Visual Merchandising


Humans are artistic people. Art is found universally in every human group that exists today and is an integral part of life and a source of pleasure (Dissanayake, 1988).
“In the twenty first century, window display is art that represents an attractive way to communicate with customers” Opris and Bratucu explains (2013). As one walks on Fifth Avenue, it is easy to see how art is being integrated in the elaborate window displays lining the sidewalks of this trendy New York City street. Through this analysis, the writer will compare contemporary art and high-end visual display by discussing the ten elements of design. There is a new understanding of how color, texture, line, balance, dominance, contrast, proportion, rhythm, and repetition contribute to the composition as a unified whole (Bell & Ternus, 2012).

After this comparison, one will understand the role art plays in life, as life is being influenced in Pablo Picasso’s Seated Harlequin. Art is being influenced in life, in Salvatore Ferragamo’s visual window display. Each influence is designed to tell their story.

Elements of Design: Art vs. Window Display

Figure 1 is a contemporary art piece painted by Pablo Picasso. In 1901, nineteen-year-old Picasso is experiencing hard times, causing what becomes known as the “Blue Period” (“Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period”, n.d.). During this time, Picasso’s experience with poverty, instability, beggars, and the blind is depicted in his work (“Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period”, n.d.). Picasso is sleeping with his best friend’s former lover. Concurrently, he is also coping with the death of his best friend Carlos Casagemas, who has committed suicide after learning that his feelings for the love of his life are unreciprocated (Mullaney, 2010). All of these life events emotionally influenced Picasso.

Seated Harlequin is a composition that captures these emotions and is inspired by both Picasso’s birthplace of Spain, and by Parisian artists like Van Gogh (“All Collection Records”, 2017). A composition is the arrangement of lines, forms, shapes and colors to produce a unified whole (Adomaitis, 2017). Gary Tinterow (2010) explains Picasso’s process of forming this “unified whole”:

It’s as if he starts with one thing—a person or still life elements—and puts it smack at the crosshairs of whatever support he’s working on. Then everything is elaborated from that first thought, gesture, or impulse. One can see Picasso started with the harlequin character, and created a composition around this idea.

Salvatore Ferragamo’s visual display is seen in Figure 2. This composition is found in their flagship location at 655 Fifth Avenue, New York (“Salvatore Ferragamo Boutiques”, 2017). Salvatore Ferragamo is a lifestyle brand built on an image of “pure modernity” (“Legacy”, 2017). The theme behind this SS17 collection is an updated version of a “Mediterranean dreamscape” (“Legacy”, 2017). Jessica Iredale (2016) states, that the brand is using “pleasing modernist cuts and colors, floral prints, and tailored sportswear” this season. This arrangement of concepts helps to tell the story of this composition.

Color is defined as various qualities of light based on one’s perception, in terms of brightness, darkness, richness, purity, etc. (Bell & Ternus, 2012). In his “Blue Period”, Picasso painted using monochromatic tones ranging from deep blue to blue-green, sometimes warmed by other colors (“Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period”, n.d.). According to color psychology, deep blue evokes a cold, depressing tone that matches the emotions of the artist during this time. Green is a secondary color, formed by combining secondary colors (Bell & Ternus, 2012). Here green illustrates growth, nature and being alive. The viewer’s eyes are drawn to the complementary colors seen in the red and yellow flowers as well, which symbolize happiness. Red is also seen on the lips and represents love/passion (Bell & Ternus, 2012). These complements are used to bring out the brilliance of each other, while white and black, which are strong and demanding, help to build drama. The subject’s hands are left a natural skin tone and are the only neutral color seen in this composition.

Similar to Picasso, this display used hues of blue, red, yellow, and green. Iredale describes the contrast seen in this collection with “brights that popped against drab brown, black, and green, and pretty floral prints” (2016). Respectively, the hues in this window belong to the “brights” color group because these are primary colors seen at their most vivid intensities (Bell & Ternus, 2012). Ferragamo predominantly used red and blue within this display. This means one warm color was used with one cool color to evoke a strong, demanding, vibrant mood (Bell & Ternus, 2012). Bell and Ternus explain that color is the biggest motivation the biggest motivation when shopping because people buy color before all else (2012). Therefore, selecting the right colors to incorporate in a window display is crucial.

