Fashion on Display

By Riley McDermid

Neiman Marcus window designer Jim Stramer poses alongside his colorful Spring display at the Union Square store.

Every fashionista knows two things: You can never have too many shoes — and you’re only as good as your stylist.

Luxury shoppers in SF may have sometimes wondered, however, just how to assemble an A-team of stylists, buyers and in-the-know creative geniuses to sculpt the timeless but je ne sais quoi ingredients needed to stay au courant. Well, look no further, because we talked to three local experts on how to choose the perfect high-end products, from start to finish.

Jim Stramer, a window designer with Neiman Marcus, says the inspiration for new ideas is an often organic, creative process that helps him keep things interesting as an artist. The process to create a really effective window display can sometimes take weeks or months. It begins when the store receives samples from a designer and then moves into styling mannequins and setting them into a pre-decided scene.

“For example, when we have our Oscar de la Renta trunk show, we do about 10 mannequins. Styling the mannequins takes a few days in itself, from dressing them to doing their hair,” Stramer says. “You may not know this, but not too many mannequins have well-styled hair when they come to us. All of the hair styling is done by our team.”

Stramer usually lets the pieces themselves inspire his eventual vision for a design, which leaves a lot of room for playfulness while showcasing the store’s brand with as much gravitas as possible. Once he’s settled on an idea, having the right team in place to execute a successful design is critical. “First and foremost, the most important aspect with window styling is having a good team to execute. You can have the best ideas in the world but without a good team to work with, nothing will get done,” says Stramer, who has been with Neiman Marcus San Francisco for 28 years. “Our team at Neiman Marcus handles everything from the props in the background to styling of the mannequins — hair, makeup, dressing, etcetera. It’s a lot of pieces coming together but with the right team, anything can happen!”

He can’t really pick an out-and-out favorite window that he’s designed, but adds the caveat that there are certainly some that stood out more than others and left warm, lasting impressions. “Back in 2000, we did windows during [the holidays] with designer Randolph Duke, who made beautiful, fully crystal gowns. Envision without the crystal —the mannequins looked nude,” he reminisces. “In the background, we put screens with all-white butterflies dripping down them to offset the crystal gowns — those were my favorite. We actually got an award for best visual windows in the company for that. They were gorgeous.”

And the best part of the job? Stramer says that one’s easy: hobnobbing with the masterminds behind the covetable clothes.

“Hands down, the most exciting part is meeting the designers when they come to the store,” he recalls. “Zac Posen was just here in early April presenting his fall looks with Neiman Marcus Fashion Director Ken Downing. I met him when he first came to the store in 2002, but the icing on the cake during his latest visit was getting a selfie with him!”

Even window wizards have selfie fever.

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