Holiday Spirit
Fantastical characters watch over mythical forests during a past Christmas season at Stanford Shopping Center's Shreve & Co., which has transformed its windows into holiday displays for the past 25 years under the direction of visual merchandising artist Jim Cardosa.
Courtesy of Shreve & Co.

A window into holiday magic
Meet the artist behind Shreve & Co.'s famed Christmas displays

The tiny elves, trumpeters and whimsical fairies who have occupied the ever-changing mini wonderlands in each of Shreve & Co.'s five windows at Stanford Shopping Center over the past 25 holiday seasons may only be a few inches tall, but that hasn't prevented them from capturing the imagination of passersby year after year. From the painted porcelain faces of the trumpeters to the tiny pants and hats worn by elves preparing for Santa's big Christmas Day celebration in a village at the North Pole, everything in each window display is handcrafted and based on the vision of one man — Jim Cardosa.

Cardosa, an award-winning visual merchandising designer who got his start at Macy's 40 years ago, has worked behind the scenes imagining and creating differently themed displays for Shreve & Co.'s Palo Alto and San Francisco stores each holiday season for the past quarter century. It's his job to catch the eye of shoppers within only a fraction of a second and entice them into the showrooms of the 167-year-old San Francisco-based jewelry company. To do that, not a single detail can be overlooked — not a drop of glue can show and nothing can be out of line, Cardosa says. The only thing onlookers should be focused on are the miniature magical scenes that each tell their own story.

Each display, which on average is approximately 18 inches wide by 20 inches tall, has two sides and is on a turntable-like platform that rotates slowly every 30 seconds. One side of the display depicts a mini holiday scene; the other side displays jewelry, watches and other items that are offered inside the store.

This holiday season, the Shreve & Co. windows have stepped back in time to present Christmas dioramas housed in reproductions of vintage Christmas decoration boxes. In one window, for example, there's a fairy in an over-sized Shiny Brite ornament box.

Just about every family owned these boxes in the '40s through the '60s, explained Cardosa, who took time out of his busy season to talk to the Weekly about his famed windows.

Q: You've been creating iconic window displays for Shreve & Co. each holiday season for the past 25 years. Where do you find your inspiration?
A: Inspiration comes to me in many ways. I find that inspiration comes at moments when I least expect it. It can come from many sources: nature, magazines, movies, browsing images on the internet or from personal experiences. I've even been inspired by a billboard and created a theme around that idea. You just never know.

Q: Can you describe the process of how you take your vision and turn it into themed window displays?
A: I'm very fortunate in that I have a strong ability to envision a concept from start to finish. Depending on the project, I do sometimes work with a team of artists. This year, as I've done in the past, I'm working with Kat Soto, a truly gifted doll artist. Kat will be handcrafting custom fairies for this year's Christmas windows at Shreve. Both Kat and I create just about everything from scratch, working in our respective studios. Once our work is completed, I transport and install the displays myself and fine-tune the details on site.

Q: How much time do you spend creating the displays each holiday season?
A: Most people have no idea how much time and thought goes into creating these unique holiday displays. People are so used to purchasing ready-made items that they forget that some things are still handmade, which takes a considerable amount of thought and time. I usually begin thinking about the Christmas windows in early spring and finalize the concepts by early summer and begin fabrication by late summer/early fall. In terms of hours, literally hundreds of hours are spent from concept to installation.

Q: How has technology changed the way you create your displays over the years?
A: Window display is still an old-school form of street entertainment. I tend to stay away from a lot of electronic gimmicks in my windows because I feel people get a lot of that stimulation in their daily lives already. I like the quiet approach to capturing a person's attention, using a strong visual statement and imagery to stop them on the street.

Q: When designing the windows, what's your goal?
A: My first and foremost goal when designing a window is to be faithful to my client's brand and image, promoting them in the best way possible. I am very aware that the window isn't about me; it's about them and the public's reaction to them. Of course, the ultimate goal is to get a person's attention and engage them to the point where they come into the store.

Q: What were some of your most memorable themes from years past?
A: I've been designing window displays for 40 years, 25 of those years for Shreve & Co. In that time I've had many memorable holiday displays and choosing a few is quite difficult. Having said that, one of the most memorable Shreve Christmas windows was a collaboration with Kat Soto and the theme was "Fabled Lands." That year we were able to create fantastical characters and environments with very few limitations and creative boundaries. The result was a very magical experience for the public where they were drawn into the experience and transported to another world for a brief moment in time.

Q: How did you get your start creating window displays?
A: As a child I was always interested and engaged in creative expression. My parents were both very artistic and creative and encouraged my brothers and I to express ourselves artistically. As a young adult, I majored in art in college and started my display career at Macy's. My very first window display was for a Hoover vacuum cleaner sale. That was the beginning of a very challenging yet fulfilling career, never dull, always exciting and interesting.

Cardosa's themed windows will be on display through the first week of January at Shreve & Co., located at 329 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto.

— Linda Taaffe