Lately students have been asking which of my two classes should they take? They can’t decide if they should focus on visuals or styling? I scratch my head with a bemused look and say why not do both!?!
Some give me an incredulous look and say, “really?” I reply, “think about it, what’s the difference, between the two jobs?”
A visual person is a stylist ,and stylists do visuals. I guess most people never really thought about it, but it’s true. It’s how I can teach both subjects – the skill set is interchangeable. If you can dress a mannequin, you can dress a model. If you can prop a window, you can prop a set. Both employ the principles of design, take loads of creativity, and are hard work. Sure there are some differences to working in a store, as opposed to a photo shoot, but we are all cut from the same cloth.
I’ve had a few arguments with myself trying to decide which is harder, visuals or styling? Sometimes visuals win the argument, and sometimes styling. When doing a store, it’s very physically demanding, but there’s fewer people I have to deal with, as I change out mannequins, set-up interior displays, or do floor sets. I oftentimes, just follow my store directives and do my thing! When styling there’s a lot of people on set, but the atmosphere is very fun, jobs are almost always catered, it’s not too physically demanding (unless you are a prop stylist, and working with big items), and you get to play with clothes all day.
Which is more fun? Only you can answer that. I don’t really like styling as much as I like building and making things, so visuals win out for me every time! Yet visuals can get boring if you work for a chain retailer, because you don’t get to be as creative as the old days. Now you just follow a store directive and almost everything is sent to you to assemble and install. Freelance projects is when you get to use your own ideas.
Styling still requires your creative skills, as the client is looking to you to bring their idea to life – so this can be really fun!
You will find that lots of visual folk, freelance as stylists, or are repped by an agent for styling work, and some stylists also do the occasional window. You should too!
Is this a display of bracelets in a jewelry case at a store, or was this image ripped from a magazine?
Is this a makeup display in a cube at a store ,or was this image ripped from a magazine?
For both images above does it matter? They could have easily been created by either a visual display person or a fashion stylist!
(images via Pinterest)
Now that the holidays are upon us, everyone is getting dressed up in their finest to attend a slew of festivities, for men that usually means donning a tie of some sort. Here’s the best tutorial I’ve found that gives a clear lesson on how to tie a bow tie.
We ladies may not wear a bow tie as often as men (I have been known, but it’s good to know in case you ever need to tie one on a model, mannequin, or bust-form.
When asked to name a fashion stylist they admire a large majority of us say Rachel Zoe, and it’s not necessarily because they admire her only because they have heard of her. She has in fact popularized the profession with her TV show and styling of red carpet celebs, but did you know there are many others out there whose work you’ve seen over and over again and just never really paid attention to who styled that look?
My students were assigned a paper on a fashion stylist they truly admire and why. This was to get them to open their eyes to the fact that Rachel Zoe isn’t the only name in the game, and once you compare her to others you begin to recognize what a one trick pony she is. She has one aesthetic and sticks to hit – constantly! I guess if it aint’ broke don’t fix it, but as a stylist whose job description is to inspire individuals on what they CAN do; sticking to one look can get very boring, very fast.
Here are the top stylists my students wrote about in order of popularity:
Grace Coddington – no surprise here, she’s amazing!
Creative Director for American Vogue. Top Model in the 60s. Became a British Vogue editor in 1969, came to NYC in 1987 to become a Design Director with Calvin Klein, followed by joining American Vogue in 1988, the same day that Anna Wintour, who gave her the job started.
Anna Dello Russo - a fashion maverick!
Studied art history in Milan, completed an MA in fashion before becoming an Accessories Editor at Vogue. In 2000 she became EIC of L’Uomo Vogue for six years before venturing off to where she is today, Editor-at-Large of Vogue Nippon, and a fashion consultant.
(I decided it was more fun to post photos of ADR, than her work!)
Giovanna Battaglia – my FAVORITE!!!!
Former model with Dolce and Gabbana, now an Editor at L’Uomo Vogue, a Contributing Editor at W, and freelance stylist. She can do no wrong in my eyes and her personal style is off the charts!
Nicola Formichetti - where would Lady Gaga be without him!
A fashion collaborator for Lady Gaga, the Creative Director for Thierry Mugler, and Contributing Fashion Editor for V Magazine, Dazed & Confused, and Vogue Homme Japan.
Edward Enninful – brought new life into W’s editorials!
Became the youngest ever Fashion Director at 18 with i-D Magazine. Former Editor to Italian Vogue, spearheaded the “all black” Italian issue. Currently the Fashion and Style Director at W.
