Through The Looking Glass: Visual Merchandising In A Digital World
During my visit to Milan, a few years ago, I stood stock-still outside a beautiful store. Bold candy-cane stripes ran along the length of its window, and balloons with the same pattern were suspended in the air. And ensconced right in the middle of the ‘candylandesque’ set-up was a duffel bag in Louis Vuitton’s signature logo print. There I was, thinking this is as good as it gets, until I soon ran into another display with chandeliers growing from the floor! The arresting displays of some of those stores radically changed the way I now look at visual merchandising (VM). Back home, the unmissable windows at Hermès or the dreamy doll’s house at Anavila are supreme examples of the power of VM — the language of retail that can be seen, touched and felt. It is not just about showcasing products that would sell but about presenting them with edgy props and under state-of-the-art lighting to create striking windows that mirror the dreams and desires of the consumers of today.
In the digital era, brands are aligning their overall VM strategies with social media. The square-format displays in stores invite consumers to click pictures and share them on the ’gram with their network. These effective prompts for the onlooker urge retailers to be more innovative and initiate instant feedback, helping them to win the retail race.
Given the prevalence of social media today, was there a conscious effort to make your store’s design Instagram-friendly?
Gautam Sinha of Nappa Dori (GS) The design of the cafe has been in line with the store’s DNA. Anything designed well would naturally be Instagram-friendly, so it’s not the core thought behind the design, but does end up being the final result due to its aesthetically pleasing nature.
Samyukta Nair of Clove (SN) Drawing from our influences in hospitality and design, Clove was created to reflect the novel character of Colaba, the neighbourhood it is situated in. Each room is structured around a large, painted wall-display unit which is quirkily offset by a floating free-form brass lamp above. While social media did not govern the store’s decor or the way it was conceptualised, our brass lamp, day bed and quote board have been featured on Instagram the most.
Nasreen Singh of Play Clan (HD) With over three billion social network users worldwide, it is essential to keep the digital scape in mind, even when creating a physical space. We consider ourselves privi-leged to be a part of the heritage Royal Opera House in Mumbai. Its history is clearly evident in the baroque architecture and the grand arches that are a part of our store facade. As you enter the store, the potpourri of colours and illustrations stays with the onlooker even after they have stepped out.
Sanjay Garg of Raw Mango (SG) It’s never about creating an aesthetic but finding the right expression of who I am — the design of the store is just one of the extensions of my personality.
Neha Singh and Pranav Guglani of Cord (NS and PG) The store design was conceptualised according to our brand language and what we wanted to convey to our consumers. Social media didn’t exactly play a big role in this since we followed the style of our first store in New Delhi. We created an old-school vibe with charming corners displaying leather accessories and clothes hung on wooden logs which are suspended with leather belts.
Do you make a conscious effort to attract buyers who may also be looking at e-commerce options?
NS and PG: We feel that the charm of visiting the store, actually feeling the quality of the products and experiencing the ambience is unmatched. We do not believe that there is any threat to the brick-and-mortar model of fashion, even after the online boom. The e-commerce industry is great for products that cost less than rupees three or four thousand. Beyond that price, even the millennial consumer feels more satisfied going to a store to make a purchase. Our website will make sure we don’t lose out on the e-commerce bit as well!
SG I don’t believe one can ‘live’ in the world of the internet — when it comes to textile and design, you need to throw yourself into the whole experience, just like nature, you need to be physically present to take it all in.
Anavila Misra of Anavila (AM) I understand the importance of e-commerce and how it is increasingly becoming stronger, but I still feel that something as special as handwoven, specially designed textiles and garments can only be experienced in reality. So I feel the two happily coexist.
Farheen B Rahman of Toile (FBR) Millennial buyers play an important role when it comes to sales. They are conscious of their choices and it is easier for them to shop at Toile which is an eco-fashion brand. In today’s fast-paced life, we understand that we need to provide a 360-degree shopping experience to the consumers.
What are new consumers looking for in a brick-and-mortar shopping experience?
Neha Tham Of Pause (NT) We believe people are happy to pay for an experience. Today shoppers are looking for value-added services which you don’t necessarily get online. A one-on-one sales staff, an in-house stylist, customisation on all styles are value-added services we offer to ensure our customers go home happy and enjoy the brick-and-mortar shopping experience.
Akshay Narvekar of Bombay Shirt Company (AN) We offer three things. Firstly, the touch and feel of the fabrics; secondly, style advice from dedicated stylists, and thirdly, a professional to take customised measurements. You can’t get this experience online.
FBR When a client walks in, we make sure that we personally attend to all the queries as that helps connecting with the brand and the designers. The clients can try out their chosen ensembles and can make a quick decision rather than waiting for a period of time. We send out invites for previews where clients can meet their designers and have access to the newly launched collection.
SN Clove was created to represent a welcoming space that allows one to linger. The store’s charming facade, arched doorways and high ceilings, suffused with natural light, further help in making the room ideal for casual and relaxed browsing. Our purposeful edit of homegrown products, amidst a selection of collectibles brought back from my travels, make the merchandise appealing to a diverse set of clientele, for a multitude of occasions.
