On the 21st of May, a panel of smart speakers at the fore of retail examined the purpose and potential of the iconic shop window and the value of effortful in-store design.
At the latest in our series of retail-focussed You Can Now Shop events, we explored the purpose and potential of the iconic shop window. Hosted by YCN's Insights Editor Sheena Patel, a panel of experts in this field discussed the creative techniques that retailers are implementing in store to dazzle and delight today's shoppers.
First to make their introductions were Gemma Ruse and Xavier Sheriff, founders of Studio XAG, specialists in creating showstopping installations for big name brands such as adidas, Calvin Klein, Diesel and Christian Louboutin. Their visually rich projects always pack a punch and have graced windows globally, including homegrown stalwarts Selfridges and Liberty.
The duo talked us through their design process from start to finish – from model making to late night installs – and the need to create displays that pack a punch while adhering to brand guidelines. To complement the design duo, we welcomed Jason Lowdon, Head of Global Creative and Visual Communications at Karen Millen and frequent commissioner of Studio XAG. Jason shared insights into the strategies employed by the international fashion brand to retain creative continuity across hundreds of stores worldwide, in addition to learnings gleaned from his days leading the creative teams at Diesel and Topshop Oxford Circus. Jason talked of retail theatre, shopping as experience, and the importance of crafting a brand journey that carries shoppers through the windows and in-store creative, and ideally from pavement to payment.
Six things we learned
1. Tell a story
A strong narrative throughout any retail space is key to bringing alive the DNA of a brand, creating a coherent experience as shoppers cross the threshold and move through the store. As well as creating window installations, Studio XAG are often comissioned to work on in-store visual merchandising to tie together interior and exterior displays. Jason takes a holistic approach to the brand's creative, employing a splash of retail theatre to bring to life seasonal stories and campaigns.
2. Know your footfall
Europe's prime high street window space belongs to Selfridges on Oxford Street, with 1.5 million people passing by on average each week.
3. Maintain brand continuity
Despite the fact that window displays are temporary and thematic, brand continuity is of course still important. Windows are an opportunity to show off and to 'be more fabulous', but still need to be treated as an extension of the brand. Jason is responsible for writing the global visual guidelines for all Karen Millen stores worldwide, including franchised stores. Currently, tailored installations are designed for localised events and culture-specific occasions – for instance Karen Millen's celebratory Eid windows which have just launched across the Middle East and parts of Asia – yet all are created in the same handwriting. Nevertheless, Jason's ideal would be for identical windows launching simultaneously worldwide, for consistency and maximum impact, although he admits the challenge here lies in managing the social and cultural differences of each market.
4. Physicality matters
When presented with examples of digital windows and interactive screens, all speakers maintained that it was the textures and the tactile materials used in the window displays that are often most successful in creating an environment that people want to step into. Gemma stressed that windows have mere moments to capture the attention of passersby, and often technology-led interactions can distract from that. But the use of technology wasn't ruled out completely – kinetic windows are a speciality of Studio XAG's, as their dynamic display for Christian Louboutin at Selfridges demonstrate. They also cited the Nike Flyknit windows, another installation at Selfridges by design studio ...,staat, as a standout example of how physical and digital can work together to create a truly engaging display.
5. Measure your success
Footfall and sales aren't the only way to measure the success of windows, Jason pointed out. Industry recognition and awards can also be important, along with press coverage and social media – with Twitter, Instagram and more recently Periscope all presenting platforms through which to digitally extend the reach of the physical display. Jason admitted that brands could potentially make more use of online to celebrate and record their creative endeavours, and encourage shoppers to visit the store.
6. Collaborate and communicate
Jason has been a client of Studio XAG for ten years, throughout his time at Diesel and Topshop, and now at Karen Millen. The trio agreed that the key to a successful client-agency relationship was close collaboration, trust and creative freedom.
We would like to thank both our speakers and all the YCN Members in attendance.
Thanks to Joseph Fox for taking photographs.
Location:Shoreditch House Library,
London, E1 6AW,
Start:21st May, 2015 at 7:00pm
End:21st May, 2015 at 8:30pm