Through the merchant’s glass

Creating a “mint” window display



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Photo Michael Hanlon

When fashion designer Tanvi Asher first opened her Park Avenue boutique, Peppermint, she had only 500 square feet and an entrance facing Meigs Street. According to Asher, “Being on a side street meant we would have to work extra hard to get the attention of passersby. Having just opened, I had no extra budget for a window display.” She enlisted the help of another designer, Melissa Murphy. While the pair brainstormed ideas, a box of shipping hangers piled too high fell to the floor. The clatter was annoying, but inspiration struck, and Asher exclaimed, “Let’s use these!” 

The two had lengthy discussions exploring the structure of hangers and how they could be molded, broken, wired, or cut. One month and more than 400 hangers later, Asher and Murphy had completed a skeletal corset in time for Halloween. The window attracted plenty of attention and Murphy, who had it in her portfolio, was approached about the window being featured in David Choi’s book Fashion Window Shopping. To the delight of Asher and Murphy, their hard work had paid off.

Murphy has since moved away from Rochester, and Asher has relocated Peppermint to a larger space in the same building. The window now faces Park Avenue, and she and her staff design four to five elaborate displays per year. Window concepts typically take anywhere from two weeks to four months to plan, particularly if some elements are made from scratch. Installation usually takes two days to complete. Asher’s background in industrial design plays a huge role in the selection of materials and ensuring the built environment is met with her own personal standard of “Nailed it!”

For window inspiration, Asher primarily relies on the change of seasons and what makes them special to the Rochester area. Current events have also played a role. When gay marriage was legalized in fifty states last June, Asher did a temporary four-week window filled with rainbow-colored popsicles to coincide with the Rochester Pride Parade. She rarely places store merchandise in the window. “For me, the window explores the relationship between design and craftsmanship through visual language. I get to focus the viewer’s attention on the quasi-pictorial aspect of the brand.”

One might not find store merchandise, but the elements within the display are certainly a reminder of the artistry, hard work, and creativity Asher has used to cultivate both the Peppermint brand and her bespoke bridal line, Asher Bridal. A positive first impression is paramount.  Asher says, “The window should evoke a certain emotion in a person such as happiness, intrigue, an appreciation for beauty, or something unique. This is similar to the emotion we see in our customers when they enter the store, learn about our brand, connect with us, and continue to patronize us.”

     

Asher’s vision comes from an appreciation of the elaborate window dressing in big-city department stores like Macy’s, Bloomingdales, and Selfridges. Her strategy is straightforward: a well-designed window attracts the customer and incites curiosity, and curiosity converts into a sale. “It’s like a Broadway performance,” Asher explains, “The windows have become their own destination attraction. The goal may be to entice shoppers to make a purchase, but many people visit simply because they slowed down, are delighted, and want to tell us about their experience.” The windows have become somewhat of a muse for local artist and photographer Frances Paley. “I had no idea that we had a secret admirer whose artwork was influenced by our windows,” Asher says, “and when she told me they inspired pieces in her portfolio, I shed a few tears of joy.” 

For business owners and merchandisers wanting to create more inspired window displays, Asher recommends starting by identifying your goals and standing outside the store to envision what might entice a customer to come inside. Peppermint windows are always on a budget. Asher believes setting a limit presents a fun challenge that fosters more creativity. She says, “We set our budget between $50 and $200 per window and have been quite successful. Most items we use are handmade, found, or recycled. It is easy to overlook supplies you might already have.” The hanger window cost Asher zero dollars in materials—it was made of the vendor shipment hangers Peppermint typically discards. 

     

Asher firmly believes a beautiful window can add charm to a neighborhood. As the current president of the Park Avenue Merchants Association, she says, “Neighborhood businesses such as Parkleigh and Useless Objects are other good examples of windows that delight and charm. People are smitten, snap pictures on their phones to share on social media, or just slow down while walking their dogs to point and admire what they’re seeing.

“We’re basically celebrating the savoir-faire of window displays, and they are an extension of our brand. They’ve given me balance, happiness, and a sense of purpose. We’ve also created a sense of community and a chain reaction to more creativity. It makes Peppermint more of a landmark in downtown Rochester rather than just a boutique.”

Peppermint is located at 121 Park Avenue, and the Sewn Seeds annual spring fashion showcase takes place March 20 at Restaurant Good Luck. Buy tickets at inspiredtable.restaurantgoodluck.com. 

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