Behind the Creative Mind of Erin O’Brien!

Erin O’Brien

Today marks the BIG UNVEILING of holiday window displays for two major Department Stores in NYC: Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue (other Department stores with holiday displays include, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Barney’s, and Bergdorf Goodman). This delightful tradition announces the beginning of the holiday season and I thought it would be fun to re-post my interview and a chance to once-again meet the amazing creative mind of freelance window designer and prop stylist, Erin O’Brien. This feature was originally posted on December 23, 2016 …

What is it like to be a freelance window designer at famed department store, Bergdorf Goodman? What is it like to have your heart in New York City but to have found your fashion inspiration in London? What are the consequences of leaving home at age 17? Erin O’Brien knows the answers to these compelling questions because they make the story of her life and journey. Here is Erin, one-of-a-kind style originator, sharing it with us …

I was always interested in fashion but it wasn’t until I traveled to London when I was young, that I found my true fashion sense. At 13-14 I visited my family in Ireland; while there, I begged them to take me to London. Being in London affected me enormously; the edgy style, the music influencers – I felt myself being drawn in to it all and that has stayed with me to this day …

Being a window dresser is not as glamorous as you might think. It’s a lot of grunt work and hard labor. I have been working with Bergdorf Goodman as a freelance window designer since 1997. I work on the windows at Holiday and for special windows throughout the year. For creating the Christmas windows, the process is year-long and begins as soon as Christmas is over. This Holiday, I helped install and style the window on 58th Street – a “Bird’s Eye View” of a dog maze – highlighting the most wanted luxury handbags. I selected the handbags for the window, and I also decorated and installed the Holiday Shop on the 7th floor of Bergdorf’s …

I am a prop stylist, window designer, and prop master; my passion is working with props and designing windows (rather than work with people as a fashion stylist). The essence of window designing is to keep people looking. Windows have to be eye-catching but you have to do more than have people look; they have to keep looking so much that they are willing to enter the store. This is where most windows fall short – when they don’t enter the store. Designing windows is an art; looking at a well-designed window is like looking at a piece of artwork … Continue reading

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Alice’s Shoes of Honor

Alice’s shoes from Shoe Biz – photos supplied by Alice

I met Alice when I was in 8th grade; I thought it was 7th grade, when I had just moved to Connecticut from California, but Alice reminded me recently that we actually met in 8th. She was my best friend and my lifeline, at a time when I was woefully sad to leave a California life that I loved, and move at the peak of my awkward middle school years. We were inseparable and Alice became a part of my family until she moved away to the Midwest – which, of course, devastated me. We kept in touch as best we could but it wasn’t until years later, when we had both graduated from college and Alice returned to the East Coast to try her hand at life in New York City – that we met again. Alice found her first job with Shoe Biz, a wholesale shoe company on 5th Avenue and 58th street, across from the legendary Bergdorf Goodman and not far from the entrance to Central Park. Their shoes were Italian, French, and Spanish, and Shoe Biz sold directly to department stores, including high-end boutique, Henri Bendel. Now living in Northern California with her family, Alice and I met last week in NYC and talked about life, our friendship, those years long ago in New York, and why Alice will never part from the shoes she still owns from her days working at Shoe Biz. Here is Alice …

I had just graduated college and decided to move to New York.The year was 1983. I found the job at Shoe Biz through an employment agency, where the agent pulled cards from the catalogue as she tried to match me to an opportunity. She was about to pass over a job for a shoe model/receptionist (with a size 6 shoe) when I stopped her and told her that I wore a size 6! That was it – I got the job as a fit model and receptionist, trying on shoes for buyers – literally because my feet were the right size! … Continue reading

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“Designing Windows is an Art”

Erin O'Brien

Erin O’Brien

What is it like to be a freelance window designer at famed department store, Bergdorf Goodman? What is it like to have your heart in New York City but to have found your fashion inspiration in London? What are the consequences of leaving home at age 17? Erin O’Brien knows the answers to these compelling questions because they make the story of her life and journey. Here is Erin, one-of-a-kind style originator, sharing it with us …

I was always interested in fashion but it wasn’t until I traveled to London when I was young, that I found my true fashion sense. At 13-14 I visited my family in Ireland; while there, I begged them to take me to London. Being in London affected me enormously; the edgy style, the music influencers – I felt myself being drawn in to it all and that has stayed with me to this day …

Being a window dresser is not as glamorous as you might think. It’s a lot of grunt work and hard labor. I have been working with Bergdorf Goodman as a freelance window designer since 1997. I work on the windows at Holiday and for special windows throughout the year. For creating the Christmas windows, the process is year-long and begins as soon as Christmas is over. This Holiday, I helped install and style the window on 58th Street – a “Bird’s Eye View” of a dog maze – highlighting the most wanted luxury handbags. I selected the handbags for the window, and I also decorated and installed the Holiday Shop on the 7th floor of Bergdorf’s … Continue reading

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Betty Halbreich’s Memoir? I’m buying it!

