The ICSC Blog

Through The Looking Glass: Saks Fifth Avenue & DDI Host Student Window Challenge

In the world of visual merchandising, window displays allow bricks and mortar businesses to establish their brand to the outside world, and effectively bring potential customers inside. Today, DDI Magazine is hosting its second annual Student Window Challenge at Saks Fifth Avenue’s New York City flagship, where future visual merchandising professionals will be able able to showcase their talents.

Six students were selected from both the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and LIM College to compete for a mentorship with the store’s window team. Prior to the challenge, they were not informed about what materials would be available, or if the display would have to incorporate a particular theme.

Experts from Saks Fifth Avenue have been on hand to deliver advice to participants, including SVP of Store Planning and Visual Merchandising, Harry Cunningham. He described the daylong event as simply “the craft of building a window,” adding, “This generation is learning very differently than past ones. New technology gives them access to so much, yet they’re thrown into this experience with none of that.”

Students had to arrive early in the morning to unload trucks, carry materials inside, and unpack everything before hand-sketching ideas for their displays. They are being given until 5pm to complete their displays, a timeframe that is standard for window teams to reveal their work. Along with the mentorship and having their displays seen in the landmark’s 49th Street windows for one week, winners will receive Saks Fifth Avenue gift cards, and also online and print exposure from DDI.

Representatives from FIT and LIM were there to describe how the participants were chosen, and both agreed that passionate students made the best candidates. LIM’s Chair of Visual Merchandising, Eric Feigenbaum, said, “We looked for the most enthusiastic students, and paired them off by talents, and who would work best with each other.”

Assistant Professor of Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design at FIT, Anne Kong also stated, “They must love the art of windows; students have to be acclimated to using mannequins, and like this particular environment.”

When asked about the importance of visual merchandising in relation to drawing in customer traffic at department stores, Kong went on to say, “windows are crucial. These displays, along with things like mannequin etiquette and overall presentation, are significant parts of our curriculum at FIT.” Executive Editor of DDI, Alison Embrey Medina, added, “Bricks and mortar is all about creating an experience that starts outside the store, especially in a city like New York. These window displays are like commercials on a street that bring customers in to shop.”

While e-commerce is important in the industry, physical retail stores and their visual displays are in an element of their own. Perhaps Harry Cunningham sums it up best: “Ultimately, you can’t feel a dress on an iPad.”

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