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VM Basics: using light to attract attention

Light is one of the most effective but trickiest items in the VM world. It is, of course, a huge topic with its own global trade shows and magazines, which are usually bafflingly specific about the technology used. Given that all human beings respond to colour and movement as the human brain is programmed to notice them, light, in the form of colour, is an obvious extension. Several brands, including Calvin Klein, and Topshop in itsOxford Street flagship, repeatedly use coloured lights.

One such is Au Bon Marche, the original Paris department store. Its main store windows face southeast so get the sun for much of the day. There is only a relatively shallow canopy above the windows, and use of electric light is a good choice to overcome the sun’s powerful reflections on the glass.

Closed-back windows are a prerequisite for the use of lights as installations, as light levels in the rest of the window will need to be both controlled and beyond the reach of customers. The temperature that closed-back windows can reach is also a consideration: good ventilation helps. Au Bon Marche’s bespoke neon lights combine with ordinary coloured light bulbs (see the red bulbs) to celebrate ‘Le Japon,’ their Japanese event featuring a crossover collection ‘Villa,’ with the Japanese brand, Sacai. The neon lights outline an autumnal garden with a bench; a rake; plants; a swing; a ladder; a cloud; or birds on string, this last rather like children’s balloons.

The birds are interesting: the lights have been suspended from the ceiling of the window, and the wire for the power supply encased in clear plastic as a string by which the birds are tethered, thus making a virtue of a necessity.

With the eye-catching coloured neon light, the windows need little more: a plain background and a single mannequin suffice.

All windows have a black foil on the glass, which neatly contrasts with the pale-pastel backgrounds used and conceals the wiring for the lights.

The rake, which looks as though it is being held by the mannequin but is not, is in fact suspended from the ceiling and the power supply cable is pink, making it almost invisible against the pink background. This prevents the possible fire risk created by heat from the light against the wood of the mannequin’s hand or from its close proximity to the garments. It is wired in a loop with the leaf, minimizing the number of wires in the window. Other windows showcase the mannequin apparently holding the lights in the form of a wavy line or a cloud, using the same strategy.

Au Bon Marche, as a classic department store, has only one store to create for which to create windows. A more interesting recent example is Hermes lights for its limited collection, made from off-cuts of other merchandise, last December. Here bespoke lights in the shape of the hand tools used to create the merchandise filled the closed-back windows. Again, this requires a qualified electrician to supervise before it could be switched on.

Slightly less expensively, Calvin Klein’s current window uses a plain grid of white florescent tubes, showcasing men’s underwear in one window, and outlining a graphic image of the girl in the current marketing campaign in the other. The outlines, comprised of multiple tubes, neatly run from below the window foil to the top of the image, allowing the wires to be covered by the foil frame.

With a female mannequin in the background, somewhat oddly, the fixture rail with its fluorescent tube across the top is filled with men’s merchandise. It might have been rather better to make this a completely female window to balance the male one, but otherwise this is a less expensive, if equally effective, use of florescent tubes.

The only disadvantage to the use of lights remains dealing with the disastrous problems created when a light goes out for some reason, and an electrician cannot attend promptly.

Lastly, while it might be thought that outsourcing bespoke lighting offshore would help to reduce the price for larger orders, my experience suggests this is not possible. Asian manufacturers are content to provide lighting for which there is a large existing market but anything bespoke in this manner is not of interest to them.


Key points:

• Great for windows in full sun.

• Requires closed-back windows to prevent customer access.

• Requires a qualified electrician to supervise and sign off installation.

• An arrangement of standard production tubes will cost less than bespoke lights.

• Savings can be made on the remainder of a window by keeping it simple.

• Great care must be taken to ensure the lights are not near any flammable materials.

• Good ventilation is also important to prevent overheating.

• Wiring multiple light elements together to form one circuit will result in fewer wires across the floor of the window and a neater end result.

• Hanging the light from the ceiling can be effective if the cable can be incorporated in to the design.

• Colouring the cable to match the background can disguise the power supply.

• Foils on the glass can frame the window and conceal cables.

• Regular checking (by the store manager) is critical as very little looks worse than a light that is not working.

• An agreement with an electrician to attend promptly for repairs or replacement might be a useful consideration.