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How I got here: Harrods' Alexander Wells-Greco on chasing perfection

The search for perfection and creating a concept the world has never seen before is what drives Harrods’ head of visual merchandising.

Alexander Wells-Greco

Alexander Wells-Greco

Head of visual merchandising, Harrods

At a store such as Harrods, you’re exposed to every department, so you work on something different each week. I have a lot of involvement creatively, working on visual concepts from brief to final execution. The process is very collaborative and I have lots of support from the creative marketing, buying and retail teams. I have a team of 65 to help execute the visuals, the windows team alone is 12 people.

Most schemes occur in a 360 environment, from the in-store visual merchandising (VM) and windows to the Harrods magazine, our website and social media. I think any sort of successful creative concept needs to run 360 so the customer is taken on a journey.

Annually there are three storewide VM campaigns, which generally occur in May, July/August and Christmas. Tweaks are made to the interiors on a daily and weekly basis. We have 70 staff dedicated to our windows’ visual display. We change the windows at the front of the store 10 times a year and the side windows nine times.

Christmas always stands out for me as it is naturally the biggest project we undertake. We spend a good 11 months working on the festive concepts and the display stays up for two months, slightly longer than normal.

My favourite windows would be the “Once Upon A Christmas” 2015 themed windows. The big windows showcased 11 brands with individual theatre or circus themes. The idea was taking traditional themes and presenting them in a fun, innovative and engaging manner. We separated each window into two scenes – the lower half was designed to enchant the younger viewer, the upper half intended for adults. I particularly loved Bottega Veneta’s quirky ”The World’s Strongest Man” windows.

Usually the Christmas installation takes 10 nights, but this one was tougher because of the level of build needed. We had to dress the bottom layer of the window from above, which is quite labour intensive.

The best visual that drove sales was our “Shoe Heaven” concept in August 2014 – a complete storewide shoe takeover. We clad the interior of our central lifts with shoes and surrounded one of the escalators with 600 shoeboxes. Twenty brands created exclusive Shoe Heaven collaboration shoes, which we showcased in the windows. The installation took more than a year.

The pop-up exhibition window space at the front of the store changes monthly. The installation period is around three nights and de-rig is two, which is a sizeable feat. These exhibition windows are storefits in the most luxurious setting. We also introduce in-store pop-ups all the time, which tend to last for a month, although the exact time frame is set by the merchandisers and our fashion directors, Helen David and Jason Broderick.

Bottega Veneta

Bottega Veneta

Christmas 2015 windows

I get lots of inspiration from the brands we have in store. Thom Browne is super-cool with some great concepts, as is Tom Ford and Black Label by Ralph Lauren. From a womenswear perspective, Stella McCartney and Valentino are great.

Most of my inspiration comes from galleries, art and music. I regularly visit the Guggenheim in New York, and in London Tate Modern and the Design Museum. Over the Christmas period I visited a wonderful exhibition by Alberto Burri at the Guggenheim, the layout of which took the visitor on a creative journey, all the way down to the detail of how the images are framed. To me it’s the layout more than anything that inspires. A lot of designers look to see what other brands are doing, but the key thing at Harrods is that we want to do something no one has seen before.

Travel is also a great source of inspiration. Over the past 14 years I’ve lived in London, Milan, Venice, New York and Shanghai. In January 2013 I moved to Shanghai to work as a country visual merchandising manager for Prada. I was responsible for all stores across China, which meant I travelled non-stop. It was amazing to see how the Chinese consumer shopped and to be part of the brand’s evolution. I like to think I know how to cater to an international customer.

There are only a few premium department stores internationally, so there not many people in the world who do my job and I feel very lucky to be part of that. 

It is so rewarding to see the customer reaction, especially when you’ve worked in store for 24 hours, and then you go outside and see someone stop to take a picture.

Plan B

I would have been an art curator in a museum or gallery working internationally. Working in an exhibition space is still very varied and constantly evolves.

CV

Education

2000-2004 BA (Hons) in Italian and Design at University College London and Il Politecnico di Milano

Career

March 2014-date Head of visual merchandising, Harrods, London

January 2013-March 2014 Country VM manager, Prada, Shanghai, China

September 2009-January 2013 Head of visual merchandising and display, Harrods, London

August 2007-August 2009 Luxury Flagship Visual Merchandiser, Polo Ralph Lauren, London

September 2005-August 2007 General manager of visuals, Abercrombie & Fitch, London

 

 

 

 

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