Katie Grand – a true stylist in every sense of the word!
Studied at Central St. Martins, and began styling for Dazed & Confused in the 90s when the magazine was still new. Became the Fashion Director of The Face magazine and later the Editor-in-Chief of POP magazine. She has styled numerous photo shoots and shows.
I’m quite proud of my students and this list they came up with, grant it there were many more stylists listed such as Judy Blame, Melanie Ward, Camille Bidault-Waddington, even Brad Goreski, but these were the top six amongst a class of 60 students. This list is a recognition of those who inspire us in fashion with what we can do and not what we should do.
(images via various sites)
Dear readers, below is a question sent to me from a fellow visual merchandiser, with a tricky situation. I decided to post it here while I ponder my own response. Please post your comments or advice on how a fellow reader can solve her dilemma. Thanks!
I have recently moved to the southern hemisphere AND very recently landed my first VM role having previously been a buyer for a department store chain in London. I have been reading your blog for the last few weeks and have found it really useful in helping to prepare me for my new role.
One thing that’s been on my mind since starting my new career (and new life) in New Zealand is Christmas! It’s in the middle of Summer here and I just can’t think how to portray strong Christmas windows and in store display when everything that I would normally connect with Christmas (snow flakes and icicles, cosying up by roaring log fires, wrapping up warm in coats and gloves and scarves) won’t be relevant here. Do you have any tips or suggestions on pulling together strong themes and display for Christmas in a hot climate?
I will say - the first thing that comes to mind is does it have to be a “wintry” Christmas? Why not do “fun in the sun” as a Christmas theme. I know many folks who travel to the islands, mainly Hawaii during Christmas, trying to escape the cold. I need to think about this some more, but I and Emily would love to hear your suggestions.
One of the very first skills I quickly acquired, when I joined my first big visual team was flower arranging. Regardless of who you were or what department you oversaw, everyone and I mean everyone on our team knew how to arrange flowers!
It’s kind of like your go-to prop when you need something quick and pretty. Stick a vase of flowers next to a purse, shoes, bustform, on a table, etc….you are good to go. If you don’t know how to do quick and simple arrangements, pick a book and a bunch, and start practicing. I promise you it’s a skill that will come in handy over and over again.
I have also found that my arranging skills have helped me when arranging props. They use some of the same principles, when it comes to layering items, the pyramid (triangle) shape, how to play with height, and experimenting with various colors. You’ll find your flower arranging skills to be transferable to other things – which is a huge bonus.
Here’s a simple video to help get you started.
[images via Sterling Style/tumblr]
This coming Saturday we will have two guest speakers from the world of visual merchandising:
Ken Ferraris (Visual Manager from Barney’s NY). Ken has been a wonderful contributor to our class in the past and I’m so happy he continues to support our program.
Terry Gut (Visual Merchandiser from Macy’s). This will be Terry’s first time joining us.
They will be sharing their expertise on what it takes to make it in this business. I have questions to ask them. I’ve told my students to bring their questions, and dear readers if YOU have any questions please send them to me and I will be sure to ask the panel.
Three questions I get asked daily are:
- How do you break into this industry?
- Is a portfolio of work necessary at an interview?
- Is previous experience necessary?
Trust me, I will be sure to present these questions to our speakers! Let me know if you have any others. I will try to pick the ones that I think have the broadest appeal or get asked the most.
Students don’t be late, our panel begins at 10:30 am on Saturday.
See you then!
As a class we recently went on a field trip to the Westfield Mall located right next door to our campus. Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom are the anchor stores and various retail brands are throughout the mall. The students were given a set of questions to answer, based on their findings at the mall. It was kind of a scavenger hunt! I thought this would be a fun way to get out of the classroom for a day and see actual visual techniques “in action”. Below are some of their findings:
1. Choose one window you believe to be the most effective. Explain why.
The Louis Vuitton display outside of the mall entrance of Bloomingdale’s. Its simply eye-catching, and aptly illustrates that an LV bag is the cherry on top of life’s sweetest dessert. -Cindy L.
2. Choose one window you believe to be the least effective. Explain why.
This window is not effective because the colors in the background are too distracting, and they overshadow the product. The space in the window is not well used; they could have filled it with merchandise in a more pleasing way. The layout chosen to display the books is boring and expected. -Cynthia T.
