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Janet Wardley

Harvey Nichols’ head of visual display tells Marie Davies what goes into creating some of retail’s most eye-catching windows

You’ve been at Harvey Nichols for 15 years now - what changes have you seen in the world of window displays? At Harvey Nichols I’ve been fortunate that it has changed very little. A few years ago there was a trend to rely more on advertising campaign images and posters in windows -there was no theatre. Over the past couple of years the importance of display has been realised again. When you see an interesting display it can brighten your day.

As the head of visual display, what does your role involve?

I’m responsible for creating the concepts for the external windows of the Harvey Nichols stores in the UK and internationally, and my team and I also look after the internal display points.

What is your starting point when creating a display?

We always consider the product first, so we begin by looking at catwalks and trends.

The trend talks I go to are mainly by [trend forecasters] Li Edelkoort and Chris Gilbert. We put together theme boards with fashion looks, and then separate idea boards from old magazine tear-outs of cuttings, and work from both angles.

How far in advance do you plan the windows? We try not to do much planning until all the fashion week shows are finished. At the moment we are thinking loosely about Christmas and have an idea about our themes for autumn 11. We don’t flow from one display to another; we have complete contrast so we have to plan in advance to make sure the ideas are different.

How often do you change the displays?

The Knightsbridge store changes every six to seven weeks and outside London changes every 10 weeks. In total we have about 57 changes a year.

What are some of the things retailers should consider when putting windows together? The time of year and trends. We consider what we have created previously and what we are doing next. Also consider from where the store is seen - for example in London a lot of people are travelling past in their car when they see the windows as well as pedestrians, whereas in Birmingham the store is seen from a flyover, so the scale of the display needs to be bigger than normal for it to be seen.

What advice do you have for retailers who don’t have the luxury of space?

I don’t think space is an issue. In Japan they are so creative with small spaces. The most important thing is to know what you are about as a business and what you want to convey.

How do you judge the success of a window?

We aren’t monitored by sales and the main aim isn’t to sell the product that is in the window,

but instead to create interest in the store and make people stop and go inside. We can gauge success from the response we get from press, letters from customers or staff in the store saying it worked.

Who inspires you?

Alexander McQueen. His was the first fashion show I went to and for days afterwards I couldn’t stop sketching, I was so inspired. He was original and had beauty in his fashion design with a theatrical basis.

Whose displays do you admire?

In terms of having an identity, US stores Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman do that very well. French fashion house Lanvin (above) is innovative.

Whose product is a pleasure to display?

I’ve a soft spot for Alexander McQueen. Currently we have a lot of Céline, as it’s perfect for our current theme, which is hard with an assertive look (left).

Janet Wardley is head of visual display at luxury department store Harvey Nichols

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