Charlotte Arnold held positions at Nicole Farhi, Harvey Nichols and LK Bennett before taking on the role of global creative manager at Karen Millen two years ago. Here, she talks challenges, trends and collaborations.
RF. What drew you to a career in visual merchandising?
CA. I was drawn to the fact that visual display can have a positive impact, and the ability to storytell and capture people’s imaginations.
RF. What attracted you to Karen Millen?
CA. It’s a truly global brand with a rich heritage. The brand is dedicated to it's vision to provide beautifully crafted outfit solutions for women in all their roles, in life.
RF. What challenges do you face in your role?
CA. It’s tough out there in retail at the moment and everyone is facing similar challenges. A lot of the typical retail triggers which worked in the past are now not having the impact they did before, which means we have to work harder to see results. Ensuring creative concepts are fresh and engaging to customers. Visual display is a very subjective form of commercial art and as such, it is difficult to quantify success. We do this by tracking footfall and mapping sales of product. Last year, I undertook rolling out window schemes to all Karen Millen global stores, growing this from four stores to 60-plus stores. We have been able to track the success of the windows using these methods.
RF. As the retail landscape evolves, how is the role of the visual merchandiser changing?
CA. It is widening for sure. The role needs to adapt to new challenges and focuses, being driven through the changing retail climate. I believe the role of visual merchandising and display will remain crucial to the success of stores. Customers are increasingly seeking out special experiences within their lives and are being savvier about where and how they spend their money. [The] challenge is now in enticing people to increase the dwell time. This will undoubtedly involve more theatre within shopping environments. There is an exciting opportunity ahead for shops over online stores in being able to engage customers in a more emotive way by offering memorable experiences. Visual merchandising and display skills will be instrumental in this.
RF. Did you attend the VM & Display Show in April?
CA. Yes! A variety of suppliers, with some new companies, which is always great to find.
RF. What trends caught your attention?
CA. A lot more craft-based companies and arterial plants on offer than I had seen before. This is refreshing in a scene so digitally focused. I have noticed the use of lifestyle elements within VM and store design gathering momentum, and we are certainly using these too in our projects. They help to affirm a brand's spirit and further develop the tone of voice, which helps customers identify on a deeper level with a brand.
RF. What trends are you noticing in general right now?
CA. The adoption of augmented reality and virtual reality experiences, within retail marketing. I think there is an appetite for brands to jump on the bandwagon with technologies and often the storytelling of a campaign is lost at the risk of incorporating a platform for the sake of appearing cutting edge, with the execution not always being a seamless experience for customers. Someone who I think has done this well is Topshop with their splash VR pop-up. It worked well because it was a visual feast, not only for the customers experiencing the unique ride, but also for everyone else in store. Through the use of props and the ability to watch people taking part on the ride, it was an inclusive experience. They produced a seamless end-to-end presentation, which I believe is key to enabling these sorts of technologies to be credible with consumer engagement.
RF. Who or what inspires you?
CA. I get my inspiration from lots of places. Exhibitions, art and I love exploring new materials. Film and magazines are all great touch points too, but I also love how social media feeds the new and revives the old. I love everything Bureau Betak conjures for fashion weeks; he is the master of catwalk set design! I also particularly love the design fairs, Clerkenwell Design Week and Salone del Mobile.
RF. What are you working on at the moment?
CA. Currently, I am finalising our high summer, holiday-focussed windows, which launch beginning of May.
RF. Have you seen this year's RIBA Regent Street Windows?
CA. Yes I have. There are some fun displays. My favourites are the Uniqlo and Red Deer, and the Lululemon and KSR windows.
RF. Karen Millen has previously taken part in the RIBA Regent Street Windows Project. How important is it for you to collaborate with like-minded artists, designers and architects?
CA. It is nice to be able to have the opportunity to collaborate and the outcome can be very creatively rewarding, especially with artists or designers who work outside the direct retail sphere. It can often bring about a fresh dynamic approach.
RF. Who would you most like to collaborate with?
CA. Spatial and theatre designer ES Devlin