Sunday, September 30, 2007

Clarifying some terminology

The window dressing industry, for starters, has evolved into more than just windows -- it is now the "visual merchandising" industry -- the sum of windows, in-store displays, advertisements, and the general store or brand image/feel that is associated with a particular store or brand. The windex wielding, pin-cushion wearing, ladder climbing people we see walking barefoot in 5th avenue windows are not just window dressers, but visual merchandisers.

Below is an excerpt from an article by Tappal Babu, Expert Business Author, that defines the industry in non-trade friendly language:

ROLE OF VISUAL MERCHANDISING Visual merchandising is an artistic method to ensure that retailers merchandise moves off the shelves faster. It's a tool to appeal to the visual sensory elements of the customer. Visual merchandising is an unknown skill which is fastly becoming popular with the introduction of self service in retail stores in recent years and the number of changes taking place in super market merchandising methods. There has been increased emphasis on the kind of store layout, store building, fixtures, and equipment, color displays, silent communication tools, window display and finally opinion building through in store displays which has taken the art of retailing the higher applications frames.

The bottom line is:

Visual merchandising helps in the increase of impulse buying.

But how does it do so?

The article continues:
a) Establishing a creative medium to present merchandise in 3 D environment, with which a long lasting impact and recall value.
b) Combining the creative, technical, and operational aspects of a product and the business.
c) Educating the customers about the product/services in an effective and creative or innovative manners.
d) Drawing the attention of the customer to enable him to purchase decisions in the short space of time and this augmenting the selling process.

Many thanks to Tabbal

All valuable points to keep in mind as I compare, contrast and critique the different visual merchandising strategies of different stores in Manhattan.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Upcoming Showroom Visits

The Visual Merchandising and Store Design online is an excellent resource for news in the visual merchandising industry.
After a short interview with A. Salmond, a cosmetics and fragrance dresser at Saks with many years of diverse experiences in the industry (ranging from Tiffany's window displays to American Girl Place installations which he deemed "creepy" due to the "cult-like following it inspired in little girls"), I was introduced to the three premier suppliers in the field of visual merchandising.

Adel Rootstein
E. Buk

Visits to each of their showrooms are currently being arranged.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Subtle Autumn at Macy's

In contrast to the animal exuberance of the windows at Bergdorf Goodman, the windows at Macy's 34th street are a very placid fall scene. Piles and piles of what resemble bronze-cast leaves overflow from each window, and are topped with mannequins wearing very standard clothing -- Calvin Klein jeans and cotton scoop neck tops. Though there is nothing particularly remarkable about the clothing, the positions of the mannequins, contorted as if they were jumping in the leaves, begs for closer inspection. The leaves are not really leaves, rather a mysterious mix of gold and bronze painted coral-like structures.

Something to keep an eye out for: The windows at Macy's 34th Street will soon be usurped by a group of ten lucky artists who will be given carte blanche to transform them into their own personal art exhibits. This event, a part of Macy's "Art Under Glass," is a bi-annual program aimed at promoting the arts in the visual merchandising industry. Alex Nahon, an independent filmmaker, actor, and artist from France was chosen to participate in the program last July, and was delighted with the freedom and the idea of having his "attention-grabbing blood red musical installation of paint and lights" on display for the thousands of passersby on 7th ave to see. Nahon had a musician that he frequently works with compose a special piece for the occasion which could also be heard for the duration of his window display.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Latest Windows at Bergdorf's

I spotted a donkey. He was looking complacently at a woman with a cherry-red silk dress. Then I saw a dinousaur with a diamond studded evening evening bag dangling from his left claw. I subsequently caught a glimpse of a small toad sizing up a pair of gold iridecent stiletto heels, as not far away a giant gorilla was staring straight into the eyes of a woman in a pink bathrobe. Frankenstein was to their left, in what seemed to be a clumsy attempt at caressing a woman in a faded black patent leather dress....Bergdorf's has changed their windows once again.

Though at first the unifying theme of the otherwise seemingly incongruous set of windows may seem elusive, upon careful inspection of the materials and their positioning, the reason behind the design becomes evident. The gorilla is next to the lady in the bathrobe because the pattern of his fur imitates the form of the stitching on her robe. The dinosaur is green like the evening gown poised next to it, the toad's skin is mildly iridescent, like the boots that tower over it. Frankenstein's lusterless black boots match the dress on the lady he is clonking after. Even the donkey has a purpose -- the dress on the woman he is staring at is shaped just like a saddle.

