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could pop my head out. It was a hit.”
His costume was so well received that
Calabrese decided to turn his love of art
and design into a vocation. His goal: to
make “every day into Halloween in terms
of creating things.”
In 1994, just two years after starting
his company—then called Custom Cre-
ations, now dubbed Themendous—Ma-
cy’s invited Calabrese to create a float for
its Thanksgiving parade.
“One of my first jobs that I did for them
was a Rip Van Winkle,” Calabrese says.
“He was 20 feet long and 12 feet high, but
in a crouched position against a tree.”
At the time, Macy’s artists were work-
ing primarily with fiberglass. Calabrese’s
foam-and-plastic creations could be com-
pleted faster. “You can control it a lot bet-
ter than fiberglass, chicken wire, and all
that,” Calabrese says. “You can really get
down to a lot of nice detail.”
Since that first commission, Calabrese
has worked on nine floats for the parade.
He also creates giant displays and props
for Macy’s Herald Square. Last summer,
Calabrese and his team carved a vintage
tractor that dominated the basement retail floor. More recently, he created life-sized mannequins based on the children’s
book Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus
to be displayed during this holiday season.
Calabrese’s sculptures, scenic environments and oversized props can be
seen all over the world. The giant dessert sculptures on the lawn of Google’s
headquarters in Mountain View, California, are Themendous creations. In New
York’s Times Square, the company’s pieces dress up Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen
& Bar. Themendous also creates props
for the film and commercial industries,
including a giant Oreo cookie for a commercial featuring Eli and Peyton Manning and Venus and Serena Williams.
For Calabrese, the thrill of seeing his
team’s work never wears off.
“It is exciting to see what you did and
say, ‘Hey, I made that. We made that,’”
he says. ; P H
[ P E O P L E ] BY ALYANA ALFARO
Fantasies in Foam
EVER WONDER WHO MAKES those giant
displays that awe patrons at retail stores
and theme parks? In many cases, the answer can be found in a nondescript warehouse in Union City. Here, Weehawken native Giovanni Calabrese and his team create
larger-than-life foam sculptures for clients
as varied as Macy’s, Google, MTV and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville restaurants.
Calabrese, 47, constructs his designs
out of 8-foot-wide blocks of Styrofoam that
he and his team carve, shave and shape.
Then they coat each creation with a spray-
on hard plastic shell and paint. The result
can be anything from a shiny red Mustang
to a life-sized Michael Jackson.
The Ridgefield resident got his start in
the profession, known as theming, when
he was a freshman at St. Peter’s College—
now University—in Jersey City. Inspiration came when he attended a Halloween
party as a sofa. “It looked like a real chair,”
he says. “But I constructed it in such a way
that I could sit and hide inside of it and
MR. BIG: A giant, smiling
monster created for a trade
show has taken up permanent
residence at the Themendous
studio in Union City, where
Giovanni Calabrese and his
team carve larger-than-life
foam sculptures for Macy’s
and other clients.