After launching WindowsWear in 2012, we knew it would be extremely important to immediately let all the world’s top fashion designers know that we are photographing their window displays globally. Our goal was to celebrate the brands and the global visual display industry that brings these creative works to life.
I co-founded WindowsWear with Mike Niemtzow and Raul Tovar (read the stories of how I met Mike at Lehman Brothers and how I met Raul in NYC). We ultimately knew it would be the fashion designers who would be our biggest clients, partners, and supporters, as they value their flagship stores and window displays as much as their runway shows and events. Together, these elements collectively support the brand’s retail experience that generates excitement for and the sale of merchandise.
As WindowsWear is based in New York City, many of the world’s most famous fashion designers live and work here, like Ralph Lauren, Diane von Furstenberg, Michael Kors, Tory Burch, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Vera Wang, Kenneth Cole, Elie Tahari and more.
But how do we get ourselves on the radar of all these high-profile, influential designers?
Raul Tovar serves as the Creative Director of WindowsWear, and when Raul is not managing our content and global team of photographers, he is a very successful fashion photographer and director for publications like Vogue (see example here) and frequently works on set of some of the highest-profile photo-shoots in the world. For instance, in just the past couple years, Raul has been involved in these high-profile photo-shoots of President Obama, supermodel Irina Shayk, and more. Raul is also a great friend to have personally, as he’s always helping me improve my Instagram posts (here is an image Raul took of me that was featured all across New York City through all the LinkNYC WiFi stations)!
After always having in the back of our minds how to creatively get WindowsWear on the radar of these high-profile fashion designers, Raul gets a call letting him know about a high-profile photo-shoot that’s taking place at Pier59 Studios in New York City (see image below). It’s now the Fall of 2013, about a year after we launched.
The photo-shoot concept featured the late Oscar de la Renta with famous female designer counterparts, fashion icons, and celebrities that included Tory Burch, Diane von Furstenberg, Barbara Bush, Huma Abedin, Jenna Bush Hager, and Lauren Santo Domingo.
We said to ourselves wow, all these influential people all in the same room. They should all know about WindowsWear!
But, Raul was not there for a WindowsWear sales pitch, he was there to assist in the production and photography of the photo-shoot. He could not interrupt any part of the photography shoot by telling these designers about WindowsWear.
He would also be taking a big risk, by inviting me and publicly sharing details of the shoot. These high-profile photo-shoots are filled with security and operate in secret. They even take the phones away of everyone working the shoot to maintain the highest levels of secret and security.
Life is all about timing, luck, and being at the right place at the right time. This was clearly one of those opportunities. And, with all these high-profile people, it was a chance neither of us would hesitate to take.
We knew the only way to succeed was by working together, discretely and confidently.
So, we went online and found the below Pier59 Studios map. Raul was familiar with the layout, and proceeded to direct me where he thought I could wait and where I can meet the designers. We were plotting our plan, and did not have much time to do so, as the photo-shoot would be taking place the next day.
Pier59 Studios is filled with large open studios where photo-shoots are reserved and taken in private. As we looked at the map, we decided I would wait in the Restaurant/Bar, knowing that all the designers would have to walk through the Main Entrance back to where the elevator is to eventually exit the building. As Raul and the production team were busy on their photo-shoot, I would wait for them as they left the building, hoping to have just a brief encounter and introduction with any high-profile fashion designer that would be leaving the building.
The Day of the Photoshoot
Raul is one of the first to get on set. He gets there around 7am. As an assistant on the photography shoot, Raul has to build the stage with a skilled team and get all the lighting and equipment ready. There are many physical elements that go into a photography shoot and they all have to work together seamlessly. They even test shoot on different skin and hair tones and fabric colors to ensure each celebrity being photographed later that day will be adjusted ideally for them.
As Raul is doing his work on set, I’m at the office anxiously waiting his text. Raul first needs to clear that I can should actually come into Pier59 Studios and where I should wait.
Shortly after lunch, Raul texts me from Pier59 Studios that I should come to the studio and wait at the Restaurant/Bar where we originally planned. He texts me that after the shoot, I may be able to catch the designers as they exit the studio. Raul also sneaked in his phone and is secretly texting me from the back of the photography studio.
I immediately leave the office and grab the first cab I see and take it to Pier59 Studios. I didn’t know if I would be able to actually get inside, but I made sure to wear my best outfit so I can just sneak right in.
