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How I got here - Christopher-John Sumner

His job can be complex and challenging, but Joseph’s visual merchandiser says it’s worth it

What does your diary look like today?

More often than not my day will start quite early. Today I’ll be overseeing the launch of our womenswear concept within Harrods. I’ll then visit two or three of our London stores, working with the retail teams to make sure the visual story is being told properly; our directors have a clear vision of the way Joseph should be experienced. Right now we’re introducing autumn 13 collections in phases, so it’s a continuous process to oversee mannequin styling and fixture layout. In the afternoon, I’ll work from the office on future schemes for our store windows. At the moment we’re working on a concept with Michael Roberts [fashion editor of Vanity Fair] to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our flagship store at 77 Fulham Road, Knightsbridge. We’re starting to think about prepping our showroom for spring 14 collections, so towards the end of the day I’ll catch up with our creative director and press team for an update on creating product stories.

What event are you most looking forward to today?

We’ve just started work on our Christmas windows concept which is always one of my favourites to work on. Part of this is due to us having our biggest budget for Christmas, which means we can think bigger and better. This year we’re developing the scheme with an exciting British designer.

I can’t say who just yet.

How did you get to where you are today?

I got into visual merchandising early on in my career and instantly knew it was the right fit. Working in department stores was a good introduction, as it has allowed for a broad understanding of display, styling, event production and commercial awareness. Moving to a smaller brand like Joseph has meant I’ve been lucky enough to work independently on brilliant projects, and have travelled to amazing places through overseeing store openings in Taipei, Moscow and New York.

What’s been your career highlight so far?

Two of the window schemes I’ve worked on spring to mind. In summer 2010 we worked with [fashion journalist] Katie Grand on a concept that saw her do an amazing styling edit of our flagship store.

We also created an installation for Christmas 2011, which was an interpretation of Giles Deacon’s runway show, with headpieces by [milliner] Stephen Jones. Both projects were complex, challenging and labour-intensive, but involved working with brilliant, inspirational people who made it worth it.

Who is your mentor?

Bradley Taylor, head of visual merchandising for Mulberry and former Selfridges VM manager, is a mentor and friend.

What’s the best advice he’s given you?

Work hard and stay committed. When projects come together it’s always worth it in the end.

How do you see your career progressing?

I’ll always work in something visual. In the future I’d love to develop the areas of my role that I’m especially passionate about, such as set design.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Internships are massively important. You’ve got to immerse yourself in it, and make potential employers aware that you’re passionate. Try and demonstrate a broad understanding of art and design, go to as many exhibitions as you can, and never stop looking at what the amazing stores that are famous for their visual merchandising are doing.

Lastly, it’s important to strive to work for a brand you understand the DNA of. It’s the best way of guaranteeing you can communicate that vision.

  • Salaries for this position range from £45,000 to £50,000 (estimate provided by Henry Fox)

CV

2010 Visual merchandiser, Joseph

2010 Visual merchandiser, Harvey Nichols

2007 Visual merchandising team leader, Selfridges Birmingham

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