It’s official; it’s over. Twelfth Night has been and gone, the decorations painstakingly taken down and returned to the warmth of their eleven-month long hibernation. On high streets up and down the country, fake snow and tinsel have been hastily replaced by vinyls and posters ushering in the frenzy of the sale season, providing a more demure antidote to the opulence and excess of the pre-Christmas period.
For those charged with creating the displays that allow shoppers – and retailers – to revel in the magic of Christmas, however, preparation is about to start all over again. Visual merchandising, and the window display in particular, has become an integral tool in the armoury of brands looking to convey key messages and themes, or simply make a statement, during one of retail’s busiest periods. Well-executed windows have the power to become not just tourist draws and sales drivers – Business of Fashion quoted findings in early December that showed an estimated 24 per cent of holiday purchases are still influenced by visual merchandising – but also art installations in their own right. Louis Vuitton Windows, a behemoth of a book published by Assouline in late December, is testament to that; priced at $845, it provides an exhaustive look at the work of Faye McLeod and Ansel Thompson, the creative minds behind the brand’s most inspiring and ambitious displays.
As digital sales continue to take market share from physical transactions in the global luxury sphere (around six per cent according to the latest findings by consultants McKinsey & Co.), it has become widely acknowledged that stores will need to adapt in order to continue providing the meaningful connection that underpins brand loyalty. The window display, as the first point of contact, is central to that; and the focal point of the visual merchandiser’s calendar is, of course, the Christmas window.
So, with the benefit of a few weeks’ hindsight, and in an attempt to stave off the January blues for just a few more days, we asked visual merchandising expert Hayley Mills to take a look back at those windows that shone (and some that didn’t) during December 2015. In addition to her extensive experience creating displays for best-in-show-list regular Harvey Nichols, Hayley is the author of her own blog, hmvm.co.uk, which champions the best seasonal campaigns and allows her to cast her well-trained eye over the diverse and exciting VM landscape.
Taurus, from Selfridges Zodiac-themed window campaign (Image: Selfridges)
Which windows particularly caught your attention this year?
There were two in particular that really stood out this year. The first was Selfridges, with its strong concept of cosmology and the signs of the zodiac. The displays were rich in metallic colours and experimented with different textures for the back walls and floor to mimic planet surfaces, which was interesting. Statement mannequins were also used throughout, with many of the windows only holding one or two of them.
The other was at the Hermès store on New Bond Street. This really showcased handmade luxury at its best; a scene of wooden animals, each with its own character, emphasised with dressing details and other festive elements. A beautifully crafted display.
“Handmade luxury at its best” at Hermès’ New Bond Street store (Image: hmvm.co.uk)
Do you feel there are any that were out of keeping with particular brands’ approaches to VM during the rest of the year?
Chloé’s illuminated pack of cards was a nice surprise from a brand that traditionally opts for very minimal, low-key displays with just a single mannequin. Likewise with Dior, whose mountains of baubles proved clean, simple and very effective for a brand that usually plays it safe for the rest of the year.
At the other end of the spectrum was Louis Vuitton. I was very underwhelmed by LV’s scheme this time around as, in previous years, the brand’s creative has been amazing, but it just didn’t do it for me this year.
Showing Their Hand: Illuminated cards at Chloé (Image: hmvm.co.uk)
“Clean, simple and very effective”: Dior’s bauble mountains (Image: hmvm.co.uk)
Were there any prevailing trends (in either themes or materials) this year, and have any brands have developed from last year’s offerings?
Space-related concepts were certainly high on the agenda, featuring at big-hitters including Selfridges, John Lewis, The Conran Shop and Coach.
The other major story was that miniatures are back for Christmas. Burberry’s mini wooden toys, Fendi’s textured light bulbs with mini handbags inside, Harrods’ mice underneath the floorboards… Miniatures are a cute dressing detail that pack in a lot of storytelling elements. At Harrods, I actually thought these sections were better than the main windows themselves. However, there were also a lot of mannequin mechanics at Harrods, which was interesting to see.
Were Harrods’ miniature mice the real stars of the show in 2015? (Image: hmvm.co.uk)
What is the value of an alluring window display at this time of the year?
I think Christmas windows still hold a special place in people’s hearts and that communication is purely magical and not about selling to the consumer. Christmas is the only time of year that is about capturing people’s imagination, and what we have seen more and more over the years is the bigger brands and department stores really tying up all platforms, with advertising, in-store visual displays and windows all linking into the same campaign. I do think this strong brand communication is great; however, there is a slight danger that some creativity is lost to ad campaigns if the initial concept isn’t very fruitful to begin with…
Christmas is also the one time of year during which brands are able to be more creative. This is something we are seeing more and more, especially in the windows of luxury brands that would normally just display mannequins for the rest of the year.
Leo, from Selfridges’ Zodiac-themed Christmas campaign (Image: Selfridges)
What do you see as being the future for the Christmas window? What will its role be in the bricks-and-mortar retail space as e-comm continues to grow in stature?
As I already mentioned, I still think it’s a great pastime for families who go into London to see the big department store windows. That magic will never go, and will only strengthen thanks to Christmas adverts such as those of John Lewis, which continue the story telling through the window displays and give people a stronger connection.
Windows are still a valuable space for retailers. It’s a platform for communication, inspiration and thought-provoking concepts and, in my opinion, it’s the heart of the store. It’s the first thing people see when they are out shopping; it has the ability to tell stories for, and add personality to a brand in a way that is hard to convey on an e-commerce platform.