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VM focus: Blazers and stripes take centre stage at Henley Regatta

It is encouraging to see local Visual Merchandising windows being given an increasing share of VM budgets. As more and more Chelsea retailers celebrate the annual Chelsea Flower Show, so more Henley retailers are celebrating the annual Henley Royal Regatta.

A local VM competition for a regatta-themed window was sponsored this year by IBS Business Solutions, Milton Gordon, Hotel du Vin, Henley Town Council, and Delegate Office & Conference Services, and it was evident all around the lovely Thames-side town, festooned with red and blue bunting for the rowing competition. The theme was the Royal Regatta Between the Wars Years 1919 – 1939.

Whilst Phase Eight combined summery dresses with a window sticker and a stylized oar graphic, menswear store Laurence filled the window-glass with a foil of the end-view of a skull as an illustration.

The window also included a souvenir programme and bottles of champagne amidst stripy club ties, Panama hats, and deck shoes. If Ascot is for women, then Henley is definitely a chance for men to dress up, often in aged rowing blazers, caps, club ties, and Panamas.

Still with Henley graphics, framed views of the races from the bridge sat at mannequin’s feet in menswear and womenswear store, Facy.

Bunting was a popular theme, best at Liz Felix’s millinery store, where it was made from garment scraps, and at Anne Haimes’ interiors store where it was created from soft furnishing off-cuts. This lovely window featured deckchairs - a popular ‘must-have’ for those not in the Steward’s enclosure, the Leander Club, or in the corporate tents - and the caption ‘Let’s push the boat out.’

Even the local opticians entered in to the spirit of the regatta. Chilton Watson had made an effort with a retro-dressed window, which celebrated Armistice Day with remembrance poppies, a book, a teacup, and glasses, with an old radio on a table-top, covered with a hand-embroidered cloth. The crossed Union Jack flags taped in a very home-made manner lent this a Henley touch too.

Bunker Opticians was deeply in to Henley, with bunting, oars, a Fortnum & Mason picnic hamper, oranges, cup-cakes and a champagne glass, for a classy Oakley window.

The charming Bell bookstore featured miniature, Oxford-blue stripy starter’s boxes (or maybe they were beach-huts?), bunting, stripy Venetian fabric blazers and fabric and oars, promoting a book on rowing blazers and another, on Oxfordshire, displayed between countryside views. It is clear where their sympathies will lie on Boat Race day.

One of the few empty stores had had its boarded-up windows painted with blackboard paint. A plastic cup, fixed to it, contained chalks for passersby to express themselves.

It was a pity that more corporate chains, especially those whose brand-ethos revolves around the sea, seaside, and boats, didn’t take a greater part: Fat Face had a giant sale poster; Crew Clothing’s windows were high-summerish.

Nevertheless, the effect was of a charming town dressed up for a fun event. The tree in the middle of the Leander’s lawn, planked over for lunch, teas, and supper, was encircled by purple fairy-lights and the tall table arrangements - mercifully removed at lunch time - made a convenient place for diners to rest their Panama hats.

Even the picnickers along the river had brought tables, dressed with snowy-white cloths, silver candlesticks and floral arrangemets. As a display finale, on the way back to the station after a great day, we passed a beautiful blue Bugatti, adorned with a Henley Regatta sticker.