As CEO & Co-Founder of WindowsWear, I frequently get asked the question, what’s your favorite window display? There are so many to choose from, but I do have a window display that I sometimes think about, a window display that helped get me where I’m at today. So let me tell you the answer to that question, but first, let me give you some background…
Before being CEO & Co-Founder of WindowsWear, I co-founded a women’s clothing store in New York City called MISHA NICOLE. We carried Indian-based designers exclusively in the U.S., and had a store at 303 Bowery, New York, NY 10003, in the East Village. I co-founded the company with two other business partners, both of whom previously were buyers for Bergdorf Goodman. We started working on MISHA NICOLE in 2007, and at that time I had a background in finance and technology, but not fashion. It was my experience with MISHA NICOLE that taught me everything I know and needed to know about the fashion industry.
Here’s what the store looked like:
The fashion designers we carried at MISHA NICOLE were very well-known in India and the Middle East, but not in the U.S. For instance, we carried Tarun Tahiliani, Manish Arora, Payal Singal, and more. As you might tell, many of these Indian-based designers at not as well known as more internationally renowned designers like Oscar De La Renta, Alexander McQueen, Diane Von Furstenberg, and others.
One of my favorite designers we carried in the store was Payal Singhal, a Bombay-based designer (I was actually supposed to attend her fashion show but the day before I was sick with Bombay-belly. For anyone who has visited India and developed Bombay-belly or Delhi-belly, you will know how awful and dreadful that stomach virus is. I lost 20 lbs and could not eat for a full week. It took over 2 years for me to finally gain the weight back that I lost in that week, and there was in day in particular I remember I was so weak I couldn’t even move the muscles my fingers).
Here’s a photograph of what I missed during Payal Singhal’s fashion show at Lakme Fashion Week in Bombay:
All these Indian-based brands were very awesome and talented, but they had little brand recognition in the U.S. It was very important for us to establish name recognition and credibility for these brands in the U.S. market, and it was crucial to our success. So, at the same time we were building the MISHA NICOLE brand, we were also building the brand names of these Indian-based designers, most of whom were completely unknown in the U.S. market. We did that through hosting fashion shows, organizing photo shoots, trunk shows, cocktail events, collaborations with magazines, and more.
Here’s an image of one of our runway shows:
One of the most important aspects to creating and building a brand is having strong visual representations of that brand (i.e. how the brand is seen and understood in the world). In my opinion, photography is one of most important aspects to having strong visual representations of the brand, especially in today’s world where you need strong images and videos to engage your audience through websites and social media.
But, finding a good photographer who understands your vision can be very difficult.
When working with a photographer, sometimes your definition of what’s good and what’s right is different from theirs. Since photography is a creative discipline, it is sometimes difficult to grasp how to do it right. Further, only certain people have studied and mastered the art of photography, yet everyone has a smart phone and social media, so we are all compelled to be photographers. In math and science, there is right and wrong, in creativity and art, everyone has their own definition of what’s right and wrong.
When we first launched MISHA NICOLE, we were struggling to find a great photographer to work with. Having the right photographer could be a game-changer, and we knew we needed someone really good.
After a couple years of trying to find the right photographer, we finally found one, and her name was Theresa. Theresa was amazing to work with, and she lead many campaigns for the brand. We thought she would be the right fit for us permanently. But, only after a few months of working with us, Theresa told us that she had to transition to another project, and could no longer work with us.
We felt devastated, as we felt that we had to start finding a new photographer again from scratch. Luckily, she told us that she did not want to leave us empty-handed, and told us that the person who taught her photography will be visiting NYC the following week. His name is Raul Tovar and he has been a successful fashion and wedding photographer in Mexico, but he is leaving everything behind to start his life in NYC.
I immediately told Theresa that if this person was the one who taught you everything you know about photography, then I definitively want to meet him. New York City is an amazing place to start a business or a career. You have many, many talented people from around the world, many times at your disposal. Everyone in New York City is looking to make their next great move, and there’s many talented people to work with.
So, the next week Theresa invites Raul to the store, and introduces Raul to me. When I first met Raul, I immediately felt a bolt of energy through my body, I felt energy that said to me this is someone you will know forever, and don’t ever let this guy go. I felt this was a sign from the universe saying that Raul was going to be the right fit.
Theresa already told us that Raul taught her everything she knew about photography, so Raul really didn’t need an interview. Plus, Raul didn’t speak English that well at the time, so it was kinda pointless to spend time interviewing him. So, we went straight to business.