The window that I found to be least effective was the MANGO window. Coming up from the escalator, the first thing that I noticed was the corner window cut straight through the mannequins body and face. The colors were very drab and come to think of it, there wasn’t any color at all. However, walking across the front of the store, you can clearly see the colors in the store are a lot brighter than from front, plain view. Colors like peach, tangerine, and hot pinks pop through the horrible displays blocking the windows. – Brandi M.
3. Name a store that featured Color Blocking – Horizontal Merchandising – Product Merchandising
J.Crew featured all three – Brandi M.
4. Name a store that features a “trend area”.
Bloomingdale’s makes use of trend areas to advertise what is new in the store. Like an editorial in a magazine, trend areas showcase the season’s must haves. -Cynthia T.
5. Name a store that uses printed graphics.
I found this one myself. It’s Bath and Body. Printed graphics are a cheap and easy way to decorate your windows.
Students also were asked to name a store that creates ambience with music or scent. Hands down the clear winners were Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister. If you live in the US, all you have to do is just walk by one of these stores, you don’t even have to go in, and you can smell that strong perfume wafting out! I hear from my students who have worked there that customers complain all the time, but for some odd reason they won’t change their rule on spraying the store every 30 minutes!
These are some of the techniques I have been lecturing about in class:
- Color Blocking
- Horizontal/Vertical/Product Merchandising
- Trend Areas
- POP (point-of-purchase)
- Store Ambience
Feel free to ask questions if you need more assistance…..see you in class!
If there is one name we as visual merchandisers should all know it’s Martin M. Pegler. I’m an avid fan and user of his many textbooks and was pleasantly shocked when one day he wrote me with some comments on my student’s work, I had posted on this site! ”Mr. Pegler knew of my little site”, I thought to myself, WOW! I of course wrote back and since then we had been emailing each other back and forth, as I asked him if I could profile him for this site.
He has written or edited over 80 books all related to display and design, and does not suffer from writer’s block. I know this because I asked, as I sometimes suffer from this , I’m excited to hear he’s working on a new book around the subject of being green and display work.
Mr. Pegler is an inductee in the Visual Merchandising/Display Industries Hall of fame and has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Professionals for Advancement of Visual Education (PAVE), He has also been a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology and is a popular lecturer in the US, Europe, and Asia. He is a wealth of knowledge and is so generous in sharing it!
When I asked how can a display person apply their talents in other areas he said, “In my textbooks I write about the numerous areas where a good display person could blossom out, like event planning, staging fashion shows, point of purchase, or stylist for TV – it is endless what one can do with a creative talent, imagination, and the hands to do things with. Just say I can do it – and go ahead and do it!”
Some students are completely fixated on getting a degree in display and some on getting display experience, where should their focus be – the education or experience?
“EDUCATION is most important! Whether you go to school, take courses, or just devour history, culture, art, architecture and all the rest of the seven lively arts. To be a really good display person you really should know all about the history of art, architecture and costume. They are all related to the changing, but un-changing fashions; there is always something a little retro in them. By all means GET EDUCATED and KEEP LEARNING; absorb the arts and culture around you and behind you. Though I was a college professor for over thirty years; I must acknowledge that some of the BEST display people I knew were self-educated. They had this burning need to learn. If we as educators, can instill that need and love to learn, we have done our job. If it is possible to continue in a formal education, take it! It will help one focus on the areas they should learn about.
What have you learned over your lifetime that you would like to share with the younger generation?
“What I have learned over the many years I have been a part of this industry, is that you never can know enough! As I said before – things change – but you can always find something from the past in the new. Keep your mind open to what is new, absorb – let it become part of you. Use your own brain as a computer, store everything in the “My Documents” of the mind. It will never let you down.”
With the popularity of e-commerce how can the visual display person continue to entice shoppers to come into the stores? “E-commerce is flat and up till now, two-dimensional. Displays are three-dimensional and can have a far greater appeal. It is up to today’s display people to harness all the available technology and create something exciting and vital. We must stop them as they walk in the street with attention-getting, eye-pleasing, sensory and emotional displays. You can’t as yet do all that on the computer screen!”
What are some of the common mistakes new store owners make when setting up their floor plan and how can they avoid them? ”I think many retailers are not taking advantage of what good window displays can do for them, in helping them to stand out from the crowd. Good displays are an all-important opening statement, and announcements that also tell the shopper who and what the retailer is and stands for. It is BRANDING!! – and is much cheaper than other forms of advertising.”
