Thursday, October 18, 2007
Oprah is My Wardrobe Mistress
In a section of his writings called "Man the Interior Designer," Jean Baudrillard suggests that serial objects, or what he refers to as "furniture," are simply pre-designed objects that suit the pre-existing values of an industry that is emblematic of all commodities. He calls man a "a mental hypochondriac... someone obsessed with the perfect circulation of messages," and though many will dismiss him as crazy, ultra-marxist, or perhaps simply, "French," I think he might be onto something.
Today I spoke with Carmen Garcia, a visual merchandiser at Ann Taylor. She explained that all the visual mercandising done in the store is decided by a team at the Ann Taylor headquaters. This team sends her a book with sketches detailing which shirts should go on which mannequins, and where each should be arranged within different areas of the store.
Their strategies are based on the assumption that they know what their customers are looking for. For example, during the month of October, people are looking for fall and heavier winter wear, so coats and sweaters make it to the front of the store. Business wear, however, is also still in priority since people are coming back from summer vacation and looking to refresh their work wardrobes for the year.
Garcia assured me that a product featured in the store windows almost always demonstrates a visible rise in sales once it is put on display there. However, boosting its sales is also the fact that window products are often also simultaneously shown in a magazine, or on Oprah, for example.
So if I've understood this correctly, someone at O Magazine decides that a skirt in Ann Taylor is attention worthy. It gets some sort of publicity, either in O Magazine or in another one where Ann Taylor frequently places ads. The visual merchandising team at the Ann Taylor headquarters gives the orders to have it featured in a window, and the store based team executes the design. You (or me, though I'm not at all into Ann Taylor), naive shopper, see it and think "gee, I like that," without realizing that you probably only like it because you've seen it favorably portrayed in so many other places: on Oprah, in a magazine, perhaps on someone else who has already purchased it, and now in the store.
As you buy the skirt, you also buy the mental hypochrondria of our society, proving to visual merchandisers that their messages are getting through to you. Slightly Orwellian, yeah?