Display dramatics

Window dressing can claim to be a very old form of marketing communication – after all, draping a couple of rabbits over a shop counter is a direct visual appeal to consumer need. Now, a new book, Visual Merchandising by Tony Morgan addresses the issue of the shop window in the context of the modern retail design industry. It’s a comprehensive look at the business of design for merchandising, taking in window displays and in-store design, right through to the use of mannequins. And it’s prefaced with some history of ‘retail visualisation’, such as a poultry shop from about 100 years ago. The point, however, is to look at the contemporary art of British retail visualisation, and various shops are represented, including Harvey Nichols and Topshop. But it is Selfridges that looms largest as the ne plus ultra of retail design, its recent triumphs forged under the guidance of Vittorio Radice and augmented by current creative director Alannah Weston. Unsurprisingly, the writer of this book is the former ex-visual merchandising manager at Selfridges and now a lecturer at the Fashion Retail Academy. His claim that ‘Selfridges became the benchmark of British retailing’ is not over-grandiose; after all, this was the store that managed to get Louis Bleriot’s wrecked aeroplane on display the day after its 1909 crash. That sense of occasion has tripped right through the century to Spencer Tunick’s naked photoshoots and Sam Taylor-Wood’s wrap-arounds. The displays of the current era may use artists, designers, poets, themes such as nations (viz Selfridges’ Brazil season), punk and political issues – witness the Topshop anti-fur window (above). But the point remains the same: to present the shop as an event, to attract people in, to keep them there, and finally, to make them spend. Visual Merchandising by Tony Morgan is published by Laurence King, priced £22.50Breast pics = Selfridges London photographed by Andrew Meredith

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