Although, color may catch one’s eye, texture also stimulates our senses. Texture refers to the way a surface actually feels to the touch or how it appears that it might feel if touched (Bell & Ternus, 2012). The medium Picasso used was oil on canvas, lined and mounted to a sheet of pressed cork (“All Collections Records”, 2017). This approach helps show many details like the high amounts of physical texture seen in the hands, match striker on the table, and in the short brushstrokes seen in the flowers. There is a juxtaposition or contradiction seen in these areas of high texture compared to the smoothness of the subject’s hair (Bell & Ternus, 2012). The ruffles around the neck and wrists of the subject also help to visually create texture, as it may appear to feel if touched.

As seen in Seated Harlequin, Ferragamo’s window display uses the juxtaposition of texture for an aesthetically pleasing display. One can see the flowers have a smooth texture on the petals yet there is roughness in the center of the flower (the bud), which adds realism to these figures. Taking influence from art, the background pattern is meant to imitate brush strokes. There is also juxtaposition seen within the looks on the mannequins. From left to right: silk floral patterned dress, thick ruffled jersey jacket, crisp white slacks, and a thin jacket with sheen (“Legacy”, 2017). This adds interest and draws attention to the window.

Texture can also be directed through lines. A line guides the eye to a feature or linear element that sets a mood (Bell & Ternus, 2012). In this painting, Picasso directs the viewer’s eyes to the horizontal and vertical lines in the checkered pattern of the subject’s clothes. This pattern sets a whimsical/playful mood that is associated with clown costumes. There are suggestions of a horizontal line to show that the subject is sitting and also resting his hand on the chair. Curved lines are used to create softness in the flowers in the background (Adomaitis, 2017). Other curved lines are used to represent the table, and show the roundness of the match striker sitting on the table. Diagonal lines are also used in the ruffles of the clown’s costume to show action and texture of the material.

These lines can also physically be created within a visual display. There is a vertical line that is created by the shape of the white walls in the background. This was done to emphasize height (Bell & Ternus, 2012). Another vertical line is created by the seam in the white pants, which helps accentuate the texture of the pant. Hemlines help to create horizontal lines. There are two stopping points in the first three looks that break the vertical effect and draw the eye them. Curved lines are used in Figures 1 and 2 to visually create a soft texture in the flowers (Bell & Ternus, 2012). The direction of the flower bud and the petals creates these lines in the display. In order to add action to the story, diagonal lines are used. These can be seen on the backdrop, flowers, print on the clothing and floor.

Another element of design is balance. Balance refers to an equality of optical weight and relative importance that creates a unified presentation (Bell & Ternus, 2012). Although the goal is to achieve a weighted balance with symmetry, Seated Harlequin is an example of asymmetrical balance (Adomaitis, 2017). Asymmetry applies here because there is an informal balance. Picasso paints the subject leaning on the table in deep thought, while resting his other hand on his side as he looks away. This positioning of the body, hand, and table cause the right side of the painting to be more weighted than the left.

In contrast, there is symmetry shown in Ferragamo’s visual display. One can see a formal balance because there are two equal sides, two congruent walls and two congruent flowers positioned in the background. There is a slight asymmetry in the foreground however. This is because the two sides of the display are of equal weight, but not exact replicas. This is due to the positioning of the mannequins in relation to each other.

It is important to understand where the focus lies when looking at the balance of a composition. This is called dominance. In Picasso’s artwork, the main focus is the clown. Gary Tinterow (2010) explains why a clown was chosen to be the subject:

Those ruffles are traditionally a component of Pierrot’s costume. Pierrot was the sad clown who was constantly frustrated because Harlequin—the nimble, randy Harlequin—would, by play’s end, succeed in stealing the pretty maid Columbine from Pierrot. Hence, Pierrot was always sad and Harlequin was always the lusty victor. This story of Pierrot aligned with the tribulations experienced by his best friend, Charles. In an abstract way, Picasso was able to blend the two characters by using Pierrot’s ruffles and Harlequin’s patterned clothes, which became the main focus of this painting.

Through a different form of inspiration, Ferragamo used the theme of “modern Mediterranean dreamscape” as the focus of the window display. The dominance can be seen in the flowers, this is directly where the viewer’s eye initially goes. The company features these flowers, as we are moving into the warmer/spring season. This not only helps to portray the theme of the season, but also matches what the current customer’s mood is during this time of the year.

Another thing that catches the attention of the eye is contrast. This is used to create drama. Picasso used different elements of design to create a sharp difference or show contrast (Bell & Ternus, 2012). Using a white color on the clown’s face instead of a natural color illustrated Picasso’s reference to Pierrot (Tinterow, 2010). This, along with the large white ruffles contrasted against a solid dark green background. Adjacent to the white color one can see the darkness of the deep blue and black pattern on the clown’s attire, this is another example of contrast.