I remember giving Raul his first project. We went around the store and selected merchandise for him to shoot. We just picked everything out and handed it to him. He came back hours later telling us everything is finished. I was amazed, Raul is the type of photographer that all you have to do is select merchandise, and he will create an entire campaign. Further, I was extremely impressed how he organized an entire photoshoot, including models, hair, make-up, and staging, he assembled an entire crew of people from scratch and it only took him half a day to report back with amazing editorial photographs. Raul’s work ethic, productivity, and ingenuity was amazing, and I was blown away.
Here’s an image Raul took from one of these campaigns (Raul actually used me as a prop in this image, and I’m pictured on the right holding the suitcases behind the model. I especially enjoyed moments like these when I’m not only putting Raul to work, but he’s putting me to work):
For the next year, Raul and I worked together at MISHA NICOLE, and he not only became a great person to work with but also became one of my best friends (since Raul is Mexican, I can also claim him as “my favorite amigo”).
After about a year of working together with Raul at MISHA NICOLE, I had a falling out with my business partners. It was a long time in the making, as we had eventually grew apart. I had managed and created from scratch all business operations including strategy, accounting, finance, legal, real estate, e-commerce, web development, advertising, marketing, public relations, logistics, social media, and more. It was a tremendous learning opportunity. But, in life, and in business, sometimes partnerships don’t work. After many years working with my two business partners, we just didn’t see eye-to-eye on the business anymore, and I left the business. And, after I left, MISHA NICOLE also stopped working with Raul.
In the Spring of 2012, and a couple months later, I was catching up with Mike Niemtzow, my friend and former colleague from Lehman Brothers (the one I created Weekend Warmup with), and we were discussing the initial concept of WindowsWear. When Mike asked me about the idea of putting the windows of the retailers online, I felt the same bolt of energy I last felt when I met Raul Tovar a couple years earlier, and I immediately knew Raul would be the perfect fit for our team. Soon after, we had a meeting with Raul and we co-founded WindowsWear, the rest is history.
Now, let’s get back to my favorite window. Here’s an image of one of my favorite window displays. It’s an image Raul took of our MISHA NICOLE Fashion’s Night Out window in 2011, and we had live models in the window.
This photo was taken before starting WindowsWear, and about a year after starting WindowsWear, the MISHA NICOLE store shutdown. You might think that all that hard work and energy was gone, but meeting Raul more than makes up for it. I also more deeply understood what leads to a company’s success, and what leads to a company’s failure. As long as a company is under my watch, it doesn’t have to worry about shutting down, and only worry about its success.
This image not only serves as my favorite memory of the store, but it also foreshadows WindowsWear, as we now photograph all the store windows of all the fashion retailers in the world, covering all the major cities like New York, Paris, Milan, London, Barcelona, Tokyo, and more. Raul now is in charge of our global photography team. And, just like this window, we shoot all our windows at night.
Further, with MISHA NICOLE, our challenge was to build our brand through building the brands of unknown designers in the U.S. With WindowsWear, all the stores we photograph worldwide have the highest brand recognition. But, the most gratifying part of WindowsWear is highlighting and showcasing the work of all the tens of thousands of talented individuals and teams that work in visual merchandising, store design, window displays.
I would also like to note, that I am very proud of Raul’s accomplishments since I’ve known him in New York City, especially since Raul is also the only person to have been invited to be guest speaker at my Baruch College class every semester. Raul has not only made tremendous achievements for WindowsWear, but he has also been involved in some amazing projects. I met Raul the first week he moved to New York City, and look at some of the other things he has been involved in since.
Here’s Raul’s work photographing Supermodel Irina Shayk for Vogue Brazil:
Here’s Raul’s work photographing designer Michael Bastian for GQ:
And here’s Raul being featured in his hometown newspaper, Diario de Mexico USA:
And occasionally, and sometimes reluctantly, Raul has the honor of photographing me (after repeatedly asking him to do so, of course):
I left Lehman Brothers three months before it shut down, and I left MISHA NICOLE nine months before it shut down. The best thing to come out of Lehman Brothers was meeting Mike, and the best thing to come out of MISHA NICOLE was meeting Raul. Even though the 150-year old investment bank and the couple-year old fashion retailer are no longer with us, the bonds and friendships I’ve made have lasted concrete and strong.
Here’s a photo of Raul and me at his birthday party at Goldbar last year, and I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if it wasn’t for him.