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VM inspiration: Christmas windows at Fortnum & Mason

Rather in keeping with the old-fashioned, category- rather than lifestyle-based layout of the interior of Fortnum & Mason, the store’s Christmas windows are a perfect embodiment of classic visual merchandising (VM) display skills.

Fortnum & Mason windows often feature a revolving element, and a frozen Christmas fountain and an ornate pavilion in the main windows are fitting architectural tropes for this classic, establishment brand. The fountain is, in itself, very plain as befits a prop designed to display the maximum array of merchandise. Stalactite icicles pleasingly fill the space between the top of the merchandise and the lip of the next level of the fountain. The timeless, shadowy background of railings, gas-lamps, and bare-branched trees conveys the feel of a London park, or the grounds of a large house that we might imagine Fortnum & Mason customers inhabit. In contrast the fountain is brightly lit to make the merchandise, which is all relatively small, clearly visible. Here we are in proficient Fortnum & Mason territory, and while the window is well executed it doesn’t have the ‘wow-factor’ that makes customers stop, reach for their mobile, and share the image.

The windows further towards the corner of the store really ‘up the game’ to wow-factor level. With a cave-like backdrop in the closed-back windows and a shadowy, dappled play of blue lights in the background, an asymmetrical display showcases the Fortnum & Mason VM team’s considerable skills. A series of rock ledges, some adorned with paper doilies, and all dripping with icicles, showcase a range of Christmas sprits and glasses. This cocktail bar in a cave is very pleasing to the eye as the merchandise cascades down the shelves, to the bottles arranged across the foreground. Tumblers full of ice add to the glassy, chic chill, and we can imagine ourselves at the most incredible, exclusive party…

The next window takes Christmas puddings as its theme. But instead of a kitchen these are shown under a chandelier of branches festooned with lit candles and large, sparkling crystals. Snow is applied liberally in the manner of icing sugar and the only real spots of colour are the red-breasts of the robins about to enjoy a feast. A lovely, simple variation on a food-based window. Notice how the addition of a few spoons dug in to the puddings invites us to help ourselves.

Next is a candle-based window, set in a snowy castle. Lacking any real colour, as all the candles are white, this has a slightly monastic feel, although the excellent lighting reflects the cut-glass candle holders beautifully.

I find the silver merchandise window slightly less successful. Here the teapots and formal silverware have been transported to an Aladdin’s cave, with a snowy, blue-tinted landscape visible through the backdrop of the cave entrance. Although the positioning of the merchandise, which is beautifully lit giving a glossy sheen to the silver, is very pleasing the proportion of the rocks to that of the merchandise seems a little large. This might have worked better as a smaller window, or with a slightly larger display; the odd blue item might have added to the chill factor that the snow scene conveys and made it really ‘pop’. Nevertheless, the arrangement is perfectly coherent, leading the eye from the front to the back of the display, without any crowding or gaps.

Women’s accessories, mostly jeweled purses and evening bags, are set amid heavily-frosted Christmas trees in deep snow. Sweetly, the delicate purses are set under glass domes, Victorian still-life style, suggesting both that they are precious in themselves and that, Sleeping Beauty-like,they are awaiting new owners. Although there is no predominant colour in this window, apart from the green trees and the snow, the textures of the trees and the bags creates a very pleasing effect. It is a truth, in both interiors and VM, that if the colour palette is muted, textures need to be ‘ramped up’ to catch the eye, as this window shows perfectly.

The side windows towards the ground-floor restaurant entrance show variations of ornate London railings. With occasional, bare-branched tress and lots of snow-covered steps, these provide ample opportunity for the display of small leather goods, more cocktail shakers and ingredients, and glasses. Other side windows include a few rows of red brick wall, lending colour to the snowy scenes, or reflect bowls and glasses filled with red berries, with red ribbons tied to the white-painted branches above. Notice how the leather gloves are carefully slid through the handle of the classic leather briefcase, topped by the angled cane? A nice retro display touch.