Saturday 1 January 2011

10 Commandments of Visual Merchandising 2011

Is it me or are the years not just passing by faster and faster each year but screaming passed like a near death experience? Still, in the event that my life does flash before my eyes, I certainly want it to be worth watching.
While on a visit to New York for Christmas and New Year last December I began to reflect on what had been a terrible year in 2009 with one sensational recession story after another streaming at us faster than a YouTube video, but then I could probably knit a cardigan faster than some of those videos load. This blog site was a means to have my say, albeit sometimes a frustrated one and I do often poke at brands a little, but I felt then as I do now that it was important, on a global platform that we as a Visual Merchandising industry should not lay down and roll over as if all was OK out there and that I should stand up and say that as visual people we are crucial to the commercial industries.  So why are we always one of the first to be made redundant when the going gets tough and the tough let us go? Even the worst merchandise needs to be visually merchandised. However, I am possibly in the most unique position being on the periphery as a knowledge provider to the Visual Merchandising industry and therefore decided it was about time someone questioned what we are doing within this industry at least a little, poked fun at it bit (possibly more than was good for me), comment about it a lot, record it infinitum, and kick a few tyres in the process. Ultimately, I felt that if I said nothing, questioned nothing and accepted everything at face value - as it was clear no-one else would say anything - then we would have to accept ‘things’ within our industry as OK when they clearly are not. And so the journey began.
While reflecting, writing and publishing the 10 commandments for 2010 at midnight on New Year’s eve 2009, I had no idea that they would become the most popular and simultaneously contentious page for readers the entire incredible 12 months of last year. I’m not sure if it would have ever mattered if I had written anything else the rest of 2010 but just as we all typed those immortal words ‘Google earth’, and yes, we all honed in and landed on our own home address first – yes we did, and you know I know it too - as it seemed that just about everyone wanted to know either if they were in it, and ‘in it’, having a giggle at those who were or wondering what they should and shouldn’t be doing if they weren’t. Of course the 10 Commandments have never been written as a sly means of revenge geared towards retailers for all those knitwear products that I bought that shrank to Action Man sizes after just one wash or are now just a piece of felt, the CD players that perpetually inform me NO DISC, those annoying daily marketing calls around 4.00pm and no, I have no Gold to cash or any other possible hidden agenda. No, my comments are purely from an observational and emotional response to whatever I am viewing as a flaneur walking the city. After all, I am a customer and a consumer too and I too react to whatever is presented to me as a customer just like everyone else.
There were a few Commandment breakers throughout 2010 (you know who you are, I know where you live and you have to sleep sometime ya’ know) but looking back (momentarily at least) it seems that generally, while 2010 wasn’t the most exciting year to date out there on the high street, there were some little gems of schemes worthy of note but then who wants to know that, right? Say after me, “I am so fickle…….”
So here we go, strap yourselves in, baton down the hatches… are my 10 Commandments for 2011.

1. Thou shalt not produce the ‘same’ scheme as someone else.


Brooks Brothers

Banana Republic


On countless occasions last year we saw several schemes that appeared to not just echo previous window schemes from other brands but they could have actually been separated at birth, albeit over a whole year apart.  Whether by coincidence or design this possibly occurs as no one is actually looking beyond their own brand to keep abreast of what is happening in here, out there, elsewhere or at least somewhere.  If brands are aware of what is actually happening surely this wouldn’t ever happen deliberately?
 2. Thou shalt not use motifs

Juicy Couture


This does continue to be my nemesis which I have mentioned on so many occasions.  Whenever I view motifs in store windows my toes curl and buttocks clench.  I can’t think of anything worse than simply applying these things to retail concepts.  When designing, producing or installing a visual merchandising scheme it can be particularly easy to apply these motifs (i.e. butterflies, hearts and so on) by lifting from already established and published imagery, however as I have stressed throughout 2010 that we really need to begin to apply a much deeper level of research and thinking through unravelling initial ideas before applying them into the displays that are produced out there rather than relying on naff old motifs to do the job for us……surely someone out there has an original concept for a Valentine’s promotion beyond the use of heart motifs?

