After 27 years in the job, Fenwick Bond Street’s visual merchandising manager knows it’s not as simple as it looks.
What does a typical week involve?
Everything and anything from window and interior changes to signage requirements for promotional events, as well as planning the ongoing seasonal campaigns. On a Monday my team of four meets the five floor managers and, depending on the product’s performance, we change the interior layout and merchandising to keep it looking fresh.
Our windows are usually planned two or three months in advance and it takes three to four days to install them. Then we follow up with the interiors, which takes a week. The frequency at which we change the windows depends on the campaign and in fashion we change more often to keep it interesting. Now we’re working on a campaign in which the windows and interiors will change fortnightly.
What task do you wish you could postpone?
I don’t look forward to dismantling the scheme. We put so much effort into creating every piece. At the same time it is exciting because you have something new to do. We install our schemes overnight so as not to disturb the customers.
How did you get to where you are today?
I was very artistic at school. I always liked creating things so went on to study for a BDS Diploma in Visual Merchandising & Fashion Design at Hertford Regional College. I received my diploma in 1982 and like anyone starting out in their career I worked up through the ranks.
My first job was in 1982 at House of Fraser on Oxford Street. I started as junior window dresser, moving on to intermediate dresser in 1984. A year later I was promoted to senior dresser.
I arrived at Fenwick on Bond Street as an assistant display manager in 1987. There was already a display manager called Paul Tierney, so I assisted with design schemes for the window displays and interior layout. When Paul left a year later, I was promoted to the visual merchandising manager role, where I remain to this day.
Over the past 27 years the role has got harder. When I started we didn’t have many windows – just four. The building was redeveloped over five years from 1989 to 1994, so during this process my role got bigger as the expansion took us to 12 windows. With the technological advances I had to learn about graphics and the machinery that goes with it, for example a vinyl cutter, which is a computerised machine that cuts vinyl for window and interior signage designs.
What has been your career highlight?
Receiving the award for Best Multiple Windows in a Department Store at the 2014 VM & Display Awards in London for our Fenwick Beauty Week scheme was big. We used the vinyl cutter to make giant lipsticks, eye shadows and compacts placed in a garden set-up with a white picket fence. The window was finished with huge butterflies and potted plants with lipsticks as the centrepiece.
If you could change one thing about your career path, what would it be?
I wouldn’t change anything – whatever might have happened along the way. I love being creative and I adore this place. I get up at 4.30am every morning and work until 8pm at night, because I love my job.
How do you see your career progressing?
I would love to expand my four-strong team – VM teams are always stretched and a lot smaller than they used to be. For example, when I was at House of Fraser there were 18 visual merchandisers, including an in-house prop manager, which is the kind of role we would outsource now. VM teams are also having to adapt to work with different graphics and branding. Nowadays there is more branding than ever as everyone’s on Instagram and Twitter so we also need to signpost to them in store to show which brands we sell.
I would like to work with more artists to create even more impactful campaigns that really engage our customers. It’s so nice to have that arty look, while always keeping it commercial. We like to use up-and-coming artists and creative people. Right now we are working with Romanian graffiti artist Andrei Robu, who helped us with typography and graphics for the spring 15 Here I Am campaign [based on the words of Fenwick founder John Fenwick when he first stepped into the Bond Street store in 1891]. My managing director David Walker-Smith is very interested in theatre, arts and modern graffiti, so the direction for the campaign came from him.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
You need to love what you do. It is a lifestyle as well as a job. Visual merchandising is not as simple as people might think – it’s incredibly demanding physically and time-wise. There’s a lot of hard work, like lifting and moving mannequins, ladders and other heavy objects. You also have to react quickly to your competitors.
You must always think outside the box. Be prepared to be flexible, adaptable and to work hard. Finally, you need to be approachable. Working with so many different buyers and managers, you have to be able to liaise with them and react to their needs.
If you could work in another area of fashion, what would it be?
I’d like to explore accessory design. I’ve always loved accessories, especially bags, hats and jewellery. I handmade 50 hats dressed with peacock feathers and finished with crystals for races and weddings for a range sold at Fenwick. The collection was named Lillie Hornett after my gran and sold out when we carried it in store in March 2013 and 2014.
1989 Visual merchandising manager, Fenwick, Bond Street
1987 Visual merchandising assistant manager, Fenwick, Bond Street
1985 Senior dresser, House of Fraser, Oxford Street
1984 Intermediate dresser, House of Fraser, Oxford Street
1982 Junior dresser, House of Fraser, Oxford Street
1982 BDS Diploma in Visual Merchandising and Fashion Design, Hertford Regional College