In the windows of the Axis hair salon at 1509 Connecticut Ave. NW, a carpet of yellow No. 2 pencils spreads below a blue school desk topped by mounds of textbooks. One is open to a photo of a woman whose eyes stare with the blank fury of diabolical possession.
That textbook page reminds window designer Joe Ireland of grade school. “Remember, on the first day of class, you’d flip through your new textbooks and find the weirdest photos?” asks Ireland. In this case, it’s a patient with exopthomolic goiter. “I want my windows to spark those kinds of memories,” he adds.
Ireland has been outfitting Axis’ windows with quirky dioramas for the past year and a half. When he first started work as a receptionist at the salon more than three years ago, he could barely contain his desire to furnish the retail vitrines. He would whisper ideas into the ear of the salon’s former manager, but said manager wouldn’t allow him to design. “He really had a grip on those windows,” recalls Ireland. Frustrated and in search of full-time employment, the budding window-dresser left his salon job, only to reapply a year later when his nemesis resigned. With his new position as retail manager came the honor of storefront czar: “It didn’t matter what I had to do at the salon as long as I got those windows,” Ireland says.
In his first window for the salon, “Parachuting Products,” pomades and conditioners rained down on a District map. “Their parachutes were papier mâché,” he boasts with a sigh. “It looked like they were attacking the city.” Ireland studied a little art in school, but he taught himself to turn his streetside scenes into twisted narratives, which passer-by Ali Sartipzadeh calls “political and trendy.”
Currently, Axis’ back-to-school windows narrate the perils of teenage lust while showcasing the L’Amande lavender bubble bath and fancy Italian soap peddled inside. A row of open lockers reveals the accouterments of adolescence: In Allison’s locker lies the notebook on which she incessantly doodles the name of her crush, Jeremy. Unfortunately for Allison, Jeremy’s locker reveals more than a senior fond of basketball and Aveda products: Not only has he
pasted a still from Mommie Dearest inside his locker door, but there’s also a copy of OUT gawking from his gym bag. A painful story indeed.
Ireland hit a lighter note last week as he put the finishing touches on a sylvan windowscape at the Adams Morgan shoe store Shake Your Booty. He installed three brightly colored cardboard trees displaying luscious platform stilettos in picture windows carved into their trunks. One passer-by remarked, “I don’t see a theme here. I don’t get why those shoes are in the trees.”
This week, Ireland heads downtown to get a business license for his enterprise. He’d like to start constructing in-store displays and, of course, do more windowsif he isn’t hired away by Barney’s before he installs the next chapter of the Allison and Jeremy saga.Jessica Dawson