Simon Doonan's Tawdry Past
Suzi Pratt / getty images / WireImage
Simon Doonan—the hot-shit window dresser, style commentator, writer, media personality, and creative ambassador at large to Barneys New York—recently cohosted a private breakfast at the downtown Seattle store. Up close, he is everything you'd think a great bon vivant would be, with his direct yet jokey manner, his bored voice, his slight build, his perfect ensemble. The latter involved a navy blazer, dark-wash jeans, three-stripe Adidas-style sneakers, and Simon's signature floral-print button-up shirt. While the look was outwardly casual, it managed to radiate a certain tidy luxuriousness.
So what happened? Not much, really. Simon looked on, drank orange juice, and made small talk until it came time to showcase a collection of new and thoroughly expensive accessories and apparel. Some mannequins got hoisted, store lights bounced off products' sparkling details, and Simon and Barneys New York fashion director Tomoko Ogura flung around loads of ad-copy phrases too vague to hold meaning, including something about how apparel should balance stylishness with functionality.
Though you wouldn't know it from this encounter, Simon's past projects have embodied the grotesque, the funny, the gaudy, and the sleazy, and his book Confessions of a Window Dresser is crammed with delightful sentences about these displays. Detailing his early '90s celebrity-caricature series, Simon writes: "My addiction to Vegas, strip clubs, and cheap suburban-disco aesthetic had been building like a gigantic boil. The boil burst and the glittery pus coursed into these windows."
For a time, whenever Simon's work contrasted with Barneys' refined image, the media attention rolled on in. So Simon stocked windows with live ducks, colostomy bags, dismembered dolls, taxidermied cats, life-size pine trees built from stacks of wigs, sweatshirts embellished with glitter portraits of Dolly Parton, and thrift-store mattresses: "We ripped them and disemboweled them to make them more funky but also to hide disturbing stains." Another setup was meant to contain a wreath formed from Depends incontinence pads, but the finished item "looked like an unattractive, lumpy life preserver" and had to be discarded.
Farther into Simon's past, for Maxfield in 1982, one especially controversial display staged a toddler being abducted by a coyote. It's stuffed, and its sharp teeth tug the mannequin-baby's shirt, a black tee with Maxfield in white script across the chest. Meanwhile, her back turned, the mannequin-mother hoses her Astroturf lawn. She wears a swank black jumpsuit and black leather belt.
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