As a commentator on and reviewer of window display design, Mary Portas is uniquely qualified. Formerly the creative and marketing director of Harvey Nichols, Portas was responsible for the London store’s windows for nearly a decade.
Her tenure there brought her not only fame – as one of the best known window designers around – but success. Portas started out as a window dresser at Harrods, filling a similar role at Harvey Nicks before gaining rapid promotion. She now runs Yellow Door, her own design and public relations consultancy.
Windows: The Art of Retail Display uses a selection of windows from around the world, chosen by Portas, to represent the variety and potential of the medium as a marketing tool.
The sophistication and targeting of modern window displays can be shocking. Fashion stores on major thoroughfares will often change window displays on a daily basis, and airport shoe stores have been known to switch displays to coincide with the climate and culture of outbound flight destinations.
Longer term displays, in stores such as Harvey Nichols, can be used as a successful brand building device, reaching their demographic targets by dint of their location. It is these Portas examines.
The format of Portas’ book is simple. Her selections are impressively photographed, making the most of strong colours and lighting, and captions are short and concise. One omission is a timescale, as no dates for the chosen displays are given. This is a shame, as any study of trends would be made far easier by their inclusion.
There is, understandably, an emphasis on fashion retailers in the windows chosen. It is possibly in fashion stores that the form has reached its highest points. Non-fashion sectors do make an appearance though, suggesting that shopkeepers in other trades simply have a steeper learning curve to go through.
The creativity of clothes sellers is reinforced by a chapter on mannequin designs – things have moved on since the days when they all seemed to be modelled on Joanna Lumley – which now come in a bewildering variety.
And, in a world of temporary displays, the book also provides a permanent record of windows probably already dismantled by the time the book had been printed.