Q&A: Janet Wardley - Head of Visual Display - Harvey Nichols

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Luxury department store chain Harvey Nichols is world famous for its innovative window displays. Here, the company’s award-winning head of visual display, Janet Wardley tells us where she draws her inspiration and why she’s keen to work with up-and-coming artists and designers.

RF. How long have you been head of visual display at Harvey Nichols?

JW. I have been working at Harvey Nichols for 17 years and been the head of the display department for all of that time. It has been exciting to see the Harvey Nichols brand grow over this time from one store to eight in the UK and Ireland, and seven abroad.

RF. How has the world of visual merchandising changed in that time?

JW. I am old school display and not visual merchandising. A lot of companies have focused more on visual merchandising than display and the old display skills have maybe not been seen as important. Things go in cycles and the importance of window dressing has gone up and down over the years, but I feel now is the start of an upsurge of interest in display.

RF. Who or what inspires you?

JW. I get ideas and inspiration from everywhere and anywhere. I’m always inspired by fashion trends and details, but also get ideas from interior design and travel. I keep boxes and boxes of images that I find inspiring and I like to look through these to help develop my ideas. I am not into sourcing images online and prefer to use my old magazine tear outs.

RF. What are your thoughts on digital technology in display?

JW. Generally, I find digital technology a little cold and unfriendly. I feel it is used more as a PR exercise than an actual display. Having said that, there are some interesting ideas around, but it is still very expensive and not always that visual. If used as part of a large scheme to give added detail it can work, but when it is the main feature it can lack the emotional response a more creative display can give.

RF. Harvey Nichols has previously collaborated with artists, illustrators and designers on its window displays. Why is this so important?

JW. The vast majority of our window and interior schemes are designed, built and installed by our in-house team. Occasionally, we do work with new up-and-coming artists or designers whose style we admire and feel are right for a particular scheme; this is great to do and something we are keen to continue doing.

RF. What trends do you see emerging in 2014?

JW. With the growth of social media everyone has easy access to unlimited visual imagery. Consequently, everyone is more design aware and wanting to see innovative and well-designed displays. I believe this has led to a resurgence of props being used in windows and a lot more interesting and creative window schemes around, which is exciting to see.

RF. What advice would you give to small, independent retailers who don’t have large budgets?

JW. You don’t need a large budget to create effective displays. The most important thing is that whatever you create presents the store in a style that fits the brand. When working on a design it is important you think about the space you have to work in, how your displays are viewed and by whom. The budget at Harvey Nichols is surprisingly small and mostly we work with easily obtainable materials. It is the idea, the skills of the builders and dressers, and keeping true to the idea that makes a scheme work.

RF. What has been your favourite scheme to work on to date?

JW. In display your favourite scheme is always the next one. It is always exciting working on the next project and seeing it come to life, which is one of the reasons I love this job so much. In my office I have a whole shelving unit full of folders with photos of windows that have been created in my time at Harvey Nichols; there are too many to choose just one favourite from. I am proud of all the schemes we have created over the years for different reasons.

RF. Which other store windows do you admire?

JW. I don’t get out much to see other store windows. I like to work without being subconsciously influenced by what other brands are doing. That said, I do admire the drama of Bergdorf Goodman’s schemes in NY and the simple, playful approach to display at Paul Smith.

RF. What are you working on at the moment?

JW. We have just installed all our first S/S14 windows and interiors across the stores and are finalising details on the second S/S14 schemes. Each store has a different scheme tailored to the store, so it is not just a roll out of one idea. The remainder of the year and Christmas schemes are also on our minds. Time just flies working in display!

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