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VM choice: Raw Materials Amsterdam

Catering to our quest for new ways of being, there is a sprinkling of stores emerging whose visual merchandising makes manifest a shared nostalgia, a desire to understand how things are constructed and a curiosity about authenticity – all in a world where theme parks have become a global phenomenon.

Raw Materials, located in a mid-century block on one of Amsterdam’s tree-lined urban streets, is one example. Postioned amid a pleasingly useful mix of small independent businesses, Raw Materials sells a mix of new and recycled home and gift merchandise, with a VM approach which is anything but formulaic.

A lovely old side-table with drawers displays an array of vintage specimen jars, which are for sale. I’m not quite sure why anyone might want one of these laboratory exhibits in their home, but I guess they are a variation of ‘Away from the flock’ on a domestic scale.

Showing the patina of a building is a growing trend. This is less about the long-practiced, artificial distressing of say, furniture, and more about revealing the building’s actual past history. We see the same sensibility here, where plastered walls have been partially removed to reveal bricks, and the ceiling lining has been removed to reveal the joists, with new additional lighting made very apparent. On the back wall is a simple grid wall fixture containing cut-out alphabet and numbers. Sweetly, a number of related shapes - a house, a heart, a bird – hang on a recycled workbench fixture in the foreground.

This display of ‘church-hall’ chairs is colour-blocked and displayed against the chipped brick wall. We imagine our own stories of where they might have originally been used. Note the vintage framed sign with curated merchandise details.

The store retails a mix of hidden treasures, displayed in a manner designed to inspire curiosity. This deliberate happenstance strategy is more interesting, especially for discerningly curious customers, than the straightforward customer journey currently beloved by many larger retailers. It satisfies our human need for the joyousness of serendipity.

All too often, the customer journey can be rather a railroading process, yet to create a memorable emotional response to a retail brand is exactly the aim of good VM. Notice how the store appears to continue to the left at the end of this vista, and that the small display of framed images on the walls cannot be clearly seen from this distance. It inspires the curious customer to move closer to investigate. The effect is of pleasantly casual edited clutter.

Raw Materials intends to showcase ‘product of long ago.’ Its simple benches, tables and chests - artfully or artlessly stacked on low trestle tables, just as they might have been unloaded from a truck - fascinates, as the customers’ eyes distinguish and trace the sizes which might of particular interest to them.

New merchandise is mixed in with found pieces, which here lends the new candles an authentic air.  Notice how the strong turquoise adds a bright note to the mostly neutral-coloured vintage offer.

Often when a store changes hands its past history is almost completely obliterated. Allowing the store to tell the story of its past, and of the provenance of the merchandise, adds a film of authenticity to the brand. Today, when no merchandise is retailed without a marketing patina, why not make it an authentic one?

Photographs: Darren Neave