Design students think in the box for SOCO window displays

Chef Laurent Brazier of Bistro Papillote, right, shows his appreciation of the store window created by OCC design student Madison Alvarez and her team, who gives a thumbs up for first place design at the South Coast Collection student merchandise window design project on Wednesday.
(Don Leach, Daily Pilot)

Stop and stare.

That was the goal of Orange Coast College display and visual presentation students who were paired with merchants at The OC Mix at Costa Mesa’s South Coast Collection to design window box displays inspired by their assigned stores.

“It’s like a reality television show,” instructor Steven Jones said as he watched his class of 30 students, split into seven groups, collaborate and discuss their visions outside the storefronts. The winning group would have bragging rights at school and recognition on SOCO’s message board overlooking the 405 Freeway.

“We could all be sitting in a classroom talking about how to design a window display, but this class is where the rubber meets the road,” Jones said. “I’m looking for a level of professional teamwork, execution and sensitivity to the brand.”

Jones, an interior designer who has designed Quiksilver and Roxy stores around the world, said he saw the project as an opportunity for his students to practice working with a client.

To help guide the budding designers, Jones enlisted former star students to offer suggestions and techniques, like looking for visual cues in a shop that can be put in the 29-by-29-foot window display. The coaches also emphasized the importance of simplicity and listening to the store owner.

Deborah Waltz, an interior designer and owner of Peinture Studios, a painting workshop featuring wall and furniture stencils, said she wanted a cohesive look for her store that would appeal to its feminine demographic.

The students assigned to the shop said they would paint a background and use wooden brushes dipped in an assortment of colors to dangle behind the glass.

After the groups met with their “clients” April 8, they returned Wednesday to install the displays and be judged by their peers. They also were congratulated by Bryon Ward, president of SOCO.

“This is a great representation of community outreach,” Ward said as students rushed to add finishing touches. “We like to incubate and nurture local talent, and we’re hopeful people can come in and see these up-and-coming artists’ creativity.”

The groups presented short discussions about their windows, explaining the materials they had chosen to put in the spotlight.

For French restaurant Bistro Papillote, students Madison Alvarez, Summer Vindedahl, Mario Ortiz and Ashley Frost wanted to showcase chef Laurent Brazier’s 70-year-old cookware that was used by his father and grandfather in France.

They removed shelves from a black bookcase to center Brazier’s copper saucepans and filled them with wine corks. To add color, the group placed red daisies in empty wine bottles.

After a tour of the boutiques, Ward said that each group had captured the personality of each merchant.

The students were asked to vote for the best window (sans their own). Jones counted the votes.

Third place went to the display for Farrow & Ball, an upscale showroom featuring its own brand of paint and handcrafted wallpaper. Second place was awarded to the Surfas Culinary District display.

The winning window was Bistro Papillote, which, it so happened, was opening that day.

“I’m very happy with it,” Brazier told the designers. “I love this look.”

Jones gave some parting praise to the emerging artists, who smiled back at him, grateful for their mentor’s presence on their design journey.

Students said they learned about branding, teamwork, the importance of planning ahead and communicating effectively with a business owner.

“These students are getting so much experience out of this,” Jones said. “I have to say, each one looks really good.”

The window boxes will be on display until the end of May. SOCO is in the 3300 block of Hyland Avenue.