Betty Halbreich, Photo Credit: Ruven Afandor

Betty Halbreich, Photo Credit: Ruven Afandor

The clothes I work with as a personal shopper (a title I have never particularly favored) are an extravagance unto themselves — the price tags on many are often too rich for my midwestern sensibilities. Yet the true luxury of what I do is the knowledge my client has as I slip a sweater over her shoulders or zip a dress up the back that I was thinking only of her when I selected the garment.” ~ Betty Halbreich, from her memoir I’ll Drink to That

This is how Betty Halbreich’s book, I’ll Drink to That, begins. I first learned about Ms. Halbreich last year, as I watched the glamorous documentary, “Scatter my Ashes at Bergdorf’s.” Thirty-seven years ago, Ms. Halbreich became the very first personal shopper for Manhattan’s Bergdorf Goodman, considered by many in the fashion industry to be the premiere luxury store. And Ms. Halbreich breaks all the molds by being the best at what she does; using her vast knowledge and experience, sense of humor, and an honesty and truthfulness unmatched. Most of all, Ms. Halbreich listens and cares. Women, the celebrities and the well-heeled among them, represent Ms. Halbreich’s clients. They have been clients for years, even generations, and trust her implicitly.

But, as I begin reading the book, I discover the story of this remarkable 86 year-old woman. As a young girl growing up in the 1930s on Chicago’s South Side, she found magic in her mother’s closet, where the “clothes were my playmates.” I see that Ms. Halbreich’s story goes far beyond the doors of Bergdorf Goodman. Hers is a human story, with joy and grief and heartache. But mostly, a story about resilience and heart. Ms. Halbreich has that in spades. And I can’t wait to read on. I’m buying it. Well, I already did!

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Scatter my ashes at Bergdorf’s

Bergdorf Goodman

Bergdorf Goodman – courtesy of Bergdorf Goodman website

I love a good story; I especially love the story behind the story. It’s the reason that I started writing this blog. Because I believe that we all have a story and that magic happens when you look behind the curtain. And I love to peak – especially when it’s about fashion! A few months ago I saw a documentary about the legendary editor Diana Vreeland; today I watched an intriguing documentary – more of a love story – about New York institution and luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman. Scatter my ashes at Bergdorf’s tells the story of Bergdorf Goodman; why designers want to showcase there, why people want to shop there, and why employees love to work there. And oh yes, there is a little history about the two men who started it all …

New York tailors Edwin Goodman and Herbert Bergdorf joined forces and founded a luxury store, Bergdorf Goodman, in the Garment District in 1901. The business moved in 1914 to Rockefeller Center and again in 1928 to its present location, 5th Avenue and 57th Street, the corner of luxury-and-everything-elegant-in-New York. The site was originally the location of the Vanderbilt Mansion, which occupied the entire city block. When Andrew Goodman inherited Bergdorf Goodman from his father, he took the department store to its almost-mythic heights. Too much, you ask? Those interviewed contend that we need stores like Bergdorf Goodman to foster the American Dream.

Top fashion designers both domestic and international, including Oscar de la Renta, Michael Kors, Diane Von Furstenberg, Karl Lagerfeld, Fendi, and Giorgio Armani, shared their voices and love for Bergdorf Goodman. But it is the stories of the internal Bergdorf family that I found the most inspiring: a family that includes senior vice president and highly influential buyer Linda Fargo, creator of its world-renowned windows David Hoey and spot-on, outspoken personal in-house shopper Betty Halbreich. These intimate glimpses give Scatter my ashes at Bergdorf’s its true appeal. Amy Fine Collins, special correspondent to Vanity Fair describes the glamour and allure of this one of a kind icon: “Bergdorf Goodman has decades and decades of accumulated history. Every nook and every cranny is a story.”

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The Goodman Family. Courtesy of

The Goodman Family. Courtesy of Entertainment One Films US

 

 

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