Learning from The Man Behind the Curtain
Store windows of the 19th century were cluttered affairs as shopkeepers piled up goods, emphasizing quantity over quality. But as cities grew and competition began among shopkeepers the need to grab the attention of passing customer increased. And with this modern window dressing was born.
Standing at the epicenter of this movement was a man who would later be known as one of the most beloved children’s authors of all time. However, before he wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum, had a career in “Window Dressing”. In fact, the same year that Dorothy Gale inspired millions of children with her visit to Oz, Baum also published a book titled The Art of Decorating Dry Goods Windows and Interiors.
“Much like his soon-to-be-famous wizard, Baum understood the power of smoke and mirrors. His signature “illusion windows” featured the latest technologies: electrical revolving stars, incandescent globes, fluttering mechanical butterflies.” explains Max Mosher.
While Baum enjoyed wowing window shoppers with surprises like a “vanishing lady” who disappeared only to return in a different hat, he understood that the whole point of a window display is to entice the shopper to come into the store and look around more.
In his last edition of The Show Window: A Journal for the Merchant Baum wrote that “The object of a window display is: First to attract attention; second, a casual examination; and third, a critical examination in displayed articles, in larger quantity, at the counter.”
And, while he was enthusiastic about mechanical displays that added motion, which forced passing crowds to stop and watch, Baum believed the purpose of good-quality window dressing was to promote commercial success. He understood that the window must move merchandise and sell goods, rather than simply please the eye.
In fact, “Baum was wary of outlandish sales pitches that reminded him of snake-oil sellers. His skepticism provided the cautionary twist to his tales of wizards and witches… Even as his windows beguiled adults, he encouraged his child readers to keep their wits and be aware of “the man behind the curtain.”explains Max Mosher.
As shop owners, designers and manufacturers we must take that sentiment to heart. To use our windows to inspire the imagination and invite a closer look without misrepresenting our products.
It is said that the chapter on Color Theory in Baum’s The Art of Decorating Dry Goods Windows and Interiors directly influenced the colors in the move “The Wizard of Oz”. Do you find inspiration in stories of old to bring your windows or shop to life?