Simon Doonan Raids Art Supply Store, Gets Early Start on Holidays for PayPal

“I’m always looking for an unconventional way to do holiday,” Simon Doonan told us the other day. The famed window dresser and style authority, who holds the plum title of creative ambassador-at-large for Barneys New York, prides himself on “crafty ingenuity”—think Rudolph made from old Coke cans&#8212and his latest project came with a high-tech twist. PayPal hired Doonan to whip up festive window displays for its pop-up “Shopping Showcase,” a ground-level space in New York where the online payments giant will show off its latest offerings to retailers beginning tonight. So how did he conquer the challenge of selling, well, selling? “After they called me, I was walking past an art supply store, and I saw these,” he said, holding up a posable wooden manikin. “I thought they would be a great way to represent the 100 million people that use PayPal. They’re zillions of these in different sizes in the windows. They’re chic, they’re connected, they’re flexible.”

After Doonan submitted his initial sketches (one is pictured above), the displays were fabricated on site. “That’s a tremendous advantage, because it allows you to keep running outside and seeing what everything’s actually going to look like,” explained Doonan, dressed in a snappy Thom Browne jacket in a shade that he described as “PayPal blue.” The company’s signature color is a key theme of the windows, which feature an industrious bunch of wooden people going about their seasonal preparations amidst a flurry of wintry tissue and tulle. “It’s a fantasy holiday vignette,” he said, standing in front of the largest window. “Buy your gifts, throw them all in a sleigh, and then haul them off through the snow.” For those eager to bring a bit of Doonan’s kooky approach to their own December decor, he recommends a trip to Home Depot for some chicken wire, which he used to make the PayPal wreath. “Chicken wire is such a versatile, incredible material,” he said. “Make yourself a chicken wire Christmas tree and then just start shoving things into it.”

As for e-commerce and e-payment solutions for brick-and-mortar stores, Doonan has come around. “Five years ago, somebody said to me ‘Maybe one day people will shop on their phones,’ and I said, ‘That’s insane!’ Now it’s quite normal,” he said with a shrug. “Retailers have to be incredibly nimble. All bets are off.” With unique access to (and presumably a generous discount on) Barneys wares as well as the burgeoning assortment of merchandise sold by his husband, Jonathan Adler, Doonan’s own online purchases remain rather limited. “I buy books and sporty things, like Jonathan and I just bought paddleboards online,” he said, describing this as part of an effort to keep up with the online world. “The evolution of technology, the velocity of it all, is so major that you kind of have to get involved,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re like Whistler’s Mother, just sitting there, knitting, and watching it all unfurl and having less and less of an understanding of it.”