I Do Windows

The History of Visual Merchandising – cont’d

Posted in Fashion 49, History of Visual Merchandising by Arcadia on February 14, 2010

The role of the visual merchandiser is an ever-changing one.  Just as brands exist within a store, the stores themselves have become brands.  You don’t expect to see the same merchandise at JC Penney as you would at Barneys?  This is important for the visual merchandiser because you are given the task of communicating the store’s image through your displays.

And this is becoming harder for us to do.  Why?  Because we are being faced with unprecedented competition, retailers didn’t have years ago.  Brick and mortar retailers are facing one of the biggest challenges to traditional shopping.  Any idea on what that is?

Click here for the answer

Here’s a clue of what it looks like:

Retailers are under a lot of pressure to attract and keep customers coming into their stores when shopping from home has become so convenient and price competitive.  Visual merchandisers are key in attracting and keeping a customer’s attention.

Luckily shopping is a social activity and many people do like to go out just to see what’s new!  I for one am one of those persons, and I know many others are too.

The History of Visual Merchandising – Today

Posted in Fashion 49, History of Visual Merchandising by Arcadia on February 14, 2010

We have come a long way from stock piling a table in front of the store with goods, to having live models posing in windows.  Creativity and innovation continue to push the boundaries in our field.  Here are some things you might see today at a retailer:

  • DJ spinning music or a house band
  • Café or bistro as part of the store
  • Lounge areas for perusing look books and sipping champagne
  • Plasma TVs showing latest catwalk show
  • Mannequins replaced with glossy photographs of supermodels

Improvements in technology and with major fashion houses having unlimited budgets, window dressing has grown into massive productions of display.  You will have a team of craftspeople working in their specific trade to help put it all together:  carpenters, painters, electricians, stylists, florists, maybe an artist or craftsperson with a specialized skill – “it takes a village”, as they say!  And all of these things push the boundaries for visual display.

What most people not in our industry don’t realize is it takes months, and months of planning before a window is installed.  Christmas windows are being planned a year in advance  – I’m not exaggerating! Stores have to know ahead of time when they will be having “Sales” so the proper signage/banners/displays can be in place.  Although this job is a lot about creativity it also takes a lot of organization and planning as well.  It’s great to be a talented decorator, but you will also need to be focused and have good time management skills; because today there is nothing you can’t do in our line of work.  You can go as far as your imagination will take you!

(Store: Holt Renfrew)

The History of Visual Merchandising – Department Stores

Posted in Fashion 49, History of Visual Merchandising by Arcadia on February 12, 2010

The reason Visual Merchandisers exists today has to do with the “invention” of the Department Store, and not the little general merchandise store.  We exist because one man had the foresight to take all the general merchandise and stick it under one roof.

Aristide Boucicaut came up with the idea of  creating a store that sold all sorts of merchandise, attracted crowds, and would allow people to wander freely about; “a town within a town”. In 1838 he opened Le Bon Marché, in Paris – but it became the world’s first department store because of his innovation with distribution of goods in 1852.

It wasn’t long before this idea caught on over seas and others followed suit:

  • Macy’s, New York in 1858
  • Marshall Fields, Chicago in 1865
  • Bloomingdale’s, New York in 1872
  • Wanamaker, Philadelphia in 1876
  • Other stores such as Sears, Barney’s and Saks didn’t open until the 1920s

Sometimes students have asked me about Nordstrom:  they didn’t start as the department store you see today.  It was a shoe store started by the Nordstrom brothers in Seattle in 1901:

Aristide Boucicaut may have come up with the “town within a town” idea, but it was American entrepreneur Gordon Selfridge who revolutionized it!

Gordon Selfridge took what he had learned from working at Marshall Fields and applied it to his own store which he opened in London, a place where the department store concept had not yet caught on;  Selfridges opened on March 15, 1909 for $700,000.  He is credited with coming up with the phrase “Only _ shopping days until Christmas”, leaving the lights in the store window on at night, and adding a soda fountain – our modern-day café – for thirsty shoppers.  He understood better than anyone the power of a good and exciting display:

When Louis Blériot crash landed his plane in the English Channel in July of 1901, Selfridge had the plane packed and on a train by 2am and on display in his store by 10am.  50,000 people had showed up the next day to see it!   By 1928 his store had doubled in size to what we see today. (sourceVisual Merchandising, by Tony Morgan)

A window display from Selfridges in the 1920s:

Even then displays weren’t only about the merchandise but in creating a whole elaborate scene reflective of the times.

The History of Visual Merchandising

Posted in Fashion 49, History of Visual Merchandising by Arcadia on February 12, 2010

Years ago it was not uncommon for the store owner to just display their wares on tables in front of the store to lure in customers.  Many still do that today!

Windows were small back then as glass was not a ready-made nor easily available product; that all changed in the 1840s – glass could be mass-produced.  This had a profound effect on the building industry.  We have gone from having small storefront windows:

to this:

Because of this new development, storefronts became important.  The small storefront table has morphed into display work that rivals some Hollywood set designs.  I often walk by stores and have no clue what merchandise they are supposed to be displaying, but have been so impressed with its artwork and design, as seen in this Bloomingdale’s window display:

What they are selling I don’t know, but the time and work that went into this display is quite impressive.

Display has risen into an art form (that sometimes can overshadow the merchandise) that retailers have been known to collaborate with artists to create one of a kind displays.  And everything comes into play – lights, camera, action – as sometimes even real models are used instead of mannequins!!

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