Building Walls and Breaking Barriers

The design world loses a giant presence

 

Inspiration is everywhere, just look and you will see. What differentiates the great visionaries from all the others, however, is the ability to see the beauty in things that others don’t see; finding the exquisite in the mundane, the everyday and the pedestrian. Of course there’s inspiration to be found in the fantastic, the extraordinary and the unexpected. Zaha Mohammad Hadid, the Iraqi-born British architect, was a master of all three.

With the passing of Hadid on March 31, the design world lost a giant who inspired not only through her design solutions, but also through her drive to challenge the norm. I often tell my students to dare to be different, but with one caveat: You can’t be different for the sake of being different -- it has to work, and it as to make sense. In Hadid’s case, it not only worked, it paved the way for an architectural idiom that’s relevant to a new modernity.

Hadid, born in Baghdad in1950, was indeed different in both her aesthetic sensibilities, and her blurring the professional and cultural lines of social constraints. As such, she was the first woman, and the first Muslim, to receive the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004. In 2015, she became the first woman to be awarded Britain’s top architecture award, the RIBA Gold Medal. In her chosen profession, and in her/our culture, this is quite an accomplishment. Hadid’s work stood for itself, never defined by her gender or ethnicity.

In terms of design, she didn’t follow trends (not another Frank Gehry-inspired twist of aesthetic sensibilities) she defined her own directions. Her mellifluous flowing lines belied the bounds of rectilinear thinking, bringing a flora-like fantasy to line, mass and form. She transformed the hard edges of brick, steel and concrete into a tactile experience defined by the softness of curvilinear lines and numerous perspective points, as she defied the typical directives of architectural geometry.

Zaha Hadid will be missed not only for her design sensibilities, but also for her humanity; creating a new social aesthetic for interaction and equality.

Posted on April 22, 2016 .

Every Day is Show Day

Recognizing the past helps us embrace change as we move forward

 

In 1895, while still at Marshall Field’s, Harry Gordon Selfridge hired Arthur Fraser for “display work.” Now we all know who Harry Gordon Selfridge was. Some of us because we’re retail aficionados, some because we’re history buffs and some because we watch television and love the series “Mr. Selfridge.” As for me, who knows how or when I first learned of Selfridge? But I do I know how I learned of Arthur Fraser, and I also know that we in the visual merchandising industry owe him a debt of gratitude.

I discovered him when researching the enticements employed by the pioneers of the industry to attract people into stores. He, along with folks like L. Frank Baum (author of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,”, and the founding editor of The Show Window, later to become VMSD magazine) elevated, if not started, the visual merchandising profession (known as “display” in those early days).  Selfridge provided Fraser with a grand canvas – the first show windows in Marshall Field’s, reportedly the largest plate glass windows in Chicago. Selfridge also provided an enduring philosophy: “Every day is show day in this establishment.” Like-minded, Fraser spoke of his convictions, “We would dramatize our merchandise, really stage work. I derived more from theater than anything else.”

The merchant princes of the day: Selfridge, John Wanamaker, Henry Cooper and Hugh O’Neill; and the great display artists Baum, Fraser and Herman Frankenthal, to name a few, were on the cusp of a new beginning. The turning calendar would bring progress and an age of enlightenment, offering broader educational opportunities, greater access and mobility and extended avenues of communication. Sound familiar? A hundred years later and we too are on the cusp of a new retail beginning.

The only difference is today’s change is exponential. The industry’s evolving faster than ever before. And like the early industry pioneers, we too must recognize that embracing change is a vital ingredient for success. But some food for thought: In order to move forward, we sometimes have to look back. Although the argument grows weaker with every new technological advance (augmented reality, and the like) stores are not going away anytime soon. But retailers must raise the bar. While retailers may recognize the physical store as their most valuable asset, they still must provide a reason for customers to return. And so perhaps the words of Harry Gordon Selfridge must ring true today: “Every day is show day in this establishment.”

Eric Feigenbaum is a recognized leader in the visual merchandising and store design industries with both domestic and international design experience.  He served as corporate director of visual merchandising for Stern’s Department Store, a division of Federated Department Stores, from 1986 to 1995. After Stern’s, he assumed the position of director of visual merchandising for WalkerGroup/CNI, an architectural design firm in New York City. Feigenbaum was also an adjunct professor of Store Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology and formerly served as the chair of the Visual Merchandising Department at LIM College (New York) from 2000 to 2015. In addition to being the Editorial Advisor/New York Editor of VMSD magazine, Eric is also a founding member of PAVE (A Partnership for Planning and Visual Education). Currently, he is also president and director of creative services for his own retail design company, Embrace Design.

Posted on April 18, 2016 .

Let the Show Begin

NYFW showcased a barrage of trends on the horizon for menswear

 

The lights dimmed, the music began. There was a buzz of excitement, which was only transcended by the new buzz about American menswear. In fact, it hasn’t been this exciting since the British Invasion of the 1960s brought men’s fashion across the pond, straight from Saville Row and Carnaby Street. In early February, the Council of Fashion Designers of America launched New York Fashion Week: Men’s. Held at the Skylight Clarkson Square, the show featured fall/winter 2016 collections.