 3. Thou shall handle mannequins correctly

Kurt Geiger

Kurt Geiger

It never ceases to amaze me how brands can possibly think handling mannequins like this was actually a good idea?  Mannequins are moulded into poses which are usually fixed (unless they happen to have articulated arms and legs and therefore are meant to be rather more fluid).  The awkwardness and ensuing hilarity of these figures which in themselves are perfectly fine is beyond belief.  Why use mannequins anyway if you are selling shoes? 

4. Thou shall maintain retail standards 
Mont Blanc

Kurt Geiger
This has to remain one of our top priorities of 2011.  On so many occasions one can view a whole variety of this kind of stuff.  From broken mannequins, mannequins with hands forced onto the wrong arms, fallen graphics, boxes from deliveries left just inside the store when the staff have gone home, tumble weed style dust balls wafted gently by drafts, this list goes on.  Mannequins, graphics etc. are retailers silent sellers that don’t take a cigarette break don’t moan about terrible pay and long working hours and yet so often these elements are treated quite badly which I always feel, as a customer, says ‘I don’t care’.  Of course mannequins’ wires do snap occasionally and things do come unstuck, something even luxury retailers find happening to them although there is no excuse for leaving empty product delivery boxes in view of the customer and not keeping on top of the housework.  Right?
5. Thou shalt not use large format graphics with a celebrity endorsement.


Dolce and Gabbana

 OK, well this one will fall on deaf ears for sure. How on earth can we live without a graphic in a store window of the latest internet darling, television celebrity or pop star, stood with or behind the product, wrapped in the product or just simply there in every possible combination known to man or woman. If it’s not an illuminated light box it’s a suspended graphic in Black and White, if it’s not in a stacked cube its printed on a background. Do we really have to endure this much longer?
6. Thou shall continue to support new and established artists and designers

Austin Reed

Louis Vuitton
Nicole Farhi
 Last year we saw several retailers working with some incredible artists and designers who have elevated some of the schemes seen in London throughout 2010. Nicole Farhi really led the way here with collaborations seen on several occasions throughout the year as have Selfridges, Topshop and more recently Louis Vuitton and Diesel. There were some really interesting schemes back in June for Architecture week across several brands. This has given the Visual Merchandising industry a really interesting direction which has also been incredibly refreshing. What next? Well, it would be interesting to see if retailers allow more of this to happen and maybe we will see more schemes being completely designed by interesting people in 2011
7. Thou shall continue to produce incredibly fun and exciting schemes


 Liberty here in London were my absolute favourite in 2010.  From their cheeky London Fashion week installations, their Porno quilts and scheme influenced by the Surreal House at the Barbican.  This is what this industry is all about.  Great fun, wonderful entertainment and amazing PR opportunities.  So bulldoze those multiple brand mock shops out there in suburbia and get yourself to an exhibition.  Or better still go and see the windows produced by these guys throughout 2011 and be inspired.  (The smears on the glass are from me licking them - I hasten to add because the schemes were so fantastic, not because of the content here)
8. Thou Shall illuminate the product
Do we really need to illuminate our schemes?  Well yes.  It never ceases to amaze me how underused this crucial element is.  Schemes of course change every few weeks and naturally the lighting needs to be moved too.  I have never quite understood how this is ever overlooked?
9. Thou shalt not use stacked suitcases, bell jars, mopeds and pushbikes or magnifying glasses

Banana Republic

Brooks Brothers

Clarks Shoes

Massimo Dutti

Throughout 2010 these items have been the focus of countless window schemes, just as chandeliers were in 2009.  So come on brands lets see something new in 2011
10. Thou shalt continue to support creative teams in Visual Merchandising

Ralph Lauren

Fortnum and Mason
Mathew Williamson
 Always working through the night, always working on the weekends, always last to leave.  Hold on to your creative teams retailers, and brands, treat them well, please pay these guys what they deserve, support them, encourage them, trust their ability, allow them to do their job and they will ensure that even your worst seller looks amazing.  Here’s to 2011 and a happy new year to you all.    
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