I’m currently reading Mr. Pegler’s latest book Visual Merchandising and Display – Sixth Edition, it’s published by Fairchild Books, and as Mr. Pegler says, I’m learning so much. This book is over 400 pages, and encompasses everything you could ever want to know about visuals. I think it’s an excellent book for the beginner but the seasoned pros will find a lot of new information as well. I have quite the mini library of display books, but if you are a student who can only afford to purchase one book , then make it this one. 31 chapters is a lot of studying to do , with review questions and discussions at the end of each chapter. Store planners and interior designers who work in retail spaces should really add this book to their library as well.
I would like to thank Mr. Pegler for taking the time to answer my questions, for sharing his knowledge, and for being so patient with me, you are truly a legend.
Just to recap, my 9-to-5 job is as general contractor, and I teach part-time. How I got into construction was by building window displays which led me to wanting to build bigger and better things. 15 years later I’m a general contractor who builds green (and is still addicted to fashion!).
I got into sustainability when I was joking with my boss on a former job that we could build a whole other house with just the stuff we throw away! I think we as display artists are kings and queens when it comes to recycling, re-using, refurbishing, renovating and any other “re” words!
When designing a store it is important to focus on the store layout, fixtures, lighting, and storefronts. It is now becoming equally important to look at sustainable design – Design work that is eco-friendly. I won’t go into a monologue on the benefits of building green, as I’m sure a few of us are probably suffering from green fatigue because we’ve heard it so much, but whether you are opening a new store or working on your displays it is good to keep it in mind.
Some helpful tips:
I always use low or zero VOC (volatile organic compound) paint and finishes, luckily for those of us here in California almost all of our paint sold in stores meet this requirement. Benjamin Moore is my favorite, for color choices and quality of paint.
Whenever we need wood for a display or prop I use scrap wood I’ve been saving or reclaimed wood I’ve purchased from my favorite junk yard. I very rarely use brand new lumber for display work as it does not require the same structural integrity a house would need.
I’m starting to source fixtures from places that specialize in manufacturing fixtures in a sustainable way. This also forces me to look at new ways of using non-conventional items as fixtures (e.g. barrels, luggage, wine crates,etc….) and come up with new ways to incorporate them into the design plan. Check out Green Store Inc.
I’m NOT a fan of carpet, but I have installed them for clients, luckily there are some great choices that use renewable materials. I recently installed FLOR into an office space. I like this floor covering because you can easily determine how much you want to use. I use it for a lot of office/retail environments. Natural linoleum is also a good choice for high-traffic areas.
When your old incandescent light bulbs burn out I hope you are replacing them with CFLs (compact fluorescent light bulbs), and if you have lighting in your cabinets you had LEDs installed.
Do you offer your customers a small discount if they bring their own bags for their purchases? The Goodwill I shop at does this.
I could preach ad nauseam about this subject as it’s my lively hood, but I won’t bore you. I am more than happy to answer any questions. Go Green!!
The number one question I get asked by students is, “how do you get a job in display doing windows?” Getting on the window crew of a major retailer is fantastic if you’re lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time, but most newbies will start out as a “trimmer” or display artist doing the in-store displays. That’s when I see the faces drop!
I feel I need to explain that “doing windows” is only one part of the job, there are so many other duties that fall under the responsibility of the visual merchandiser. I love knowing that the entire look of the store falls under my domain! Perhaps when you grasp that, you won’t be so forlorn when you don’t get put on the window team right away. I actually only did windows for the small chain stores I worked for, the big department store had me doing Cosmetics, Juniors, all the Accessories, Lingerie and sometimes the Kids Dept. I really let my skills show in the Cosmetics Department!
The role of the visual merchandiser is not only to make the store pretty, and dress mannequins. You also work with the buyers, do a complete floor layout of new merchandise, maintain the standards of the store, replenish merchandise when needed, and make sure all the signage in every department is correct, in addition to making sure the in-store displays and windows are clean and presentable. Oh – did I forget to mention staff meetings, and meetings with the Department Managers on the visual standards for their respective areas.
While you’re running around doing all this with your feather duster, scissors, pins, hammer, and glue gun, the General Manager is wondering why sales are down. This is where you come in again. We contribute to sales too! How? By creating displays that are so attractive people want to come into our store; in-store displays that make them want to shop, and an ambience that makes them want to stay. It is definitely our job to help increase sales, for without which, we would be out of one! Keep in mind the fashion merchandising team will take all the credit for when sales are really good .
I’ve had a few run-ins with the sales staff, but I know my role is to be understanding, patient, dependable, and hard-working, on top of being creative.
(image via: Bestof NJ)