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VM Focus: brave but beautiful beige

Given that colour and movement are the key drivers in visual merchandising – as the human brain responds to these stimuli – it is surprising to see the occasional quiet, tasteful, beige window rather than one that screams colour.

A very rare but great example of the use of beige as a focus colour is Ralph Lauren’s current pre-fall window. Ralph Lauren does beige and camel tones brilliantly, as does Max Mara, because good quality fabrics are needed to really carry this colour well. The eye is super-picky when it comes to tones similar to human skin tones, and far less picky when it comes to shades of black or red, for example. Both Ralph Lauren and Max Mara always offer beige/camel ranges in their seasonal collections, but it is unusual to see it featured in store windows.

That said, especially in urban environments, much of our wardrobe consists of classic neutral colours: black, white, sand, stone, khaki, cream, in much the same way vanilla remains the most popular ice-cream flavor. For pre-fall Ralph Lauren’s vanilla, to cream, to beige, to camel-dressed mannequins stand against a luxe array of interiors textures.

By minimizing the colour interest, the textural interest in the windows must compensate. It does so through large shiny mirrors, glossy wood-framed pictures, rough gauzy curtains, sheeny wood panels, a polished wood and chrome staircase, a simple understated fireplace, and rough-hewn logs. These suggest a luxurious interior, perhaps at a top-end skiing resort, a Candy Brothers apartment or a top-end store, such as Ralph Lauren.

The textures in these windows are all ramped-up to compensate for the minimal colour palette. If this didn’t happen the result would have been a touch dull.

Another effective use of beige is for the fascia and merchandise for The Cambridge Satchel Company’s store in Covent Garden. Here a warm, deep cream-stone is used for the exterior paintwork and echoed in the stone, camel, and chocolate brown satchels, arranged in serried ranks of size, in the window.

The Cambridge Satchel Company is best known for its bright re-coloured satchels, which have become a fashion-staple over recent years, so it makes sense that the façade of the stores is as neutral as possible to accommodate changing coloured merchandise. The classic store-front nicely echoes the traditional nature of the product, with which generations of British schoolchildren have been familiar. Now generally replaced by the back-pack, it makes sense that the satchels’ survival is as fashion merchandise in which colour will play a major part, hence the need for a neutral coloured façade to the store.

So, like vanilla ice-cream, beige has a place as a focus for a window display, but is best used carefully.