In Salvatore Ferragamo’s window display the utilization of white is similarly used to build drama (Bell & Ternus, 2012). The visual merchandiser uses two simple white walls, then adds dark blue “paint strokes” in various sections of the display. Using this technique helps to capture attention from a great distance. The writer was able to see this design from the other side of the street. Another contrasting component is the placement of complementary colors found in the green coat near the oversized red flower (Bell & Ternus, 2012). Each contrasting factor in both the painting and window display help enhance the story being told.

Another element that enhances or creates drama is proportion. Proportion is the relationship, size, scale, and “weight” among elements (Bell & Ternus, 2012). In proportion to the rest of the painting, Picasso painted the clown’s left hand larger than any other body part. Your eyes are immediately drawn here because of the noticeable difference in size. Picasso’s subject is in deep thought as he pines his unrequited love. This element was incorporated intentionally to help portray the story.

In Figure 2, proportion can easily be seen on each side of the display. The flowers are depicted on a larger scale compared to the other elements of the display (Bell & Ternus, 2012).  This was done to emphasize the focus on spring, and Ferragamo’s theme (“Legacy”, 2017). In this display, the artwork is also more emphasized in proportion to the mannequins. This proportion of size relates to the similar emphasis of size in Picasso’s artwork.

Now that one is aware of where the eye is drawn, the viewer can identify the rhythm within the art. Rhythm is self-contained movement from element to element (Bell & Ternus, 2012). As the viewer initially looks at the work, her eyes start in the foreground at the clown’s left hand and his bright red lips. The viewer’s eyes move to the white ruffles of the costume around the clown’s neck, then along the checkered pattern of his costume, and down to the hand that is placed on the chair. The attention is then shifted to the action in the background because of the contrasting of colors seen in the flowers.

Contrasting to Seated Harlequin, the rhythm of Ferragamo’s window display is the opposite. The viewer’s eyes start in the background of the display, at the highest point. The eyes then follow the lines of the “brushstrokes” down the background toward the oversized flowers. Lastly, the eyes are brought to the foreground, where the attention is turned to the mannequins and their looks. The action that is portrayed in these lines leads the viewer’s eyes from the dominant object to the subordinate (Bell & Ternus, 2012). This rhythm is pleasing and stimulates the customer to enter the store.

Rhythm can be suggested through repetition. Repetition is repeating or reiterating any idea or motif (Bell & Ternus, 2012).This element is seen in the checkered pattern of the clown’s costume, as the squares are repeated from the middle of the painting down to the bottom. One can also see repetition in the diagonal lines of the ruffles in the clown’s costume. These diagonal lines are repeated around the collar and around both sleeves. There is also repetition within the curved lines in the background. Each flower is drawn using curved lines to help embody action. Notice that most of the repetition is found near the focus of the painting and where the rhythm begins.

Repetition is obvious in Ferragmo’s window display, and also is crucial in executing a fluid rhythm (Bell & Ternus, 2012).The lines that suggest brush strokes, are being repeated through the entire display. Though not identical, the similar shape/pattern is reiterated on the walls, on the flowers, and on the floor of the visual display. In order to tie this idea into the collection, the colors found in the background are also being repeated with in the apparel being displayed.

Using all of these elements of design, one can conclude that this artwork was an affective visual display. Picasso started with one element, the clown, Pierrot whose griefs mirrored that of his recently lost friend (Mullaney, 2010). He used monochromatic shades of blue and blue-green to convey the depressing moods he was experiencing during these times, after this death (“All Collection Records”, 2017). The juxtaposition of both the complementary colors and texture added contrast to the overall work. Picasso affectively portrayed and captured the story he was trying to tell through each element of design.

Salvatore Ferragamo was also able to achieve an affective visual display. This is an Italian brand, whose image is modernity (“Legacy”, 2017). Ferragamo kept a clean image and also conveyed their SS17 theme of “Mediterranean Dreamscape” in an artistic way (“Legacy”, 2017). An effective visual display promotes the store image, introduces a new look, educates the consumer on how to wear/accessorize, and stimulates the customer to enter the store (Bell & Ternus, 2012). By properly executing/understanding all of the elements of design, Ferragamo was able to achieve each of these. This visual display turned a shopper into a stopper.








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