I am in a little back garden in Stepney Green, enjoying the sunshine, compiling photos, typing text, and hoping the black keys of the keyboard don’t become too hot to touch, and feeling a little like I’m on holiday.
This time last week I was back in school, the Fashion Retail Academy to be exact; packed lunches, notebooks and lots of things to learn, having boistrous discussions with classmates about the relative merits of different shop fittings and how best to build a three-part accessories diplay. I also learnt how to manoevre a mannequin (primarily, with care), how to make tissue paper arms and tissue paper skirts, and the ins and out of the visual merchandising industry – which shops over-pin their clothes? Which shops under-pin? Whose windows have looked the same for the past 15 years?
I was part of their Visual Merchandising Short Course. It was a refreshing change to be in the classroom again, and, for an English graduate, extremely refreshing for the course to be completely hands on and practical. The Academy itself has been kitted out to an extremely high-spec and prides itself on facilities it has to offer. This isn’t surprising, considering it’s links with the retail giants The Arcadia Group (Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Miss Selfridge, Outfit, Topman, Topshop And Wallis), Marks and Spencer, Next and Tesco. It has a mock-shop, mock-windows and an unsettling room full of blank-faced mannequins, including one with a big, smooth pregnant belly.
After a day and a half of Visual Merchandising practice and theory, we were let loose on a window, with a brief.
Brief: In pairs create a contemporary spring window. You will be expected to design and install an innovative window that is dramatic and eye-catching. Design a window scheme with a selection of props allocated.
The Design: I was happily working with a fellow Lucy. We’d had our eye on some purple flowers and other foliage from the props cupboard, so we shamelessly grabbed them as soon as we were able. I was surprised how strongly we felt that the mannequins were definitely right or definitely wrong. You’d think they were just there to hold the clothes, but apparently not. We tried a few different tops on the mannquin, but nothing really worked, so we set about customising our own. This was particularly lucky, as there are only few things that I love more than fashioning something from paper. One of them is marmite.
So happily, we whiled away a couple hours making tissue paper flowers, drinking bad coffee, with worse radio on in the background. We pinned the tissue paper flowers to an oversized bikini top, adding somewhat to her cleavage in the process.
Lucy number 1 (I was Lucy number 2) worked hard pinning the individual flowers to the waist of the skirt, while I brushed out the hair of our mannequin and of the mannequin for the chap with the window next to ours. I ended the day happy with what we’d done and also covered in long polyester hair. Which is not a sentence used often enough. I scrabled around on hand and knee to arrange the foliage and create the spray of flowers underneath her. There was some guidance from the lovely Denise, our VM guru, about keeping all parts of the display connected and hiding a few broken fingers. It all came out lovely in the end.