Connected \\ November 20, 2020

The fine art of window dressing

It never fails to amaze me how downtown Salem transforms itself quicker than a rock star doing a costume change in the middle of a concert. It starts in the spring as a quaint seaside destination, with foot traffic picking up in summer. Then autumn arrives, bringing with it a complete change of color. In an instant, the Halloween craziness happens, overwhelming the city for six weeks.

Then, like a bell has rung, it all settles down in November and becomes a unique destination for holiday shopping. And this should come as no surprise. Show me another city where shoppers can find edgy clothing shops, specialty food and wine emporiums, unique gift stores and a magic wand shop all within a 10- block radius. Not to mention trendy restaurants, entertainment attractions and....one of the largest museums in the US plunked right in the heart of the city.

Shop in Salem poster

"Shop in Salem" broadside, designed by Harry Sutton of Salem, 1914. From the Essex County Ephemera Collection, courtesy of the Phillips Library.


Recently, the PEM shop team has stepped outside of the boundaries of our museum store and started to activate some of the shop spaces on Essex Street. One of which is 179 Essex, where the shop team was tasked with rejuvenating the windows for the season and to celebrate the museum's upcoming show Made It: The Women Who Revolutionized Fashion.

170-174 Essex St. Cousins Collection

170-174 Essex St. Cousins Collection.


Standing in vintage casement windows was a thrill, number 179 being the former longtime location of Bernard’s Jewelry Store. We immediately thought not only about the possibilities of bringing the windows to life, but what had been there in the past, in the days where strolling down the street to discover the perfect gift was the only way to shop. How many people peered through this same glass window? So our goal was clear, we had to revive the fine art of window dressing and create a classic department store holiday window feel….of course, adding a bit of PEM style.

Made it was a perfect inspirational exhibition, focusing on fashion and the women who revolutionized it. So the first order of business was to find out what our fashion curatorial team led by Petra Slinkard, PEM’s Director of Curatorial Affairs and Nancy B. Putnam Curator of Fashion and Textiles, had in mind for the build out of the exhibition galleries.

Instagram photo of a woman dressing a mannequin


We zeroed in on a shade of HOT PINK that they had chosen for one of the walls and then decided to have the interior of the windows painted floor to ceiling in the same color. The name of the shade was Hot Lips Pink. We were powerless to resist. And if you visit during the evening hours, you will notice that the windows on the second and third floor of the building are washed in a matching pink light, courtesy of PEM’s own lighting designer, Henry Rutkowski.

Carla Fernandez ensemble

The exhibition team also shared that the museum had recently made an acquisition by Carla Fernandez, an artist based in Mexico City. As luck would have it, we were already negotiating with Fernandez in order to bring in some of her clothing line to offer for sale in the PEM shop, so we decided to make that the main feature in the windows at 179 Essex. We were inspired by the Fernandez outfit that PEM acquired into the collection, which will be on view during the show. The work depicts some of Fernandez’s manifesto statements, so we decided to adopt two of her classic statements for the window. One side of the windows will say FASHION IS NOT EPHEMERAL and that is where we plan to show some of the clothes available in the shop. Also, keep an eye out for exclusive manifesto masks that are being created by Fernandez for the PEM shop.

A shop window with bright pink walls and clothing on display

Photography by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.


A night time view of a shop window display with pink walls in a brick building.

Photography by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

Mask The Future is handmade

The other side will say THE FUTURE IS HANDMADE. Here we plan on featuring the work of local women designers and artists. So far we have Jade Gedeon of We Dream In Colour, Ellen Schiller of Hey Blue Handmade, Alyssa Waters of Art by Alyssa, Kate Luchini of Digs Jewelry, Hetty Friedman textiles and Salem’s youngest entrepreneur, Georgia Wren, of Georgia Made This. And if you don’t see some of your favorites, don’t worry, we will be adding more local designers to the window during the course of the exhibition.

Two of the featured local designers in PEM’s windows on Essex Street, Georgia Wren of Georgia Made This and Alyssa Waters of Art by Alyssa. Courtesy images.

Two of the featured local designers in PEM’s windows on Essex Street, Georgia Wren of Georgia Made This and Alyssa Waters of Art by Alyssa. Courtesy images.


But our intrepid little shop team has not stopped there! In addition to the 179 Windows, the shop has put together the PEM Archive shop at 181 Essex St, which is basically a little bit of outlet shopping in downtown Salem. Here, shoppers can save up to 40 percent and more on great art inspired clothing and housewares. The Archive is open Thursdays through Sundays, 11 to 5.

And don’t forget to check out the PEM shop windows! This year we are featuring items designed by Stephen Brown and his company Glitterville. Brown never fails to bring his own unique color pallet and fresh designs to holiday décor. So we have tossed aside the plain white winter wonderland this year and followed his lead to create a rainbow colored holiday display.

The PEM shop windows light up at night with rainbow colors

Photography by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.


The PEM shop windows decorated with ornaments

Photography by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.


We hope our efforts to help brighten up the downtown intrigues shoppers to come and check out what all our local businesses offer.

All of downtown Salem is getting in on the action and encouraging festive downtown window shopping this holiday season. In addition, Destination Salem is collaborating with Salem Main Streets and the Creative Collective on a #StayLocalSalem campaign, encouraging all in Salem and neighboring communities to "shop, dine, explore" locally to support community businesses. Shoppers and diners will have a postcard that can be punched at participating businesses with a chance to win a Salem Staycation.

So this year in particular, after all we’ve been through in 2020, please come downtown to see Made It, do a little window shopping and support the local amazing, diverse, unique and sometimes lovingly quirky businesses that help make Salem a singular place to visit.

See you soon!

The PEM shop windows with bright pink walls and ornaments on display

Photography by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.


To see items online that are in these windows, go to the PEM Shop or visit the PEM Shop in person at the museum during open hours.

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Mannequins dressed in ensembles in the Made It exhibition
Women who made it