Monday, 4 March 2013

Professional Context Part #3

As well as contacting visual merchandisers directly, I’ve looked at Mary Portas’ Windows: The Art of Retail Display book for insight into the industry from her prospective, as she was responsible for rejuvenating Topshop and making it a an aspired shopping destination. 

Budget is one thing that hasn’t really been answered by anyone I’ve spoken to so far, but Mary speaks about it in her book. She said she once ‘executed a window scheme which saw each window painted a different colour and kept completely bare, save for a notice saying that the money that would otherwise have been spent on the windows had been donated to charity.’ She admits this is only really capable of a retail store that is well enough established to cope with taking such a big risk with a window but it avidly paid off, gaining the attention of ‘four national newspapers.’ She also says that window budgets of the high-end brand can go into the thousands but it’s not necessarily about spending thousands to have an effective window display. She mentions the fact you may have a huge budget, but if your concept isn’t there it just won’t work. So in relations to high street and high-end brands, there might not be that much different.

Speaking to another visual merchandising, Tony Morgan, who was in charge of the windows at Selfridges for 15 years states that Christmas time is when retails step up their window dressing game. November through to December are prime selling times so budgeting generally goes up. Being on the higher end as he worked for Selfridges, which isn’t necessarily a retail chain but a department store, which sells higher end brands, this is quite a key aspect.

I tried getting in contact with Louis Vuitton, as they would provide no insight when I went into their New Bond Street store to speak to somebody, but they would not directly give away any information via email either. However, when looking through Tony Morgan’s Visual Merchandising book, there is a case study on Louis Vuitton. There is an interview with Faye Mcleod, who is the creative force behind the windows at Louis Vuitton. She states the techniques and practices she considers that a high-street store might not such as prototyping a lot of their windows before hand to really refine all the creative elements before the window goes ‘live’. For example the New Bond street Maison: the ‘Cabinets of Curiosity’ went through a range of different colours till they arrived at the right one. They highly enjoy collaborating with artists and have specific ones they use for different locations such as Vik Muniz in Brazil and Stephen Sprouse in the USA. To maintain consistency, they have detailed creative guidelines and technical booklets. They communicate often with their global teams so their work is accurately executed.

Under initial research, it seems that there wasn’t much difference between the visual merchandising but after more in depth insight and looking at different sources such as books as well as talking directly to people I beg to differ. A lot of creative input goes into more high-end brands window displays. I think this is due to the status of the brand and upholding this more expensive view to the public. Because they are so well established it’s not necessarily about forcing the clothes upon consumers but portraying them in a visionary way to make them look quite spectacular. This in turn gets them notice and confirms their place as high-end retailers. It is not just flagship stores or single chain brands that use this artistry but department stores too. Harvey Nichols has had impressive window displays in it’s history such as the carbon sculpture by Thomas Heatherwick which actually came out of the window. It is not all about throwing money into a project to get the best outcome which I feel is important because the creative aspect is what gets the window noticed and that comes from real talent. High street retailers aren’t so outlandish with their windows using the clothes themselves as the selling point and the tools which draw the customers in. Aspects that I haven’t mentioned in my brief, such as lighting, have appeared quite a lot and that lighting a set from a certain angle can make or break it and even specific types of lights for certain things is detrimental.

In conclusion, there are some similarities with high end and high street stores visual merchandising techniques such as specialising what goes in each window depending on location, and the top selling garments or accessories being involved. However, they do also differ such as with Zara stating they don’t use much decoration compared to brands such as Louis Vuitton who enjoy collaborating with artists and even department stores such as Selfridges and Harvey Nichols, which regularly have avant garde window displays. Through my research I have definitely gained a deeper insight into the industry, and it is a lot more creative than I first thought. I would definitely want to gain more experience in this particular sector of the industry after undertaking this research task.

Portas, Mary. (1999) Windows: The Art of Retail Display. Singapor. Thames & Hudson Ldt.
Morgan, Tony. (2008) Visual Merchandising Windows and In-Store Displays for Retail. London. Laurence King.

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