I was delighted to receive an invitation to the Joseph Abboud 2016 fall/winter runway collection showing. As I waited in anticipation for the show to start, I thought of the often-quoted line by Coco Chanel: “When women go out, they should look in the mirror and take one thing off.” I was hopeful that what I was about to see would confirm the opposite – that when men go out, they should look in the mirror and put one thing on.

And then, with the flick of a switch, the lights came on and the show began. The stage was set against a herringbone-textured backdrop; the overarching message was texture, layers, fine tailoring and a bit of irreverence.

All visual merchandisers should take note. We’re all in the business of fashion, and fashion is change and innovation. This show demonstrated both. It was about luxurious fabrics, painstaking attention to detail, patterns and the intermingling of colors, from grays and browns to rust, olive and ebony.

As the models strode across the runway, words and phrases describing the trends, as though in a stream of consciousness, surged across my mind: texture, gray and black, tweed; a feathered lapel pin; oh, that fedora; double-breasted vest, appliquéd ascots, elbow patches, tone-on-tone plaids, striped pants, overcoat slung over shoulder; hats, hats, hats everywhere, knotted scarf, flag shawl in charcoal grays, corduroy, earth tones, vests over jackets, vests over sweaters, scarfs under vests; and how about the paisleys? Layers, layers, layers; upturned collars, shawl collars -- and is that velvet?

Much like the latest men’s fashion line straight from the Joseph Abboud studio, visual merchandising is about layering to bring a presentation or environment to life, textures to provide customers with a tactile experience, splashes of color, and of course attention to detail.

I’m stepping out now. Going to a meeting; something about visual merchandising. I think I’ll look in the mirror and put something on.

Eric Feigenbaum is a recognized leader in the visual merchandising and store design industries with both domestic and international design experience.  He served as corporate director of visual merchandising for Stern’s Department Store, a division of Federated Department Stores, from 1986 to 1995. After Stern’s, he assumed the position of director of visual merchandising for WalkerGroup/CNI, an architectural design firm in New York City. Feigenbaum was also an adjunct professor of Store Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology and formerly served as the chair of the Visual Merchandising Department at LIM College (New York) from 2000 to 2015. In addition to being the Editorial Advisor/New York Editor of VMSD magazine, Eric is also a founding member of PAVE (A Partnership for Planning and Visual Education). Currently, he is also president and director of creative services for his own retail design company, Embrace Design.

Posted on April 18, 2016 .

The Well-Being of Retail

We must recognize technology as a communication tool in retail environments

 

If you hold a mirror to the face of retail, the reflected image would be us. As our society and cultures evolve, retail is always quick to respond. Visual merchandising and retail design are bookmarks of our times, and as such, the effective retail designer must have their finger on the pulse of our society and the rhythm of our culture. 

While it may seem technology rules the day, it’s merely a tool to help us realize the things we really want, and on top of that list of wants, needs and desires is a sense of well-being. While trends may come and go, well-being is not merely the inclination of the moment, but has instead become a way of life for today’s enlightened consumer. 

As the relentless march of technology pushes the reach of the digital world into our physical environments with enhanced levels of connectivity through social media platforms, search engines and an infinite number of photos captured and shared every second of the day -- technology is supporting, and in fact, fueling our desire for heightened levels of well-being.

Retail design, and any design endeavor for that matter, must take its cues from our surrounding environment: from art, music, current events, fashion, and of course, the latest and greatest technologies. And it must be noted that advancements in technology and product innovation have also given us new materials and enhanced building techniques. With this in mind, today’s designers are better equipped to respond to lifestyle choices such as an increased desire for well-being.

A sense of well-being revolves around a secure and comfortable physical space, healthy sources of sustenance, embellishment of body and soul and a vibrant and energetic lifestyle.

Even as spectral digital images and information feeds engage our physical realities, designers must continue to create positive and uplifting consumer experiences within processed retail environments. Today there is a fine line between digital and physical realities. By recognizing technology and the information highway as tools of communication and ultimately engagement, retail spaces can be designed for human consumption and human interaction at the human scale. Through textural experiences, surface treatments, appropriate color palettes and the integration of art, designers can create environments that support consumer yearnings for a sense of well-being that transcends all ages and socioeconomic demographics.

Eric Feigenbaum is a recognized leader in the visual merchandising and store design industries with both domestic and international design experience.  He served as corporate director of visual merchandising for Stern’s Department Store, a division of Federated Department Stores, from 1986 to 1995. After Stern’s, he assumed the position of director of visual merchandising for WalkerGroup/CNI, an architectural design firm in New York City. Feigenbaum was also an adjunct professor of Store Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology and formerly served as the chair of the Visual Merchandising Department at LIM College (New York) from 2000 to 2015. In addition to being the Editorial Advisor/New York Editor of VMSD magazine, Eric is also a founding member of PAVE (A Partnership for Planning and Visual Education). Currently, he is also president and director of creative services for his own retail design company, Embrace Design.

Posted on April 18, 2016 .