Grand Design

Blitzen could be just the first example of Dallas Shaw’s creative imprint on Wilmington

Last year at this time, Blitzen was the talk of the town. The downtown pop-up Christmas bar not only gave Wilmingtonians a novel place to mingle during the holidays, it showcased the creative genius of Dallas Shaw.

With Blitzen currently performing an encore at 220 W. 9th Street this holiday (a much-expanded footprint opened Nov. 11 to better adhere to COVID-19 regulations), Out & About felt readers would want to know more about the innovative mastermind behind this unique city nightspot.

From Disney to Delaware

Born in Scranton, Pa., Shaw discovered her love of art early. By second grade, not only was she drawing well, but her work had a unique style.

“In school, the teacher asked us to draw a horse and I ended up drawing a carousel with animals from all angles,” she says.

Dallas Shaw’s illustrations and creative touch make Blitzen a step above your average pop-up Christmas bar. Photo by Joe del Tufo.

Seeing their daughter’s artistic talent, Shaw’s parents enrolled her in art classes that she continued through high school before majoring in Illustration at Marywood University in Scranton.

While some college students spend their summers at the beach or waiting tables, Shaw spent the time at Walt Disney World. Her mentor in high school was Disney’s head animator and suggested Shaw apply to the internship program. She was accepted and spent two summers working in a variety of roles at the global attraction.

After graduation, Shaw was offered a full-time position as an animator with the Disney Design Group. Her job was drawing characters for guests who came on the animation tour. Five years later, as the animation landscape shifted from 2D to 3D, Shaw decided it was time for something new.

“Over the years, I was really inspired by visuals in the fashion industry,” Shaw says. “I just used the talent and skills I had and started sketching. I used to make my mom fashion magazines when I was young. Even though I was always sketching fashion, I was set on Disney, so I didn’t share it or really think about it as a career.

“I was travelling to New York City to meet and work with clients so often that it made sense to move back to the Northeast. That’s how I ended up in Delaware,” says Shaw, who has lived in Wilmington since 2006. “Lots of locals have been following me on Instagram, but I’m always traveling, so people didn’t really know my home base was in Delaware. Blitzen opened people’s eyes to the fact that I was here.”

Creating a Foundation

Long before social media platforms became the world’s go-to for connection, Shaw was looking for inventive and creative ways to market her artwork. She started contacting art directors and public relations representatives of companies she was interested in.

“I researched how to make press kits,” says Shaw. “I sent prints of my artwork in the mail and by email and then realized they probably weren’t being opened. So, I designed hard-copy press kits in boxes so people would be forced to see the work before throwing it out.”

DKNY was the first company to respond. In 2009, their SVP of global communications, Aliza Licht, loved the press kit and hired Shaw to design the avatar for the DKNY PR Girl Twitter account. Licht passed Shaw’s name along within the industry, and in year one, Shaw took on styling and illustration projects for Oscar de la Renta, Kate Spade, Ralph Lauren, and Estée Lauder.

“Each brand asked for something different, a variety of creative projects across the board,” she says. “One day I was sketching Oscar de la Renta dresses for Fashion Week invitations and the next I was creating Estée Lauder storyboarding for an online commercial.”

Social Media Takeover

As social media platforms became more popular, so did Shaw’s overall style. People were taking notice of her fashion choices, so once the photo-based platform Instagram started, the draw of Shaw’s aesthetic naturally progressed. Within a year, Shaw was an accidental influencer.

“Instagram blew up and changed my job,” she says.

“I started working with companies as an influencer, but on the design side. I would work as an ambassador for brands, but put my own spin on it, such as including illustrations in photos for Fresh, Glossybox, Oscar de la Renta, Joie, Jack Rogers, and Paige. Then I started working with BareMinerals and Maybelline. Brands would ask, ‘What do you like about our line? What do you want to promote?’ They left it up to me to figure out how to get creative.”

Shaw would get work even while traveling. She would post an interesting photograph while on vacation or a shot of her sketching a hotel, and brands took notice. The work leads were very organic; Shaw was simply posting pictures that represented who she was.

“Hotels would ask me to visit and come up with creative ideas to promote their brands,” she says. “For example, at the Four Seasons Orlando, I designed artwork for menus, keys, and products in the gift shop that featured my art. I’d sit with their PR team, go to the hotel, get to know the area, and figure out how best to visually tell the story of the neighborhood from the visual marketing side of things.”

