Window Artists

I was recently provided with an opportunity to learn a little about window design at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I’m talking about the art of displaying goods and merchandise in shop windows to entice you into the stores to part with your money. Like everything at Disney, a lot of thought and detail goes into all you see, and very often, the windows tell a story if you take the time to look.

One of the first things I learned was that for the most part, the store windows are divided into two categories, those belonging to Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) and those belonging to Merchandise Presentation, the local merchandising departments found within each park

The WDI windows, more often than not, deal with characters and portray an atmosphere or mood rather than trying to advertise a particular product. Good examples of WDI windows can be found in the “Beverly Sunset Sweet Spells” and the “Villains in Vogue” shops located on Sunset Boulevard. For the candy store we see Snow White’s Queen as the Old Hag. She holds an apple over a cauldron, concocting her own “Sweet Spells.” And who better to represent the scoundrels and rogues of “Villains in Vogue” than Maleficent.

Old Hag and Cauldron

Maleficent

Another “Villains in Vogue” window appears to be a part of the WDI collection, but in fact belongs to the Studio Merchandise Presentation team. You can tell because this window promotes a specific item, in this case, Vinylmation. (I know, you either “get” Vinylmation or you don’t.).

Vinylmation Window

This is a very compelling window. But there is more to it than meets the eye. Take a look at the apple cores. They are Vinylmations. There are also several bottles of “ingredients” scattered around the scene. One contains “Black of Night,” another “An Old Hag’s Cackle” and a third “Mummy Dust.” These elements were all used by the Queen to transform herself into the Witch. And finally, look at the oversized Vinylmation. The face contains the Magic Mirror and the mirror’s spirit. It’s details like this that make Disney so special.

Apple Core and Potion

Magic Mirror

Other window dressings offer unique challenges. Take “Celebrity 5 & 10″ found on Hollywood Boulevard. This store represents a time when you could actually buy something for a nickel or a dime. Here, the window artists need to display inexpensive merchandise (by today’s standards) yet not so inexpensive as to look cheap. For instance, Disney sells key chains and plastic snow globes, but these items could look tacky in a window display. A better idea would be to display Disney housewares items. Kitchen utensils were a common sight in a Woolworth’s window during the ’30s and ’40s. By placing these modern items on chrome bar stools that look like they came out of a Woolworth’s cafeteria, guests never notice the incongruity of the display.

Celebrity 5 & 10

Celebrity 5 & 10

Clothing stores also offer a challenge for the window artists, especially on Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards. Disney wants to showcase the actual merchandise that can be found inside a particular shop. But the stores that line these streets represent a bygone era. Although vintage clothing would fit the theme better, these garments are not for sale inside. So the window artists need to play tricks on us so we don’t notice that they are selling styles that did not exist in 1940. This can be accomplished with props.

In the pictures below, notice the large, magazine covers that hang on the back wall. These props were created by a window artist to trick our minds. First, he found pictures featuring men and women wearing vintage clothing. Then he created magazine titles befitting of Tinseltown and added an era-appropriate price and date. Finally, he added art deco frames and presto, he has props that transport us back to the heyday of Hollywood. Now it’s easy for us to accept contemporary clothing in an era-specific theme.

Window With Magazine Covers

Window With Magazine Covers

In these next two windows, the furniture surrounding the mannequins is from the 1930’s and 1940’s. Throw in some antique perfume bottles, antique jewelry, a few pieces of old luggage, and photographs of Hollywood legends and you’ve created a tableau frozen in time. You never really notice that the mannequins might be wearing a Disney World t-shirt. In addition, a subtle story is being told in these windows. Both of these characters represent young actors getting ready for an audition.

Window Props

Window Props

A new story may be emerging in the near future around a second story window found in the Aztec inspired building located on the corner of Echo Park Drive and Sunset Plaza. In this window is an advertisement for Marge, a palm reader.

Aztec Building

Marge's Window

To carry out the theme of this window, Marge will become the “Palm Reader to the Stars.” To tell this story, the three windows on the first floor of this building will be converted to represent Marge’s reception room, her reading room, and her private chambers. It’s subtle details like this that most of us don’t really notice on a conscious level, but if they weren’t there, we’d feel something was amiss.

Disney has a number of locations where props are stored and the window artists can rummage through these items looking for ideas. In addition, they often have pieces custom made. Take for instance these cubes used as display stands. Here, the window artist wanted to hint at Mickey Mouse to create a Disney connection, yet you will not find a true “hidden Mickey” on any of these metal platforms. The circles never quite achieve the correct dimensions to form that famous silhouette. Yet this design forces guests to look at the merchandise while saying to themselves, “Mickey must be here someplace.”

Mickey must be here someplace

I especially love the level of detail you’ll find inside the Carthay Circle Theater on Sunset Boulevard.

Carthay Circle Theater

Located right inside the main entrance is a uniquely dressed mannequin. First, notice her skirt. Then take a look at her velvet blouse.

