When one conjures up images of winter, the scene probably does not include disco balls, feathers, sequined masks, beaded gowns and mannequins named Bianca and Steve. But these are among the elements that window dresser Salvador Cruz has pulled together for this year’s winter window display at the Out of the Closet thrift store in Echo Park. With a life-long interest in decorating, and experience setting up displays at Williams Sonoma as well as a Silver Lake gay bar, Cruz has turned the window at Sunset Boulevard and Lemoyne Street into a showcase for his imagination and ingenuity, creating eye-catching displays made primarily from donated clothes and other cast-offs. The 34-year-old is guided by themes that help him select colors as well as clothing.
“I was thinking Mardi Gras but I wanted a winter holiday theme,” said Cruz of the current display, which went up in December and comes down in early February . “I wanted silver and gold, so I started saving clothing that was a little loud.”
The result is the window display that Cruz has titled “My Winter Gala.”
Cruz, who is officially a sales associate, began decorating the Echo Park window last year after arriving from the thrift store’s South Pasadena outlet. Though he was new to the store, Cruz was familiar with the wide bank of Echo Park windows, which he had driven by numerous times over the years. “I would pass by an say, ‘That window has some good potential.'”
Most of the items are clothes, furniture and other merchandise that have been donated and are available for sale. Cruz keeps a purple notebook behind the counter with names and numbers of buyers interested in purchasing the items after the window display comes down. He does furnish a few items of his own, including the disco balls and wigs. Then there are the mannequins, which have been christened with names such as Steve and Bianca and Thomas and Naomi. Working with a glue gun, safety pins and “lots of glitter,” Cruz assembles the clothes, mannequins and other merchandise into his often over-the-top creations. “That’s what I have to work with,” he said.
Cruz starts thinking about the window displays – which are up for about two months at a time – well in advance of their public debut. When he sees an item or other form of inspiration, he quickly jots it down in a black notebook. He also keeps an eye out for interesting apparel and other items that might make it into the Echo Park window. The current display, for example, has its roots in two gold cups that Cruz’ sister was going to throw away. He rescued them.
Those gold gold cups now serve as a kind of a breast plate for Vanessa, the mannequin who sits at the corner of the Out of the Closet window, where she is swathed in a sheer gold and white frock and crowned by a towering blond wig. “My Winter Gala” also includes a 1970s-era dress, starburst mirrors, feathers, plastic plants and candelabras spray-painted gold and a white naval uniform with earrings serving as medals.
Cruz said he enjoys watching passersby take photos of his windows. He has not heard of any complaints but did have to change a display after an Out of the Closet manager took issue with an item Cruz had used: a sling. The manager thought it was too risque, and Cruz took the sling – which was being used as a swing – out of the window. “I don’t do anything vulgar.”
When he worked at Le Barcito, a Gay-Latino bar in Silver Lake that closed earlier this year, Cruz was put in charge of decorating for special events. Some customers began bringing him items to include in his displays, he said. Cruz said he eventually wants to return to school to study visual merchandising.
But first, Cruz has to prepare for the next Echo Park window display once “My Winter Gala” comes down on Feb. 2. Cruz said he has a cowboy theme in mind but he has also amassed some ’80s-style clothes as well as other items that could lend themselves to a Rock ‘n’ ‘Roll theme.
What ever he comes up with, you can bet it will be attracting attention.