Artwork by Evan Geltosky

BIG DEPARTMENT STORES used to know all about the portal of magic that was the well-designed window display. Long lingered by at Christmastime, an intricate display of merchandise could inspire dreamy stares from passersby and trips up the escalator to the toy department. Now, the graphics and brand design gurus at IDL Worldwide want to harness some of that golden glamour with a design competition... a window-off, if you will. For the Retail Window Merchandising Competition (a contest simply begging for a pun-based name... like "Window to the Sell"), they've specially picked four teams, each peopled with six competitors, ranging from design students and pros to folks from Portland brands and restaurants. Those teams will have three hours to create an eye-catching window display at IDL's gallery space.

Will there be live models with beards of bees? Tableaus of psychedelic merriment? Design statements that will shock you to the core? Who can say what the wonder teams will assemble, but we can all agree that it's the process of watching aesthetes work that will be the real trove of entertainment. Alexis Vera, director of creative services at IDL Worldwide, was nice enough to answer some of our questions about the competition and its intricacies.

MERCURY: What retail items will be used in the competition?

ALEXIS VERA: The actual objects are a surprise! We can tell you this... it will be a mix of products from local brands. Merchandise will range from apparel to fashion accessories and housewares, all from [places] like Adorn, Kate Towers, Bridge & Burn, Schoolhouse Electric, Solestruck, Tanner Goods, and Holly Stalder. 

Will each team get the same kit to create their window? 

Well, yes and no. Each team will have a different set of products to merchandise, but they'll be working with the same set of tools a traditional visual merchandiser would have. Each team will have three hours, so it will be important that they connect as a team, ideate quickly, and get to work!

So audience members can watch the challenge in progress?

That's right, we intend to feature the process of creation rather than a finished product. Guests that stick around until 8 pm will see the finished product, but the real hero here is the creative process. The curated windows will be on display for the entire week, and visitors will be able to vote for their favorite. 

What are you hoping to see competitors do with their window displays? Any aspirations for them? 

Great question! I am looking for the unexpected. Something surprising and unique, just like the creative community we've fostered here in Portland. I'm hoping that the combination of globally recognized brand design, fantastic local product, and the broadest possible definition of creativity will yield a balance of visual interest, rich storytelling, and something none of us could have come up with on our own. I want these groups to surprise us all with what they can dream up. 

Anything more you'd like to tell me about the event? Will there be food and drinks and all that good business? 

Absolutely. We plan to host an active, fun, engaging event that goes well beyond a panel discussion or traditional open house. IDL is a creative group focused on consumer experience, so the opportunity to participate in Design Week by curating our own windows is a great way to celebrate the original form of visual merchandising. The idea behind consumer experience was born from those artists, architects, and craftsmen that came before us, and their original medium was the department store window. At our core we all want to tell a great story, and that's what we want our guests to enjoy. Oh, and yes, there will be plenty to eat and drink!

Retail Window Merchandising Competition
Gallery 135, 135 NW Park, Mon Oct 6, 4-8 pm, free