‘Each window is a creation’

Jane Hanks meets a window dresser whose job is to tempt you into shops this festive season

21 November 2018
An example of Morgane’s festive window dressing at Laura Ashley
By Jane Hanks

One of the Christmas traditions is to admire the beautifully decorated shop windows in the big cities across the world. In Paris, the Galeries Lafayette’s vitrines are the ones to see. Dressing windows is an art and a job. Morgane Cordillot is a Décoratrice Merchandiser and she runs a busy agency working for brands and chains such as Etam and Optic 2000 and teaching her skills.

How did your passion for creative work begin?

I come from a family where my parents thought I should get a proper job, and so after I left school I began a university degree in literature. However, I did not enjoy it and found myself spending more and more time walking up and down the Boulevard Haussmann in Paris and staring at the shop windows.

One day I saw someone actually making up a window for Repetto. I plucked up my courage and asked if I could watch her and help her, to learn how she worked, even though I was not even sure that this could be a job for me. She was very kind and helped me a great deal.

I signed up for the Ateliers du Louvre to learn about everything artistic and I loved it. I discovered that I was not an intellectual and that the world of art and making things with my hands was for me.

I then applied for a place at the Ecole de la Fabrique, which is a Paris Chamber of Commerce school teaching Fashion and Decoration. However, I did not get a place because I did not yet have the right qualifications and background so I enrolled for a Mise à Niveau en Arts Appliqués, MANAA, which gives students who have not studied art at school the chance to catch up on their skills.

After that I was able to get a place in the school, and ten years later, I teach the art of window dressing at the very same school, as well as working to create windows for shops myself.

Are there many places where you can learn this job?

There is just one public school in Paris, but several private ones throughout France. Many people may be surprised that you have to study to become a window dresser and perhaps think it is the shop’s sales staff who do the work. People do not realise it is a real art and requires several skills. You need to know a great deal about colour and form and each window is a creation.

What is the importance of a well dressed window to a shop?

My job is to attract people on the street to enter the shop, where they might then be tempted to make a purchase. 50% of clients in a shop are there for pleasure not to make a specific purchase, so you have to tempt them in.

It is a challenge because people no longer walk leisurely but walk fast and if they stop in front of a shop it will be for an average of just five seconds. Each shop window must tell a story, so that the person will want to go in.

What elements do you consider when you create your window?

You must make sure the products on display are at the ideal height of 1.60m – at the level of the passer by’s eyes.

Colour is very important. One rule is not to use more than three colours unless it is for a carnival display or for children. Some colours give strong messages. Red attracts attention, yellow announces the sales, and green is associated with organic products, for example. The fewer the colours and the more neutral they are, the higher the quality and the more expensive the product or brand.

The colour you use in the window does not have to be the one the customer is most likely to buy. In a clothes shop I might use an orange jumper to attract attention. Inside the shop a customer might choose the same style, but perhaps in a more sober colour.

One method is to use the triangulation principle, as when objects are placed in a pyramid the eye travels to the top, then moves down to the right and back across to the left and this makes people really look at the goods in the window.

How long before a window needs to be changed?

Between one month and six weeks. Customers are always looking for new ideas and if you change your window frequently they will want to see what is new inside.

It also depends on the type of product. In a pharmacy, for example a client will come back once a month to renew their prescription. Whilst in other shops, such as a patisserie, the theme will follow the seasons with the Christmas bûche, and perhaps a bell at Easter.

Do fashions in presentation change?

All the time. At present the fashion is linear with for example the same products lined up, in different colours, so you have to be aware of the trends.

Window dresser Morgane Cordillot
‘The colour you use in the window does not have to be the one the customer is most likely to buy’ says Morgane Cordillot

How long does it take to create a window?

First you have to design it on a computer and send a proposal to a client who will choose which window dresser to employ. Then you have to create the décor, either yourself, or you will have to research it and buy it.

The actual window itself can take between two hours and three days, but I would say about five hours on average. It is a very physical job because you are always on the move. I walk between nine and 10 km a day!

Do you specialise in certain types of products?

You have to be a bit like a doctor who is a General Practitioner and be prepared to work in every sector. However, there are areas I am happiest in which include interior design, opticians and women’s clothes and I would prefer not to do a man’s clothing shop as I would not feel at home with it.

When is your busiest time of year?

September to December is very busy because there is a lot of demand for windows for the Rentrée and then, of course, there is Christmas. That starts at the beginning of November and lasts until mid-December.

During that period I often do 2 windows a day, whereas the rest of the year it is more likely to be one a day. Christmas themed windows are essential, if not the shopkeeper looks as though he has made no effort at all and no-one will want to buy from him. It makes people happy
to see a beautiful Christmas window.

Is it difficult to come up with new ideas every year?

In fact it is a period of the year when people prefer to keep with tradition, so innovation is not a must. There are different trends though. This year wood is really big. Pools of iridescent colour and gold and bronze are also popular.

What do you like about your job?

I love my job and I would not want to change, because it is different every day in every way. I meet different clients, work on a huge range of different products and I am in different places. I can be creative and earn a living at the same time and my parents have now come to terms with my job and are very supportive. It is worth finding what you really want to do. Above all, what I love is that this job gives me freedom to create.

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