Confessions of a (Semi-Retired) Window Dresser

Even though he's been a writer for two decades, Simon Doonan can’t escape from decorating windows.
Simon Doonan's new book is called Soccer Style.
Simon Doonan, whose new book, Soccer Style, was just released in the United States. Photo by Joe Gaffney

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of my first book, Confessions of a Window Dresser. This rambunctious memoir included images of my taboo-busting Barneys window displays including life-sized caricatures of Margaret Thatcher as a leather-clad, whip-wielding dominatrix and Tammy Faye Bakker, singing hymns next to a giant mascara wand-slash-holiday tree.

By all accounts the book was a big hit: Madonna bought the movie rights, it got a second printing and launched my career as a writer. Since then, I have written hundreds of columns and five more books. Number seven, Soccer Style: The Magic and Madness, hit the shelves this week.

As I gradually switched métiers, I discovered something extraordinary: Writing and window-dressing — can you think of two more wildly dissonant professions? — revealed themselves to be virtually indistinguishable. Originality of concept, risk-taking, maniacal persistence and the ability to ditch a lousy idea which isn’t working, these, I discovered to my surprise, form the basis of success in both occupations. And my own particular voice— cheeky, irreverent, gaudy and, dare I say it, mesmerizing — worked equally well whether I was scribing at my desk or zhuzhing a window display.

Louis Vuitton monogrammed soccer ball
Louis Vuitton’s monogrammed soccer ball is highlighted in the book.

There’s a new bloke dressing the Barneys windows named Matthew Mazzucca, and he and his team are doing a bang-up job. And moi? Have I finally put down my glue gun? Have I moved away from the staple gun? Not entirely. Every time I pop out another book, some genius in the PR team at the publishing house fixes me with a gleeful “eureka” look and shrieks, “OMG! I have a crazy idea! We should have you create a window display to promote your book!” Oh, the curse of being the world’s first (and only) writer/window dresser!

At this point, I usually affect a mildly exasperated air, sigh, roll my eyes and say something like “I bet Dostoyevsky never had to dress his own windows!” But inside I am secretly gleeful, delighted at the opportunity to reload that glue gun and to Velcro my trusty pin cushion to my wrist.

And so it is with Soccer Style. (Saturday Night Fever Pitch is the title in the U.K.) The ink on the PR strategy was hardly dry before talk of a window display filled the corridors of Laurence King Publishing. Outwardly, I affected my usual air of: Oy vey! Do I really have to? But inside I was Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, dementedly contemplating a return to the studio: “It’s not a comeback. I hate that word! It’s a return to the millions of people who have never forgiven me for deserting them!”

Simon Doonan's Soccer Style window display for the Jonathan Adler store at 37 Greenwich Avenue in New York
In his window display for the Jonathan Adler store at 37 Greenwich Avenue in New York, Doonan placed copies of Soccer Style alongside husband Adler’s pottery. Photo by Kristina Sumfleth

On May 29th, I clambered into the window of the Jonathan Adler store — yes, he’s my husbear! — on Greenwich Avenue and, glue gun blazing, set about arranging soccer balls and disco balls into a pleasing tableau. Soccer Style is a humorous exploration of the stylish culture — boots, balls and Balenciaga! — which has developed around the beautiful game over the last half-century.

My goal was to create a display which deftly reflects the vibe of this passion project. Was I successful? You be the judge. The resulting display has been installed in various Jonathan Adler locations. Swing by and give it the old thumbs-up or thumbs down. And for God’s sake buy a bloody book, or I will be back to window-dressing full time!

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