Other subtelties include the dress on a vintage porcelain doll that is arranged next to a long winter coat of a similar pleating. They match the pattern on an artistic business suit, the jewels on an oversized shirtdress are jet black, just like the crow poised next to them.

Not everyone is seizing every one of these subtelties, but people are definitely stopping to notice. There were incessant camera flashes as I was passing, especially in front of the gorilla -- he seems to be the biggest hit.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Window Licking

In English, we refer to window shopping as the activity practiced by teenagers, New Yorkers whose rents are too high for them to afford anything else, and large groups of 17 or more from the Midwest. In French, this same activity is referred to as "leche-vitrine," or window licking, an expression which more appropriately describes the salivation that may be inspired by a sumptuous shop window.

In the days of gas lamps and trolleys, mannequins were inspired by bombshells; Brigitte Bardot, Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn. As our tastes evolved, the looks of mannequins followed suit. The daintily arched foot morphed into the authoritative street corner slant knee, and the poised hand, inquisitively peeking from behind the body, became the "you're two minutes late and I'm pissed" hip jaunt. The prudent, 2 and 1/4 wide heel became the javelin shaped "fuck me pump," and the neckline, once simply round and prudent like a ferris wheel, due to lack of fabric, buttons, zippers or perhaps just decency, became a log flume shooting straight to the navel.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Saunter Around Saks and a First Story Idea

I spent some time in Saks and was lucky enough to chat up the store detective and a very kind woman named Patti at the service desk. We talked about many different aspects of the store -- its exclusive services, its security measures (especially to prevent identity fraud -- a problem they have struggled with in the past), how loud it is inside, the sundry things that customers ask and demand, the number of times they try to return soiled, worn, and tattered clothing (ie Herm├Ęs scarves) that they've purchased two years prior, the way its better to work in the men's department than in the women's because men can't be bothered to return things so employees don't lose commission, the best sold products (among them a $200 plastic watch that looks like it came straight out of a drugstore candy machine)...

What most piqued my interest was the store's struggle to keep it's NY-based clientele. Patti explained to me that swank uptown residents, once the staple of Saks, are no longer coming down as far as 45th. They stop at Bergdorf's, where all of Manhattan's big money still shops. While Bergdorf's has managed to retain its classic elegance, Saks has had to sell itself short and embrace a younger, trendier customer, often a tourist. (Russian, Japanese, or Dubaian, to be precise).

Bringing New Yorker's back to Saks -- a piece that explores the market strategy/evolution of the department store giant might be a topic worth investigating as a longer story. I jotted down plenty of names and numbers, and even met the head of the Saks shoe department on my way out. He's a thirty something from Virginia with an accent slightly reminiscent of Forrest Gump's. The night before I met him, he had attended a benefit where Aretha Franklin was singing. She kept taking heavy breaths between notes, and finally someone just cried out "Get on a treadmill!" He thought this was particularly entertaining and very much enjoyed the jumbo shrimp during cocktail hour. 

Ah yes, Saks does seem to be lacking some class these days.

Monday, September 10, 2007


I got some video footage of the shops on Fifth Ave. Sound and sun glare seem to be the biggest problems, because otherwise it was easy around the sidewalks, yet to be overridden with pedestrians.

Nothing really blew me away. Fendi was showing some fur jackets that looked fashioned from owl pellets, Prada was flashing some sweaters that looked like an itchy and unfortunate breed of alpaca and Oscar the Grouch, and one of the mannequins in Henri Bendel was a dead ringer for Ivana Trump after too much scotch and tylenol.

I tried zooming in on different parts of the mannequins, especially their hands, feet, elbows, knees. What struck me most was the positioning of their fingers. There were mannequins wearing things that looked straight out of an Atlantic City Pawn shop, yet their fingers looked so refined. Their nails gave the impression of being perennially buffed, their index fingers protruded ever so slightly from the rest of their hand, and when not cinched at the hip, the fingers hung softly at their sides like umbrellas on the verge of being opened.