Uniquely Dressed Mannequin

Now take a look at the overhead light fixture and the drapes that line the wall. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Overhead Light Fixture

Drapes

Next take a look at the table our fashion plate sits on. Then take a look at the hand-painted ceiling. Notice a repeating pattern?

Hand Painted Table

Hand Painted Ceiling

I learned that window artists also do more than just create compelling displays to draw us into their stores. They are also responsible for the interior arrangement of merchandise. Although there are some guidelines that they follow, much of what you see is a result of their artistic ability. And the proper grouping of items is important. For instance, Disney clothing is now being branded into three categories, Classic, Vintage, and Graphic Edge. It’s important when arranging racks and shelves of clothing to keep like type merchandise together. For example, you would want to keep Vintage hats close to Vintage shirts and Classic shorts next to Classic blouses.

Classic Tag

Vintage Tag

Graphic Edge

Each morning before the parks open, all of the window artists visit their respective shops to make sure other cast members haven’t unwittingly rearranged the merchandise. They want to make sure everything is perfect for the guests when the day begins.

I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what goes into the art of marketing merchandise, but I’m sure this sample gives you an idea that nothing is taken for granted at Disney. A great deal of thought goes into every nook and cranny and window of the parks.

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13 Replies to “Window Artists”

  1. Another awesome post Jack! I especially love that you did this one as I have always loved looking at the windows in Disney, particularly the ones in the Emporium. They are always so unique!

  2. Hi Jack –
    Recently I spent one evening (8-24-10) at the Studios without the family just so I could walk around and admire, take in, enjoy and photograph the park’s architecture and signs (I took around 300 pix in 3-4 hours!). I now kick myself for not noticing the store windows on a conscious level – I’m sure the sub-conscious picked up on them – unfortunately I didn’t go into any of the shops and get any pix of the interior architecture. I did notice and photograph the windows in the Streets of America section which I remember as being basically empty other than for lettering. Now a lot of the windows in that area seem to be decorated to match the signs on them – and in an older period.

    Next time I’ll pay more attention…

    – Jeff

  3. Hi Jack,

    What a wonderful journey into the process of creating these magical Disney windows. The level of detail and storytelling is amazing. This truly is an art and the people that create the magic have a great gift. Thank you for bringing the Art of Disney Windows to our attention.

    -Thomas

  4. My friends, I can see the elegance, the attention to details, the props, symmetries. You need to have an
    artistic eye to create such levels of visual complexity without taking the attention from your main subject, which are the clothes. I’m a musician I believe this artists are too as they just create visual symphonies as the ones we see in the pictures. Great Job!
    As I said before: “We do the same thing, the difference lies in that I dress melodies and they mannequins.” Congrats!

  5. Hi Jack,

    It’s the attention to details like this that make WDW such an amazing place. I think your article is really interesting as you talk about something that I hadn’t given much thought to before. Thank you so much for sharing it with us!

  6. Hi Jack,

    I’ve always loved the window art at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. I’ve always looked at it as an art form, and the people that design them as artists. I’ve always been aware of the deliberateness of the window details, but it has been interesting learning about the additional motivations, such as the less expensive, but not cheap-looking items displayed at the Celebrity 5 & 10.

    I have to say though, the photo you took of the mannequin inside the Carthay Circle Theatre, reminded me of Carol Burnett’s satire, “Went With the Wind.” Not sure if that’s what you were going for, or simply the fact that the costuming matches the decor.

  7. I always look the windows, always change, and always special, you never find the same window twice…but I never notice that detail level!!!
    By the way I love the Sunset Boulevard store…they are so vintage!! mmm what a challenge…they are trully artists!!

  8. I love how you find all these awesome little things that make a trip to Disney such a wonderful experience. Are you going to highlight the windows from the other parks as well? Then you can do each season and holiday, and then… I kid. As always, thanks for sharing your insight I really appreciate it.

  9. Hi Jack
    I have taken photos of these store windows but never actually looked at the details. Now I will do that when I return; hopefully in 2011 for my milestone birthday. Love your blogs.

  10. DHS is my favorite place to wander through the shops (& spend some money, of course!) in all of WDW. I love the feel of the shops, the theming inside & out. This post illustrates exactly why. Thanks so much for yet another great post!

  11. Hi Jack,

    Thanks for another wonderful blog. My 14 yr old daughter and budding artist loves Disney for the art and had mentioned they have the coolest artsy stores, shop windows and attention to detail. This is one of the reasons she loves going back to Disney, well that and the edgy graphics and vinylmations.

  12. Wow, I always enjoy looking at the window displays but never thought about how much work went into putting them together. Another wonderful example of the Disney difference, through details.

  13. Hi Jack,
    This is a good example of Art is Everywhere.

    Some schools want to take away art in the schools because it’s not necessary!
    My husband,the retired art teacher, thanks you for this inspiring blog.