I walk right in and past the reception desk and immediately turn left to the Restaurant/Bar, grabbing a seat at the bar facing the Main Entrance. I immediately ordered a coffee and made small talk with the bartender. I didn’t want anything to seam out of place even though I was alone at the bar in what was an empty restaurant. I sat facing the Reception desk so I could get a clear view of the studio as I waited for the photo-shoot to finish.
After waiting for about 1-2 hours, and drinking 2-3 cups of coffee, Raul finally texts me that the photo-shoot has ended and that I should be prepared to engage.
Now it’s game time. I thought it would be a matter of seconds at that point but it then took another 10-15 more minutes to finally see some action. It was at that point that I see the doors opening, and hear conversations and then footsteps.
This was the moment we have been waiting for.
The first person I saw leaving the studio was Oscar de la Renta. Mr. De La Renta walked with a cane and had an assistant helping escort him down the hallway. He looked amazing for being 81 years old and was wearing an impeccable suit. He had a vibrant glow and ambiance to him. I didn’t feel the energy was right to approach Mr. De La Renta, so I continued to patiently stay in my seat.
I continued to wait and monitor the Reception area.
Moments later, a group four women walked past the Reception towards the Main Entrance. This group included Tory Burch and they were all chatting with each other. I said to myself this is the perfect group to approach, and immediately jumped out of my seat and started to follow them down the hallway. I was about 10 paces behind them as they walked down the Main Entrance.
As soon as they veered right, I lost eye contact with them. It appeared that they disappeared. But as soon as I veered right behind them, there they all were.
They were standing inside an elevator, and they were all looking at me as I walked toward them. I could feel the intensity of all eight eyeballs looking at me.
No time to react, I hollered “hold it!” and jumped in the elevator with them.
I immediately make eye-contact with Tory Burch as I jumped in. Tory Burch is very beautiful in person, and when I looked at her I felt goosebumps. For a split second I didn’t know if I had the courage to even say hello. But at that moment I noticed Tory Burch was actually looking at me as well, and she smiled.
Her smile immediately took the edge off. I looked back right back at her and said “Hey, aren’t you Tory Burch?“
Her smile became even bigger and brighter. After all this time and planning, I didn’t even come up with any ice breakers or slick first liners to say. This was just the first thing I could think of off the top of my head. I also knew I had to say something fast because every second that elevator door could open and I would lose my opportunity to speak with her.
By also acknowledging who she is, I also think she was also impressed that I knew who she was. I also told her that I am an admirer of her brand, and as an entrepreneur and business woman.
After telling me thank you, she then asked me who I was and asked what do I do since I knew so much about her.
I said to myself “Jackpot!” Now she is asking me to tell her exactly what I wanted to say to her.
I tell her all about WindowsWear, and we have created a visual merchandising database and community that also photographs all of the Tory Burch window displays around the world. I mentioned we would love to figure out ways to collaborate with her and her brand, and that I’d love to stay in touch. I handed her my business card.
As I hand her my business card, the elevator doors open, and Tory Burch walks off the elevator and exits the building. After I see her leave, I pause to gather my thoughts, energy, and breath.
I said to myself, wow, I just gave Tory Burch an elevator pitch in an actual elevator. And, even thought we only succeeded with one of the designers of the photo-shoot, we managed to pull it off.
Later that day Raul comes back to the office and we tell everyone at the office the story. The risk was certainly worth taking, as well as all of the planning and courage to pull it off.
Since then, Mike, Raul, and all of us on the WindowsWear team have been able to continue to develop a great relationships with the Tory Burch team and the brand has become clients of WindowsWear. Additionally, other New York City based fashion brands like Ralph Lauren, Diane von Furstenberg, Michael Kors, and more have also become clients of WindowsWear as well.
Below is the photo that was taken at Pier59 Studios that day. Tory Burch can been seen on the bottom left, wearing green. Oscar de la Renta is the man in the middle, wearing that impeccable suit.
WindowsWear has also continued to innovate in the global visual display industry by creating the world’s largest visual merchandising database and community, a museum, annual awards, tours, amassed a large social media following, and more).
We have also developed more personal relationships with designers like Stefano Gabbana of Dolce & Gabbana:
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@elietahari & @jonharari. Elie's character, skills, and successes serve as a significant #inspiration to all those looking to accomplish big things. Elie and I also share many things in common, especially the last three letters of our last names ("ari", which also means "lion"). Photo: @caitlindonnelly Post-production: @raultovar