MAKING A MASTERPIECE: The designer and his window team work to install the graphics after he figures out how all of the windows will look once they're up.
Photography by Peter Murphy

“Christmas windows are like theater and being on Broadway: We know we must put on a good show,” explains Martine Reardon, chief marketing officer for Macy’s. “Each window is a chance for us to entertain our audience. Paul has that innate creative eye and mind to see and design the Christmas windows from both the inside and out.


Haven’t seen Macy’s 2013 holiday windows yet? We’ve got you covered.

The window wizard himself tells it best: “This year is called ‘Dream … and Believe.’ It tells the story of a Christmas dream a boy has of a mysterious and beautiful crystal-and-ice forest full of magic. He learns about giving and sharing, beauty, joy, magic and believing. When he wakes up, he finds his dream has come true on Christmas morning. His tree is decorated with all the elements he just dreamed of.”

Now go see it for yourself, but hurry — you only have until Jan. 2, 2014.

“The season itself is magical, and you have to love your job to be able to bring that magic to life,” she adds. “It’s the time of the year when Paul’s inner child takes over, and he becomes the creative wizard for our Christmas windows. He spends hours outside of the windows looking in to see what people will see when they stop to look inside. It’s that attention to detail that makes him an award-winning window designer.”

Olszewski wasn’t left on Macy’s doorstep with a paintbrush and a palette as an infant. He took the scenic career route to New York City and to what has become the Louvre of window dressings. A native of Los Angeles, Olszewski studied art at California State University Long Beach, “not knowing what doing windows and visual merchandising was,” he says. Then he got a job at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills and worked there for eight years before moving to Bergdorf ­Goodman in New York. Eventually, he landed at Macy’s as a freelancer and later was hired full time.

“It was a great opportunity,” he says, “because Macy’s is the world’s largest and probably the most famous store in the world. When I first started, it was a little nerve-racking. It became such a fun job. Being recognized as having some of the most famous windows in the world — especially for Christmas — it’s a lot of pressure, but a lot of fun pressure because it’s creative and it allows so much creative freedom that it’s not so much of a job thing but a fun thing I get to do. I’m lucky.”

When he began at Macy’s, he made a few simple changes here and there to upgrade the displays. Then Macy’s began giving him more and more freedom and allowed him to push his imagination. Mission accomplished.

“What’s important to me is that I really have to keep some tradition to it because it’s America’s department store, and people have a certain expectation that there will be some kind of traditional Christmas,” he explains. “But it’s also important for me to take it out of that realm as well. Every year, I try to keep surprising people by putting Santa in outer space or building a roller coaster in the window.”