The visual merchandisers have been busy preparing for the season of picnics and Pimm’s. John Ryan gets his flip-flops on to make a forecast.
Summer is upon us and at the time of writing everywhere from the Isle of Skye to Stevenage has experienced a few balmy days, although whether this will last is always a moot point. Retailers, as ever, have been praying for sun and creating windows aimed at putting us in the mood to dig deep for those sandals, suntan lotion and stylish shorts that will make us beach-body ready, or something of the kind.
But as well as the usual elements that comprise a UK summer, there are a few wild cards this year, not the least of which is the Queen’s 90th birthday, and Euro 2016, which kicked off last week, in case you missed it. A walk around most of the major shopping areas in central London revealed some slick displays and interesting takes on the season of picnics and Pimm’s, making this the best start to the retail display summer for several years.
Marks & Spencer, Long Acre, Covent Garden
Red, white and blue wicker hampers put viewers of the major window of Marks & Spencer on Covent Garden’s Long Acre on patriotic alert. The occasion is the Queen’s 90th and by the time you read this, the Patron’s Lunch at which 10,000 people will have picnicked on the Mall, will have become a little piece of history (it took place last Sunday).
The rationale behind the hamper display was that each guest at this lunch received a bespoke M&S picnic basket, making this an easy win for the store’s visual merchandising team.
The other windows along the store frontage were rather more traditional with the most eye-catching being a brace of black mannequins in their scanties – two of the figures sport wigs fashioned from outsize red carnations. The backdrop to this particular window is line drawings of summer flowers, ensuring that the brightly-coloured merchandise does not clash with its surroundings.
Cath Kidston, Piccadilly
Alongside M&S, there is a distinctively British feel to Cath Kidston with its mix of florals and chintz. Perhaps for this reason and this flagship store’s location just down the road from Buckingham Palace, this is another retailer that is flying the 90th birthday flag.
A structure of copper retort stands and the windows are framed by white gold Victorian decals
At Penhaligon’s, Regent Street
This is a considerably more elaborate window than the M&S version, with decals depicting guards wearing bearskin hats, an outsize birthday card wishing the Queen a happy birthday and, in the smaller windows, bunting and celebration cakes.
There is something of a Women’s Institute bring-and-buy sale about the display, but then that is exactly on-brand for Cath Kidston. Also worth noting in the lower portion of the two smaller windows are the Union Jack-waving crowds, again created using window decals, that serve to frame the goings on behind the glass front.
Le Coq Sportif, Earlham Street
The Seven Dials area of Covent Garden is where French sporting equipment brand Le Coq Sportif has chosen to open its only store in the UK and this is therefore both flagship and lone UK outpost for the label.
A lengthy note on the store front informs the onlooker that the figures in the window wearing green shirts represent Saint-Étienne, the French football club that made it to the European Club final in 1976. Forty years later and to mark the start of the Uefa Euro 2016 tournament, Le Coq Sportif’s Revival collection is on display.
In the window next to this there is an overhead garment conveyor, highlighting L’Atelier Du Coq, an in-store area where shoppers can customise their purchases “using our traditional flocking process”, the note states.
The store’s two windows manage to play the heritage and sporting cards and this is currently one of the more interesting windows in Covent Garden.
Penhaligon’s, Regent Street
The very diminutive Penhaligon’s store on Regent Street always seems to manage to punch above its weight when it comes to window displays and the current scheme proves no exception. Marking the launch of its new fragrance, Luna, the retailer has opted for a semi-laboratory display featuring flasks of the kind found in school science labs filled with different coloured liquids.
These are held in place by a structure of copper-coloured retort stands and the windows are framed by white gold Victorian decals that marry up with the colour of the logo. In terms of what has been done, there is very little of the new product in the window, but the idea is put across that a great deal of science and alchemy has been involved in its creation.
Although this store has some very large neighbours, it is quite hard to miss when looking at displays on the west side of the street.
Liberty, Great Marlborough Street
From first impressions shoppers might be forgiven for supposing that Liberty has also gone large on the Queen’s 90th birthday in May, but the major window along its frontage is in fact devoted to Havaianas, the fashionable flip-flops from Brazil. This is surprising for two reasons – the products in question are relatively low cost by Liberty standards and there is a distinctly un-British feel about it.
Nonetheless, in terms of capturing what summer is about, this one takes some beating with yellow balloons set against a green background reminding the passerby, hopefully, of the colours of the Brazilian flag. There is also a feeling of plenty in the way that the flip-flops have been seemingly thrown in a pile in the base of the window, even if they have been carefully colour-blocked.
Oasis, Argyle Street
Mid-market fashion retailer Oasis has joined up with the Chelsea Physic Garden, the botanical garden in SW3, to drape its flagship store with floral decoration on the merchandise and in the backdrops to the windows.
The feel is one of an English jungle and once more, there is a sense that this display could only be carried off in this country.
For those looking through the door, the theme is carried through with a display consisting of a glass screen and cutouts of floral-clad figures immediately in front of this, all set back from the entrance. Oasis may not sound like the most English of names, but this is one of the more obviously homespun window schemes on the high street at the moment.
Summer visual merchandising
Highlights: Euro 2016, the Queen’s 90th birthday
Predominant themes: Florals and Union Jack flags
Best of their kind displays: Cath Kidston and Le Coq Sportif
Will it rain and be cold? At some point, almost certainly