Claire Roudabush: Display Queen

In the 1987 comedy “Mannequin,” the world’s first—and only—straight male window dresser, played by Andrew McCarthy, seems to have the ultimate dream job. His workday is an endless montage of wild outfits and dancing around the mall with Kim Cattrall, the title mannequin who takes on human life in his arms. The cheerful and sweet Claire Roudabush seems to have just as much fun in her gig perfecting windows, props and store display at legendary retailer Barneys.

Roudabush gets to play in a couture dollhouse all day, and sell the hell out of that Chanel in the process. Among other things, her Dior dioramas led to offers to do fashion show sets and lookbooks for Original Penguin and Shades of Grey. This season, she’s creating a ghostly beach party for womenswear label Baja East. Milk Made stopped by her Brooklyn studio to check on her progress.

Milk Made: What’s the best customer reaction you have gotten to a window design of yours at Barneys?

Claire Roudabush: I always find it amusing when someone walks by the windows and says "I don’t get it.”

MM: That means you’re doing something right. Tell me about your set design for Baja East this season—apparently a ghostly beach party?

CR: Heaps of sand, like a windblown dune. Unkempt seagrass and wild vegetation. It’s meant to look like under a boardwalk that’s been abandoned after Hurricane Sandy.

MM: Sounds like the poor Rockaways.

CR: Exactly, but more subtle and surreal. The designers had a very clear vision.

MM: What are some of your favorite fashion designers you wear or would love to work with?

CR: I absolutely adore London-based label Lazy Oaf. They seem like the coolest girls and I love their bold, playful and graphic aesthetic.

MM: Tell me about one of the favorite things you’ve created.

CR: We made this really weird half dove/half hawk sculpture for an editorial. It was the oddest and ugliest little thing, yet very cute. The whole time making it, we were just cracking up. Feathers were all over the studio, looked like a massacre! We intensely studied bird photos trying to perfect the beak and large talons.

MM: I love that head of Linda Evans (Krystal Carrington of legendary TV show Dynasty) on the wall. What was that for?

CR: A jewelry editorial for Nylon.

MM: Your work and studio have a real fun "Wizard of Oz"/"Pee-wee’s Playhouse" vibe to it.

CR: Ha! I love Pee-wee! I grew up watching Pee-wee’s Playhouse! I’m also nuts for the Muppets! I think I’m a Muppet sometimes.

MM: Do you have any secret New York City spots you want to recommend for people visiting for fashion week?

CR: I am obsessed with this place Magic Jewelry in Chinatown (238 Canal Street) where you can get your aura read.

MM: Oh yes, I have had that done—where they take a photograph? My aura was all green. Apparently that’s a good thing.

CR: That is good. Mine’s usually a few different colors. It’s a very special little gem of a place.

MM: What is your dream vacation?

CR: It would definitely be to another planet. Word out is Brad and Angelina already have tickets to the moon—that’s my ultimate fantasy. Super jells on that.

Photography by Andrea Tese. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Follow Greg Garry on Twitter; Instagram

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