December 14, 2007
Patrick Angus, creative director, Mario's
The job: When Patrick Angus studied art history at Western Washington University, he never imagined he'd wind up flexing his creative muscle in upscale retail. Today, as creative director of Mario's in downtown Seattle, he wears many hats. He manages the visual display of merchandise. He orchestrates marketing campaigns. He works with architects on remodeling plans. And he dreams up and helps his staff construct the whimsical window displays in the company's Seattle and Portland stores.
Q. How did you work your way up the retail display ranks?
A. My summer and holiday jobs all through college were working at Nordstrom. After college, I worked as an assistant manager for Abercrombie & Fitch -- back when it was a luxury, sports and lifestyle store. We sold Walkmans and massage chairs and all that.
I've always been very handy, always been able to make things. So Abercrombie sent me to stores around the country to do merchandising and basic display work. Then I interviewed to be a manager at a bigger, flashier Seattle store. I showed them pictures of the merchandising work I'd done for Abercrombie, which is how I made the leap from floor work to display work.
Seven years later, I came to Mario's as visual director, which meant designing and being very hands-on in the installation of our windows and helping with the ongoing modernization of our interiors. Over the years, I took on more and more responsibility, eventually becoming creative director in February 2007. In the eight years I've been at Mario's, I've gone from having a staff of two to a staff of six. And now I'm in Portland on average five to seven days a month.
Q. What's a typical day like for you?
A. Every morning you walk the windows and you make sure that all the lights are working. And then you walk the store and make sure nothing's amiss. There's more on the to-do list than you can ever do, so you just prioritize -- unless you're on a major project. A major project would be installing new windows, getting all the mannequins dressed and all the props ready.
A third of my time is spent in strategy meetings with our director of the women's store, our director of the men's store and Mario Bisio Jr., my boss. Another third of my time is spent with my staff. They do the vast majority of the visual work that people see in our store and windows, so I'm constantly working with them to explain how things need to look. I'm a horrible draftsperson, so I share most of my window design ideas with my staff on computer.
The other third of the day, I'm reading my e-mails. A lot of it is keeping up with the marketing part of my job. We produce dozens of mailing pieces during the year. We do more than a dozen trunk shows for men and women each season in all our stores.
Get in touch with your inner Bob Vila:
"I do think it's completely helpful to take a design class, but I also think it's helpful to take a home-building class. You need to be willing to get your hands dirty. It's not about tying scarves around mannequins' necks. You need to know how to paint a room, hammer in a nail. So much of what we do is like 'This Old House.' We're doing light building, and it's a very physical job. My lead person in Seattle just spent two weeks in Thailand working for Habitat for Humanity. She credits her Mario's job as getting her prepared to do that job."
Q. How do you get your window ideas?
A. One way is by working with book publishers so I'll know about a book coming out, or I'll know about a film coming out so we're part of a movement rather than a lone voice in the wilderness or part of a crowd all doing the same thing. You have to find that sweet spot before an idea becomes too popular.
For example, a book came out several years ago where a photographer shot this collection of sock monkeys. I contacted the publisher who put me in touch with the photographer, and the photographer was interested [in letting Mario's use his images]. So the women's window had 25 or 35 sock monkeys cavorting in it. And for the men's window, we cut apart the book and wallpapered the walls with black and white images of sock monkeys. They were extremely popular windows, and the book went on to be one of the biggest books the publisher distributed.
Q. How long does it take to plan and set up a window?
A. You spend as little as two or three days to two to four weeks planning a window. As for installations, the perfect window installation happens when you have one window up in the morning and another up by the end of the same day. But we've had window installations that took four days.
For the holiday season, ideally the planning is done by August. It's a bit like a wedding, where you want to make sure that your idea is doable and the materials you need are available. This year I worked with a factory in India to buy custom-made paper for our holiday windows. So that started in April.
Q. How long do you keep up each window display?
A. Windows are in for sometimes as few as 10 days. With the holiday windows, given the fact that Thanksgiving is early this year, the windows are in for five weeks.
Q. What's been your favorite window design to date?
A. In 2003 we did windows with the Seattle farmers markets. We built raised beds in our windows, organic farmers brought us plants, and we had crops in the windows. We watered them every day. That was when there were three farmers markets in Seattle, so again it was trying to be ahead of the curve.
Q. What advice can you give someone looking to follow in your footsteps?
A. . I don't discount going to a college. I think everyone should get that experience if they can. But I don't think of it as a vocational school. A huge thing for anyone who wants to do this job is to get to know your city, get to know your museums, go to craft stores, go to hardware stores, go to estate sales, go to antique shows
Also be a voracious reader and look at design and art books and magazines and websites. ReadyMade and Martha Stewart Living are great magazines. And I get loads of ideas from reading the New York Times every day. You can even get good ideas from Time magazine, because you get to see macro trends. And one of the best things that I do is go to design blogs and the sites they link to.
For me to hire somebody, I'd want them to have some background in retail. You need to be self-motivated and you need to enjoy being around people. You need to think creatively because what we do is give people a reason to stop in the street and notice something. Typically [a job as a window dresser] wouldn't be a place to start. But I'm more than available to anyone who wants to come talk to me to get a firsthand account of what the job entails.
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