Instagram isn’t Shaw’s only successful platform. Pinterest, an image-and-content-sharing service, asked Shaw to test out their site before it was even available.

“I was not paid to do it and I’m not sure how they found me,” she says. “I was part of a core group who started making boards, as not only a focus group but also to start spreading the word when we figured out how creatives used the platform.”

Local Work

After years of constant travel while working with brands, Shaw wanted to stay closer to home. “My dad passed away unexpectedly last year,” she says, “and I wanted to be home as much as possible to be close to my mom.”

Photo by Joe del Tufo.

As luck would have it, Shaw’s friend Robert Herrera, founder of The Mill, a co-working space in Downtown Wilmington, was looking for holiday fundraising ideas for Theater N, where he serves as a board member. I said, “I want to open a Christmas pop-up somewhere in Delaware. Are you in?” says Shaw.

Shaw’s idea was well received by Herrera and, with additional help from Robert Snowberger and Dan Sheridan (owners of Forty Acres Hospitality: Stitch House Brewery, Faire Café and Locale BBQ Post). Shaw served as designer for Blitzen, the pop-up bar that takes you into the home of Santa’s last reindeer. Last year, after operating for just under two months, Blitzen raised money for Theater N and several other organizations such as Red Clay School District, Motorcycle Santa, Urban Bike Project, and Mascots for a Cure.

“I had been to a bunch of pop-ups before that were done poorly and I wanted to do one better visually,” she says. “There was storytelling behind it—people were invited into Blitzen’s home. I wanted an atmosphere that people would come back to. The success of the pop-up proved that people in Wilmington are looking for the same beautiful concepts that people are looking for in New York City and Los Angeles.

“My team trusted me 100% with Blitzen and I got to show the city what I am capable of. The great response makes me so excited to do more locally!”

Looking Forward

After the success of Blitzen, Herrera, Snowberger, and Steven Weathers invited Shaw to join their development company, 9SDC, as creative director. 9SDC, which stands for 9th Street Development Company, is currently working on two additional projects in Downtown Wilmington: redesigning Faire Café and rebranding Girard Craft and Cork.

“Our goal is to combine our skills to create a development, hospitality, and now storytelling/creative design company that takes on unique, inspiring, and challenging projects for the ultimate goal of helping to bring some life and fun back to our city,” says Snowberger.

Snowberger and Sheridan, the owners of Faire Café, felt the market needed a refresh, so Shaw was asked to take over the design.

Dallas Shaw. Photo by Joe del Tufo.

“I want the space to be a lot of things at once: coffee shop, lunch spot, workspace with a liquor license,” she says. “Come for cocktails, come for a mid-work meeting. Bring your clients. I’m redesigning what people think of when people hear coffee shop.”

Shaw promises that the next time you step foot inside Faire Café, you’ll be walking into an experience, not simply a coffee shop. One can expect a mix of natural textures, tiles, rattan lights, interior florals that will change with the seasons, a custom-made communal table, front-window workspace, lots of wicker, bamboo and wood, and a distinct black exterior.

“I used to travel all the time, and I would travel alone, so when I leave the hotel I’m looking for coffee shops nearby,” she said. “I’ve been to cool places, but also ones that are uncomfortable. I’m redesigning Faire to be a comfortable [with] a lovely mixed vibe. If you want to come in the morning to work and have a bloody mary, go for it! It will be a lot of things to the community.”

Faire’s reopening depends on COVID restrictions. “We won’t open until it’s safe for everyone to come in and get the full experience,” she says.

Girard Craft and Cork will return as a one-stop shop for wine, cards, gifts, and more. It’s opening, too, is uncertain due to COVID restrictions.

“We are going to try to still push for the Girard reopening [this month], but as with Faire, we won’t open until it’s safe for everyone to come in and enjoy the complete ambiance of the space.”

Shaw is excited the owners of these Wilmington spaces trust her to do what she loves. And if their reception is anything like Blitzen’s, good things are in store.

“If I can bring anything to Wilmington, it’s to create places and spaces I want to take my friends to,” says Shaw. “I live here and I want more of that, so if I have to be the one to design it, I’ll happily do it. I think we have the opportunity to create a really great energy downtown and I want to help it grow by designing spaces that encourage diversity and good vibes all around.”

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