking I don’t have time. But then, once everything’s up and running, that’s when the Christmas spirit hits me. And I do a different tree each year in my apartment. I usually tie it in with the feel of the Macy’s windows, too. Last year it was that retro feel. This year will probably be some kind of crazy, wacky themed tree.
You’ve won national and international awards for all three of your previous Christmas displays at Macy’s. What do you think your chances are for a fourth?
The awards are great, but I design for the viewer. When people come up and thank me for the windows, it’s really special to me and it makes it all worthwhile. I’ve never had anybody say anything negative about it. Thank God. I’d be crushed!
See the windows for yourself:
macy’s 2008 holiday windows, part 1
macy’s 2008 holiday windows, part 2
macy’s 2008 holiday windows, creepy