Calling Simon Doonan a window dresser is like calling Beyonce is a "singer" — and understatement is definitely not this multi-talented artist's thing. He goes big, lending his flair to everything from the legendary Barney's New York window displays to the Obama holiday White House. This July, you'll see him as a judge for NBC's new creative competition show, Making It with Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman.
We sat down with Doonan to learn more about the spirit behind all that spectacle.
Q. How much of window-dressing work involves actual hands-on crafting?
Some window dressers have a very sleek, luxurious, glamorous approach. But I always took a very crafty approach — always making props, devising things out of other things, even creating wigs. I was very good at being resourceful and finding low-budget crafty solutions. That is actually my comfort zone, and I think that's why I was cast in Making It, because I consistently had that approach of being crafty.
Q. Lots of people dream of living a life as creative as yours. What would you say to them?
If you want to be very successful, you need to have a vision. If you want to have a gorgeous, creative life, you may not become successful in the conventional sense, but you will love making things and that will be a huge part of your life. So I think it's good not to get too caught up in the idea of external approval, external validation.
That's the magical thing about crafts. They're very democratic. Anybody can do it. The key is to just love doing it. My Auntie Muriel, growing up ... she could knit Aran sweaters without a pattern. Those are immensely complicated sweaters. She didn't think, why aren't I on the cover of Vogue. She was just making beautiful things and taking real pleasure in it.
Q. You mention in your book The Asylum that trying to "grow up and be serious" always backfired. What gave you the resilience to stick with your creative passions and reach your level of success?
I think it comes from being gay. I was gay at a time when it was illegal to be gay, and you had to hide it. My recollection of my generation is that we understood to a large extent that it was important to love yourself. So my generation, you were proud to be part of this community that was somewhat reviled or marginalized, and you developed a sort of creative resilience. If things didn't go well, you just have to try something else.
Q. What's your dream project?
Well, when I go to Vegas, I think ... why hasn't anybody called me to do the lobby of a casino or something like that? Or large-scale theatrical projects that require some kind of display focal point. Oh, and I love cars, so I would always love to design a car. Let's see, some crazy opera or ballet for the Met — that would be fun!
Simon Doonan's responses are condensed and edited for length.