AM I feel the customers who take out time to come and have a look and feel of what they are buying need a lot of attention. They are looking for customised solutions, interaction with the designer and the team that has put together the collection helps them to understand the nuances. For us, every client who walks into the store is very important. We make sure that we make them feel welcome, comfortable and well assisted without feeling overwhelmed.
Rajiv Purohit of Nicobar (RP) We’ve designed our spaces in a way that our guests can come and hang out with us, and have conversations, both fashion-related and otherwise. We tell stories, we listen, and we grow. We partner with talent that is aligned with our brand values and engage with guests through wellness, yoga events, styling workshops, and music. The experience at Nicobar is a ‘Nico way of life’ which is about joy and sharing the same.
What are your visual merchandising strategies and what influences them?
NS We experiment with retail displays to see which is most impactful, for the feet always follow the eyes! Placing each design thoughtfully, we try to showcase variety, but not in a way that would overwhelm a customer. Through an element of homogeneity, we work out the arrangement; it could be similar illustration style, colour or even usage. An illustration of the Mumbai skyline adorns the window, showcasing our contemporary viewpoint on iconic sites, like the Gateway of India, Rajabai clock tower and Victoria Terminus (now CST). We aim to integrate the local sights with our signature graphics style. Since our products are the focal point, we want to make them memorable and avoid distractions.
AN Simplicity and minimalism are the two things that best describe us. We display classic designs with the best fabrics from all over the world to showcase what we truly believe in. We try to keep our spaces clean and minimal without hampering the sanctity of the heritage and the neighbourhood of the building. No more than two mannequins would display our products, in a glass-and-wooden backdrop.
RP Visual merchandising brings to life the stories that our design, content and photography teams create with so much passion. Through visual merchandising we can show how versatile our kulhars are. They can be used to drink water, champagne, wine, espressos and, of course, tea. As far as clothing is concerned, our storytelling comes to life through layering and styling which are key elements at Nicobar. Simran (Lal) has created a beautiful canvas of wood and stone fixtures that are unique to a tropical feel. Clean lines in our furniture, vintage details using cane weaving, lots of plants and swings (a favourite with our guests) provide a base for storytelling. Our neroli bloom fragrance in the stores is calming and fresh. We are always shopping for vintage props that are travel-inspired and speak of a time that was simpler.
NS and PG We’re all about craftsmanship, nostalgia and travel, and we make sure these elements are coming through our store interiors and display. You’ll find black-and-white vintage tiles and raw wood mingling to create an old-school charm. Little toys and postcards that we collect while travelling hang with our leather accessories and dim vintage lamps hover right above the clothes.
SG Our stores are inspired by Indian sensibilities and practicality. I love glass, terracotta and iron and love to encompass elements of the natural surroundings. How these can redefine the character of a space while keeping it as simple as possible is interesting. When you walk into our store, we want you to be curious and form a connection or intimacy with the space and also our products. We want you to leave with something that serves a purpose, and not just because you were seduced by it on the surface — which is also why we don’t have a window display or mannequins. In fact, everything is behind a closed cupboard. The almirahs are built in the traditional way, lined with mul, and allow the colour of the garments to speak against a blank canvas.
AM Visual merchandising is a great way to bring the mood alive. I think it creates an intrigue and interest. We have launched a range of handmade toys this summer — Busa and Friends — and that takes centrestage. As it’s a soft summer collection, we wanted to give it an organic feel. All the little dolls wearing our Spring/Summer collection are also a part of the visual merchandising. Fresh summer flowers and plants give a feel of a beautiful summer garden.
Talk about the inspiration and process behind window displays
FBR We have collaborated with art students and weavers as well and have done installations for our store. Two months ago, we created mannequins with cane and bobbins for our window display and draped unfinished handwoven khadi on them.
GS We believe in timeless imagery and design aesthetics. Our windows are pretty muted with earthy colours. We usually try to showcase a sense of time and moments captured and preserved.
RP This season, our collections are inspired by the lush green foliage of Sri Lanka, avenues of yellow that represent the robes of the Buddhist monks and the amaltas flowers, and the bold footprint of tropical architecture made modern by Geoffrey Bawa. We also used banana leaves and blossoms, vintage elephants and camera props, and striped charcoal backdrops.
NS and PG Along with clothing and accessories, we add props that we have collected from our travels. Our Mumbai store is a two-storey space where we don’t really have a window, so we have focused on creating a facade that speaks about Cord. The classic big black French door with our logo and the old-school signage board depicts our love for nostalgia.
SN The art of storytelling lies at the heart of Clove and we aim to build ideas that are meaningful to us. For example, currently Clove is welcoming the days getting longer and temperatures rising — an ode to the hues of gelato pastels have paved the way for a dash of playfulness in the merchandise at the store.
NS We are deeply rooted in graphics, and the beautiful arched display window adds all the necessary drama. An eclectic range of collectibles — from eye masks and travel cases to chai mugs and descriptive trays — find their home behind the large window.