Shop window displays need to be at the cutting-edge of creativity these days – especially in the capital during London Fashion Week. Lydia Fulton looks at what three major retailers have come up with this year
FINE CHINA teacups, silk ties and chiffon dresses may spring to mind when conjuring images of department store windows, but this perception is set to change as stores seek to commission contemporary artists to create striking window and in-store displays.
Department stores have always taken window displays seriously; if they get it right and capture peoples’ attention it can make a huge difference to sales. ‘The windows of a shop are like going to an interview – you have to look your best, and you can’t let anything slip,’ smiles designer Matt Wingfield, who has created windows for Harvey Nichols, Liberty and Gap. Simply displaying outfits and products in windows is no longer enough – these spaces are now seen as transparent tanks that must be at the cutting edge of creativity.
One retailer that knows this better than anyone is Selfridges, which this year introduced Wonder Windows, transforming three of the biggest windows of its London store into a themed gallery. The first theme is paper, and features the delicate sculptures of recent Manchester University graduate Richard Sweeney. ‘I’m used to creating things on my own, by my own means, so it was an amazing challenge,’ reveals Sweeney, who since graduating in 3D design, has won the New Designers Swarovski Award.
‘It is a wonderful thing for to offer a platform for young talent,’ says Selfridges concept manager Rebecca Bateman. ‘For Richard to see the work he has been creating at university become these installations in our windows is amazing.’ The paper theme continues in the store’s iconic fashion windows, where a web of laser-cut paper intertwines with mannequins, creeping up the windowpane in vinyl, surrounding the geometric outfits of Alexander McQueen and the semitranslucent materials of Richard Nicoll, which inspired the windows. The displays, which run until 6 March, will be added to, giving the impression that they have taken on a life of their own.
This is one of the most important weeks in the calendar for retailers, as the international fashion press comes to town for London Fashion Week. Harvey Nichols is dedicating window space to its top designers of the season, high street store Mango is screening live catwalk shows, and boutique Matches is taking inspiration from the autumn/winter trends with an installation by artist Lucy Butler. ‘Fashion Week is hugely important and we always like to make a quirky statement during this time,’ says Matches co-owner Ruth Chapman. Matches has worked with artists in the past, most memorably with a window display of dolls, created by Amelia Moutousamy for spring/summer 2008. Neither does Butler’s current display of beaded headdresses and hand-painted flora and fauna disappoint. Butler studied set design at Central St Martins College of Art and Design, and aspects of theatre design remain in her work, which ranges from creating props for Vogue to the site-specific paintings currently adorning the windows of Matches. ‘It is lovely to work on windows as they are a public space, but you need to work in such detail to make people stop and stare,’ she says.
Scottish illustrator Neal Murren might well agree. His fairytale aesthetic has attracted clients including The New York Times, Faber & Faber and Nike and is the inspiration behind the current Senses windows in Harrods. Murren was commissioned to illustrate each of the senses and his resulting artworks are being displayed in the windows and in-store. ‘Neal seemed so at home linking elements of nature and creating a sense of nostalgia that he was our first choice, explains the Harrods creative team. The windows include a Ferris wheel covered in million-dollar notes, oversized ice creams and a 3D strawberry.
‘Windows allow the work to be displayed on a huge scale. For an illustrator such as Neal, this format allows the viewer to appreciate the detail,’ explains Olivia Triggs, founder of illustration agency Breed, who represents Murren. Wingfied adds, ‘Windows are an opportunity to express yourself and, from the point of view of the ego, there is no better place for your work to be seen’. Next time you nip out for a teacup, take a moment to enjoy the accompanying art.