by Martin M. Pegler
When you do a display—or merchandise presentation—you tell a “story”. It can be about how the products being featured complement a particular lifestyle or enhance an upcoming holiday dinner, or a new look or trend in home or housewares.
Whatever you are trying to promote will benefit if you can illustrate a story in your display, especially if you can start your story with “Once upon a time…”. There is always an expectation that something magical or wonderful will follow those words. We also can anticipate a “lived happily ever after” ending to the tale. Sure, that is old-fashioned and corny and maybe even trite, but it still seems to work.
I have discovered in my seniority that no matter how old or young you are there is a feeling of warmth, security and charm wrapped up in the “past”. The past can be a generation or two gone by—several decades ago—or maybe a century or more.
I can still remember seeing black & white movies, in their original presentation in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, that set the scene using clichés that we use today to create a desired ambiance.
Imagine you are promoting imported Italian dinnerware. Think of what an Italian café or bistro would look like, all the clichés. Think of those black & white film noir movies and Bogart and Bacall sipping wine from a straw encased bottle resting on a red and white checkered cloth (gray and white in the original film), sitting on bentwood chairs and illuminated by flickering candles. You might add the long bread sticks that served as a centerpiece. Of course, we shouldn’t forget the bare, red (medium gray in the B&W movies) brick walls, the crisp white napkins and two cigarettes—one stained with bright red (gray) lipstick—smoldering in the large ash tray.
IF you are the more literate type—nerdy—given to Literature, the books before they became movies, how about being “inspired” by Old Miss Haversham’s moldy and cobweb covered wedding table from Dickens’ “Great Expectations”? It’s a really effective way to promote festive tableware with a twist and a literary turn and a romantic look into the past.
You have added HISTORY to your STORY. You have used images of the past—to romanticize your brand new item. And, whether you are old enough to have seen these movies in their original showings or you checked them out very late one evening on a classic movie TV station or you read the book in high school or after you saw one of the many filmed variations, it still resonates with you. The past can be part of the future.
You are also being “green”—being aware of the ecosystem—the world around us. You are saving bits of the past for future generations to savor and enjoy while adding texture and interest to a current project. Some architects and designers are sensitive to and respect a style that is now considered “passé” or “old-fashioned” and thus leave traces of the “original” building or space as part of the new look. They are adding to the design’s history by showing the past to future viewers.
Loviisan AittaAmong the gia honorees we have had many examples of “making old new again,” old structures newly and freshly restored but still delighting in the past. When I served as an Expert Juror in selecting the top 5 store entries every year I had no favorites, but now that I am retired and can be as prejudiced as I want to be—I do and did have some favorites. One of my all-time favorites is Loviisan Aitta, an 1898 barn in a remote area of Finland, which has been revived and beautifully restored leaving much of the original structure on view.
Another is Kookwinkel Bianca Bonte in The Netherlands which has incorporated old paint splattered work tops in a bright new store design along with “antique” housewares products set into exposed, raw brick walls. The old pieces are displayed on reclaimed ancient timber shelves attached to even older wooden elements. And—the unusual chandelier that hangs up front made on recycled baking tins helps set the theme. Yet, together these various elements blend successfully for the millennial customers for whom this is all NEW!
So, for emphasis, I close with something I said before: by using images or references to the past in your store’s construction or in your displays you are adding history and romance to what may be an unexciting or not terribly romantic everyday, mundane product. You not only enrich the featured item, you are enriching the shopper’s experience and giving him or her extra value for their purchase. You may even have made them smile.
Martin M. Pegler is an author, editor, educator and lecturer, and has been a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NY for over 30 years. He has worked with the IHA Global Innovation Awards (gia) from the beginning of the giaprogram in 2000 as an Expert Juror, and since 2016 as an honorary member of the gia Expert Jury.
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