Diary of Academy of Art University Graduation 2013: Visual Merchandising Takes Center Stage

Lubov Azria and Max Azria

Day 2: May 8, 2013 Afternoon

The afternoon brought us to the AAU School of Fashion at 625 Polk Street. I have one word for it, IMPRESSIVE.

From a drawing class held in a spacious atelier state of the art knitting machines and a room dedicated to fashion photo shoots and styling, the flagship campus of the School of Fashion breathed a new life to a historic building.

And it would have been a nice and uneventful tour if I just kept quiet and did not make the comment that Visual Merchandising is a dying art.

Before I go on, let me give you a backgrounder. FASHIOWINDOWS began as a visual merchandising site that focuses on store windows. Through the years, it has evolved into its present form with the store windows only making up a very small part of our content offering.

As a writer and as a reviewer of store windows, I have been lamenting the fact that store windows and displays have become cookie cutter, even formulaic.

That said; let us now, back to the tour of AAU School of Fashion…

When we reached the Visual Merchandising Department, Keanan Duffty, the Senior Director of Fashion Merchandising was explaining to us the work on display and informed us that it would be part of a semi-permanent display at Nordstrom San Francisco and at Westfield San Francisco.

That was when I said, “But, isn’t it that Visual Merchandising is a dying art?” And oh boy! I opened up a can of worms. Keanan Duffty, Gladys Perint Palmer and Lubov Azria almost simultaneously corrected me, saying in different words that visual merchandising is alive and well.

Keanan Duffty immediately countered that Visual Merchandising is the art of storytelling and the best way to create interest for customers to come in. Duffty also added that instructors at AAU focus on art and creativity when it comes to making displays.

Gladys Perint Palmer commented that Visual Merchandising is very important, explaining that there are even courses in the AAU College of Art about it.

But the clearest explanation on the importance of Visual Merchandising came from Lubov Azria, designer of BCBGMaxAzria Group, saying empathically that “visual art is very important.”

“Do you see that beautiful knitwear in there?” Ms. Azria asked, pointing to one of the displays in the Visual Merchandising room. “If we do not display it properly, if the product is not enticing, nothing is going to happen. Visual merchandising makes the big difference.

Partly explaining the strategy at BCBGMAXAZRIA stores, Lubov Azria added, “Visual Merchandisers are key people. [At BCBGMaxAzria Group] we have a whole department called “The Brand” composed of 22 people. They are in charge of making sure that people come inside the store. Their carefully laid plans insure that customers come in the store.”

“The [sales] floor is dynamic. It is on the move constantly. Visual merchandising engages people. There is a big difference between shopping in an outlet store without any display strategies in mind compared to a store like Barney’s where everything is thought out carefully.”

“I cannot emphasize enough the importance of visual merchandising. It is not just about the display. It also about proportion, it is about directing traffic, it is about store windows which entice customers to come in.”

And, in a poignant note, Ms. Azria concluded, “I wish they will come out with something more exciting about store windows.”

Finding a kindred spirit with Lubov Azria, I explained to her that FashionWindows began as a website dedicated to store windows, a passion that I’ve had for a long time. “I love window shopping,” I said and I added, “That’s why I am so concerned when I hear that visual merchandising is a dying art. I’m worried that there would be no more store windows.”

“Oh, don’t worry, visual merchandising is alive and well,” Lubov Azria said. “As I said before, it is an integral part of majority of stores.”

[MARI DAVIS]