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VM Basics: cars

The ultimate prop for visual merchandising must be the car. Not just the Scalextric-sized wooden ones we saw on a track racing around the Hermes’ windows in S/S 2013, but full-sized ones - or rather the full-sized, partial cars that have been occupying retail windows recently.

Whilst Hermes’ windows were cute - appealing to the child in all of us - the full-size car takes this prop to a new level. Today, the car is an an icon of success in almost all cultures. To have a car is as popular in Asia as it is in the West, so it makes a great deal of sense for a fashion brand to align its merchandise with this powerful symbol of success.

That said, recently this icon of financial achievement has been tinged with a big dose of nostalgia for Western customers. Mens and womenswear brand Huntergather, on London’s Wigmore Street, featured a nicely-renovated late 1950s Heinkel Trojan last summer. This three-wheeled ‘Bubble car,’ and similar front-door opening models from Isetta and Messerschmitt, were popular as an inexpensive form of transport during the relatively-high fuel prices caused by the Suez crisis in 1956. The four-seater Mini, launched in 1959, ended their production but we still think that they are cute. And as an attention-getting icon, they certainly have their place in fashion stores. This one was actually for sale, turning the store in to a partial car-showroom for a while.

We saw imaginative use of a Volkswagen Beetle in Tommy Hilfiger’s S/S 14 windows. This air-cooled, rear-engined, sub-compact ‘people’s car’ was developed by Porsche in Germany in 1934, and produced by Volkswagen globally until 2003, developing cult status as a signifier of the 1960’s hippie movement and surf culture. The original Beetle, which can be purchased for about £2,000 unrestored today, also starred as ‘Herbie’ in Disney’s movie ‘The Love Bug.’ As a mark of the affection with which this car was held, a souped-up version is in production again today.

Hilfiger has cut its version in half - I’m sure this made it easier to get in the window - with the front half to the leftside of the window and the back half to the right side of its Regent Street window. This creates the illusion of a convoy of Beetles, all off to enjoy a vacation on the beach, as they are completely covered in sea-shells. Covering the car in unusual surface decoration provokes curiousity: ‘Is it a real car or a fake one?’

And they are real cars, not fibreglass shells (excuse the pun), as the close up shows.

At the rear of the open-backed window is the side of a shingle-covered surf store, with mannequins dressed in beach clothing to the fore. The caption ‘Surf Shack’ in the window, a surfboard, a partly-sand-filled floor scattered with shells, and the Hilfiger Bassett hound complete the theme of pure summer and vacation.

Next up, for F/W 14 we have seen luggage brand Rimowa's Hong Kong stores produce a window starring the front of a stylised Fiat 500, another car that’s proving enormously popular in its restyled version at present.

The Rimowa car, a fibreglass version of the original 1957 to 1975 production model in pale blue, is loaded with a large, dark-red, four-wheeled, ribbed-polycarbonate Rimowa case on the over-sized roof-rack. A red-tinged sunset, sand-dune-filled, with a horizon backdrop on the closed-back window suggests the Fiat 500’s racing days when they contested and won the Liege-Brescia rally for cars up to 500cc, through the Italian Dolomites.

The posts either side of the car and the yellow lines positioned to suggest perspective convey an illusion of depth. They suggest this car is going places. Showcasing the diminutive car as a rally winner, Rimowa suggests the toughness of its suitcase range.

This wooden car was created by my former employer, Blue Mount, for luxury leather goods brand MCM’s opening in Shanghai. The wooden frame, loosely based on a Morgan, which had been used in a previous MCM marketing campaign, is completely covered with the MCM print leather. MCM were so pleased with it that it has ‘toured’ China starring in each shopping mall in which MCM has opened a store during 2013 and 2014.

To conclude, when using very memorable props such as cars it is important to ensure the car is used only for a limited period. As it is so memorable, customers will remember the car, even if the mannequins’ clothing is changed during the car’s appearance in the window. Remembering that they have seen the car they will assume they have also seen the merchandise and skip a second visit.

Key points:

• Using half-a-car facilitates access.

• Iconic, much-loved models are the way to go: a Morris Minor, or a Mini would work too.

• Transforming the surface adds interest: engendering that ‘Is it real?’ element which provokes curiousity.

• Be sure not to leave a very eye-catching prop in the window for too long. Customers will remember the prop and assume the merchandise is the same.

Thanks to Alvin Yeung of YMK Design for the Rimowa images.