Saturday, May 10, 2008

Regarding Window Displays

As many of you know, I've been collecting mannequins since 2000 and have had an interest in them all my life. I can identify the brand of a mannequin from 75 yards away, and if it's a Rootstein or a Decter I probably know the model number. I have extended understanding of the economics of visual merchandising, watch fashion trends closely, and have a keen eye for artistry. In short, I'm pretty much an expert on window displays.

Very few things anger me more than seeing a store that is using their mannequins poorly. A local store (which shall remain nameless) has in their window two Rootstein mannequins. The Rootstein brand, for those not in the know, is the pinnacle of quality in the mannequin world; a fifteen-year-old fiberglass Rootstein is worth more than a brand new "eggshell" made cheaply out of plastic in a factory in Korea. A Rootstein immediately brings a sense of elegance and class to a store, which is why it pisses me off that the aforementioned local shop sets theirs up so haphazardly.

Here are a few tips for aspiring visual merchandisers and mom-and-pop thrift junkies:

BRUSH THE WIGS. This is the absolute simplest way to improve the quality of a diorama. People want to see themselves in your displays; they want something that engages both their sense of aesthetics and their humanness. If your mannequins don't look like real people, the illusion is lost, and the quickest way to ensure that they don't look like a bunch of heroin junkies who just fell off the bus to Salt Lake City is to brush their hair. Think of how presentable you make yourself in the morning: if you came to work with unruly, sticking-up hair, you'd look like a complete asshole. No one wants a cashier that looks that way, so why would they appreciate a model with the same unkempt look?

USE SHOES. Unless your target demographic is hippies or Jains, pretty much everyone you want to sell to wears shoes. Again, people want to see themselves in the window. A shoeless mannequin looks incomplete, unfinished, half-dressed. Even if your store doesn't sell shoes, get one or two pairs per model to match any potential outfits. A black dress pair and a white casual pair will do. And make sure you use flats for flat-footed mannequins and heels for heel-footed mannequins, or else you'll look like a bumbling amateur.

ACCESSORIZE. Anything the human body can wear, a mannequin can wear. Necklaces, hair barrettes, bracelets, opaque tights, earrings -- all these things show a person behind the imagery, someone who wants to dress a certain way to convey a certain statement. Just one pair of black-rimmed glasses will add a sense of depth to your entire mannequin line. Even things like iPods and headphones can turn a normal ho-hum display into a cheeky subway scene.

UNDERSTAND PLACEMENT. If your store is having a sale, don't tape the sale sign up in the same window as your display. That misses the point of having a display. Why bother spending an hour on a scene box if you're only going to obscure it with some humongous poster? It's terrible form.

ENGAGE THE CUSTOMER. The whole point of having mannequins is to generate interest and invite potential sales. Don't just dress the girls and prop them up; do something creative and unorthodox to grab the customer's attention. Say your store is next to a coffee shop; you can buy some cups from them, set up a table and chairs in your window, and make it look as if the mannequins stepped out for a coffee break when no one was looking. Not only is it free advertising for your neighbor (which they'll likely appreciate), it draws the eyes of their customers to your store, and the lighthearted nature of the diorama will soften their hearts and open their wallets.

These seem like simple ideas, but you'd be surprised how many visual merchandisers pass right over them. Many stores treat their displays like they're mopping the floor or stocking boxes: their only aim is to get the job done with the minimum amount of effort. However, in the world of artistry, the amount of effort put into a piece is often proportional to the enjoyment derived from it. If you're going to bother to have good mannequins (or, really, mannequins at all), you ought to bother to make them look good as well. It is not enough to merely own the Stradivarius; without regular playing, the violin becomes brittle and dry, and the beautiful music it once produced turns to sour whining.