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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Queer jobs are few and far between, and the good ones are all taken. Just ask Simon Doonan. He moved up the corporate ladder by doing things like putting mannequins in store windows. Okay, he did more than that. All right, so he's an artist — but how many of us appreciate a beautifully done window or are aware of how our interest in that window may lead us to walk in and buy up the store?
While the store may have wanted to sell Givenchy and Armani, Doonan was putting together displays of suburban parents tending their lawns while their young 'uns were about to be devoured by coyotes, or of Madonna in her SEX days striking a pose and vogueing. In many ways, Doonan got to play with grown-up Barbie and just go to town — and I'm jealous! From this book, I've already learned so much about the profession (did you know that perfume bottles, when tightly capped, will often explode in department store windows?). Confessions of a Window Dresser is without a doubt one of the most fantabulosa reads, particularly to a naff guy like me — but then, I've never had to tart up a window, nor have I ever felt much like a big girl's blouse. (Look it up in the glossary of window-dresser terminology that comes at the end of this memoir.)
Window dressing is not one of those occupations that many kids dream about doing — most of us as kids weren't even aware that someone dressed windows, let alone made money at it. Simon Doonan grew up in a household that seems to have been the antithesis of the fantasy world of big-city department store windows.Hedescribes a grandmother (named Narg, which is "Gran" spelled backward, of course!) who was lobotomized, an uncle who dressed like a J. Crew model before anyone thought it looked good, and who also was paranoid schizophrenic, and the dreary town of Reading, England, which Oscar Wilde once described as "a cemetery with lights." This extended family seemed to have a creative effect on little Simon, who was allowed to flaunt his nelly ways and wear pretty much any dress he chose to when playing with the other boys; even his father did not seem to mind. As he grew, and began to consider himself a "gay half-wit" for not having passed the exams that England once tortured kids with to determine their eligibility for college, he eventually moved to Swingin' London during the mod scene (think "Austin Powers") until he got all shagged out. He ended up in West Hollywood after his college years, working at Maxfield, a trendy shop, doing the store windows and even appearing as a pirate in Kim Carnes's "Bette Davis Eyes" video, which was just so beyond — as were his window displays, including the infamous one of the coyote and the baby.
At the time, a few kids had been killed by the wild dogs that roamed the local hills of Hollywood, and some of their parents didn't like a local store lampooning their tragedy. Doonan had to readjust his artistic vision to encompass the needs of the customer, and once he did this, his career soared. Then came Barneys, a family-run operation that pretty much allowed Doonan to come into his own as a window dresser, doing celebrity parodies (which were also loving tributes) and wild run-amok scenes that caught the passerby's notice. Interestingly, the images photographed for this book are haunting and tell a story that's nearly as dark and hilarious as the story of Doonan's own upbringing — and all of it has the feel of that London mod period that saw the flowering of Doonan's youth.
Filled with stunning photographs, and told in Doonan's irrepressibly youthful and exuberant style, this is a fabulosa read, a true confession from one of the most lively men about whom I've ever read. Whether you're into fashion, the era, gay life, or the art of the store window and the fantasy it sells, Confessions of a Window Dresser is fascinating reading.
Douglas Clegg is the author of numerous horror and suspense novels, including The Halloween Man and Bad Karma, written under his pseudonym Andrew Harper. His recent Bram Stoker-nominated short story "I am Infinite, I Contain Multitudes," can be found in the anthology The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Volume 11.