As the Creative Director of Set+Stage Creative, an award-winning prop design and manufacturing studio specializing in retail window displays, Sean Sager and partner David McBride together have created thousands of windows for major retailers such as Bloomingdale’s, Aerie, Harry Winston, and Banana Republic, to name a few. Prior to founding Set+Stage Creative in 2017, Sean was the Senior Visual Manager at Guess and Director of Visual Merchandising at BCBGMAXAZRIAGROUP and BEBE. We recently caught up with Sean, who is an Advisory Council member to FIDM’s Visual Communications program, to chat about his amazing career and advice for young creatives.
Tell us about your journey to visual display and design: I always excelled in art, but I couldn’t find my niche as a teenager in high school, so I had some creative outlets making collages and taking art class, and I took LEGO to another level as a kid. I’m not a hands-on tactical art person but I have a strong eye for visuals. As a result, I worked my way as a visual director spanning over 18 years for many brands and was able to conceptualize new stores, windows, fixtures, merchandising/floor sets, and how store environments are to be laid out. I’m a merchandiser, so I can work with clothing, merchandise, and style mannequins. My friends were going out on their own way before me, but I was afraid to go out on my own. What I learned was when it was time for me to go on my own, that was the time I was supposed to.
What continues to excite or inspire you regarding windows? Visuals have gone beyond the windows. There are Instagram walls that are happening in the street, not in the stores. There are activations happening in the middle of common areas of malls. There are things popping up everywhere and we were really focused on what was happening in the windows, but our clients are now reaching out to us for more out-of-the-box activities. Now there are three-dimensional and immersive things you can walk through, take a picture in, and be a part of it.
Can you share some exciting projects your company has worked on recently? IT’SUGAR candy stores have been a lot of fun! We did their stores at American Dream and Hawaii and now we’re doing Chicago. For Hawaii, all displays are covered in Hawaii-themed jellybeans and placed by hand. We flew our team, more than half of whom are FIDM Students and Alumni, to Hawaii where they got to stay for a week working on the new store opening.
We won a PAVE Award for our work on Rodeo Drive Holiday in 2020 and we are currently developing holiday 2022. This job is personal to me as I grew up in Beverly Hills. We recently finished the Bloomingdale’s Bridgerton Carousel Room on 59th Street in New York City, which came out fabulous! We’ve also been working on the visual props packages for the relaunch of the Banana Republic stores which has been a complete thrill considering my first visual job was at Banana Republic.
You’ve been a friend and supporter of FIDM in various ways. What do you enjoy about interacting with FIDM Students and Grads? I really consider it an honor to be able to interact with the students and teachers at FIDM and be able to offer my experience, best practices, and be able to coach them on their career paths. I’ve also established some very nice relationships over the years with some students by giving them advice, helping them, hiring them, or helping them get a job somewhere else. It’s really rewarding for me now that I’m older and more established. My career has flourished and now I want to pass the torch and see these young creatives grow. I enjoy it. I feel like I’m giving back. No one helped me in this way so I’m trying to break that mold.
What advice would you share with students interested in a career in window design or visuals? My dream was to be a visual director when I was in my twenties because I wanted the creative freedom to create and design windows. I went beyond my job responsibilities. If there were outside projects, I asked if I could volunteer and be part of them. I was hungry. My advice is to get involved in anything and everything you can. Try things; wear many hats. When you do things you don’t like, that’s a good thing because you can check it off your list and say, “That’s not for me.” I am inspired whenever I travel, and I usually go to places to get inspired. You see the world in a much different way when you visit other cultures. You learn about colors, textures, the way people dress and how they live, it just can go on and on and on.
Learn more online at sscreativegroup.com or on Instagram @sscreativegroup.