For Raylin Diaz, visual windows director for venerable retailer Saks Fifth Avenue, a passion for fashion and travel is key to dreaming up awe-inspiring window displays. “For me, fashion and travel live together,” says the Parsons School of Design graduate, who cut his teeth working for Diane von Furstenberg. “Fashion and travel both change us and create lasting memories.” Indeed, this past July, Diaz and his talented production team transformed defining moments from six Ritz-Carlton destinations — Dorado Beach, Half Moon Bay, Kapalua, Lake Oconee, Naples and San Francisco — into high-fashion window displays, each as unique as the property it represents. We sat down with Diaz to talk passions, process and bringing memorable moments to another dimension.
Q: What excited you most about this project?
A: I have always been a fan of traveling, and the experiences I have inspire my work. The Ritz-Carlton is known for creating unique experiences and lifelong memories for guests, and this was a chance to show those custom experiences to our audience. It seemed like the perfect partnership.
Q: You travel around the world for work and for life. How do you translate those experiences into your work?
A: When you travel you absorb things, and I’m always very curious and I love to go to local places and understand the culture. I do my best to understand the destination that I’m in and try to bring that back. When I return to New York City I’m excited and ready to create.
Q: What are some of your favorite places to visit?
A: I’m from the Dominican Republic, so if I have the chance to go back there, I always do. I also love Europe, Asia — especially Japan and Thailand. But there are so many beautiful places in this world that have their own magic.
Q: What do travel and fashion have in common?
A: Fashion and travel are both about change. When you put on clothes you’re dressing for an occasion, and you feel different every time you try something different on. And everything that you project changes too. When you travel and go to different destinations, you’re changing as well. The experiences you have change you.
Q: Let’s talk about window display, how can a window tell a story?
A: I always say a good window display tells a story, and a story can be told in many ways — by color, by texture, by composition, or as simple interpretation. I think the beauty and magic of windows is that we create a story, and when people from outside view it, they take it to another dimension by creating their own stories.
Q: Tell us about your creative process.
A: Everything starts with a conversation. We all sit at a table and discuss what we’re looking for. In this case, we met with The Ritz-Carlton to discuss the main idea, their vision and our vision. We took all that information, and my team did a lot of research to understand each destination and its memorable moment [a signature experience that happens daily, celebrating both the time of day and the destination, and is unique to its location]. We then create mood boards and sketches that get put into a rendering. Once both sides were happy, we started the production process.
Q: How long does the process take from start to finish, and how many people are involved?
A: A project like this takes 6 to 8 weeks, and between the partnership team, the window team and the production team, it’s about 25 people. It’s a big group! And definitely a team effort.
Q: Tell us about some of the props you used for The Ritz-Carlton windows.
A: We wanted to emphasize each destination’s defining moment, so we made custom Ritz-Carlton clocks to represent the time of day that each moment occurs. Other props include the firepit created for Lake Oconee, the bell in Naples’ window and the painted foam flowers used in Kapalua.
Q: And how did you select the clothing?
A: It was really based on the story we were telling the customer. The first thing we considered was the environment — what is the place, what’s the weather like, what is the defining moment. In Dorado Beach, for example, we’re in a beautiful spa, so we wanted to bring in pastels that spoke to that environment. San Francisco, on the other hand, was more colorful. We also only used American designers — everyone from Ralph Lauren to Alexander Wang to The Row — since all of the destinations are in the U.S. and the windows went up during the July 4th holiday.
Q: Did you have a favorite window?
A: Well, I loved all of them … but I feel connected to any destination that feels like home, and Dorado Beach had that feeling. It was peaceful and I wanted to be there.
Q: What did you hope passersby would take away from these?
A: I wanted people to understand that The Ritz-Carlton isn’t just about destinations where you book and sleep, they are about having an experience. I wanted someone to want to book a flight to San Francisco for that cocktail or to Dorado Beach for that spa experience.
Q: What do people not know about window design?
A: The amount of work, creative talent and time that goes into any window display.
Q: If you could design a window for any Ritz-Carlton destination, which would it be?
A: That is a difficult question because I want to recreate all of them, but for some reason I keep going back to Phulay Bay. I already love Thailand — the culture there is amazing and it’s really beautiful and peaceful — and that property looks just magical.