Josie Maskell's Review of our 'Intro to VM' Short Course

VM display

Introduction to Visual Merchandising Review by Josie Maskell

So many of you who know me personally know I do visual merchandising as part of my job. Working for an electronics retailer means the scope of this is fairly limited as it mostly comes down to tidying phone accessories and speakers and fixing cables on a daily basis! Last year I decided I wanted to see if I could expand my creative eye into something down the fashion/homeware route. I did a lot of research into short courses and I stumbled upon a 3 day course on "Introduction To Visual Merchandising" at the Fashion Retail Academy in London. 
I chose this course because the website blurb said it was a very practical course which involved you learning lots of skills before putting them together on the last day and creating your own window display from scratch. I loved the idea of building something from nothing and was interested to see how much we could actually learn in such a short space of time!

Day 1 - 
For the duration of this course I stayed with my sister in Mile End as she was working in London over the summer. I would recommend staying in or close to London if you are doing a course like this as I was exhausted each day and the thought of getting a long train would not have been good! Safestay in Elephant and Castle is a place I have stayed 3-4 times and can recommend it as the premier Inn of hostels! Everything is purple and very cosy and you get a surprisingly decent breakfast included. 
The Academy is around 10 minutes walk from Oxford Street tube, 2 minutes from Tottenham Court Road. We arrived and all sat down in a classroom full of undressed mannequins - an interesting start to the day! There was a small group of around 8 of us, we all introduced ourselves and said a bit about what we do and what experience we have. There was a huge range of backgrounds, one girl worked in John Lewis, another in a football club and another had her own company selling products across Europe. 
We had a short powerpoint with some history of visual merchandising and window displays. We got to see some interesting examples and find out some merchandising techniques. The rest of the day was spent getting involved and merchandising a wall which had magnetic shelves and clothes rails which we could move around to our hearts content! This was pretty fun if hard work.

We had a winter collection and a more summery set of clothing to hang, it took a good amount of adjusting to get these to a point where everyone was happy. 

After doing the larger merchandising we moved onto accessories and jewellery. The rest of the afternoon focused on us picking a set of things and using pyramid merchandising to arrange the objects in an interesting way. My attempts are below, we had a very short space of time to pick our products and arrange them and I would have liked to have spent a little longer. 

One thing I will say about day 1 is that I was surprised how much we fitted in. It was a huge amount of information and I felt we did a lot in a short 10-4pm day. The only slight negative to the college is that it is a bit rough around the edges! Do not wear fancy clothes to this type of course, it will only make you uncomfortable and worried about getting messy. The shelves we were merchandising were pretty covered in dirt and dust which I wasn't expecting, maybe because it was the summer and they hadn't been in use for a few weeks... The clothes we had were pretty good but the accessories and jewellery varied in wear and tear and nice-ness. There was a lot of trashy stuff which you had to sift through, though our tutor made the point that in a job you don't choose what you merchandise and you should be able to make anything look good!
Day 2 - 
Our second day was centered around mannequin grouping and styling. We started off talking about different types of mannequins, ranging from very abstract to the more realistic with facial expressions and makeup. We each got to pick a mannequin to dress and were shown how to move them the proper way and how to remove limbs and re-attach them (such a strange thing to learn!). This is my first mannequin dressing, I chose her because of her funky festival hair! 
We then got put into pairs and we were given a space to fill with a group of 3 mannequins. We had to arrange them at different levels and then gather lots of different clothes to create a group with similar styles and colours. Ours went a little bit H&M/New Look folksy with lots of 70's suede and fur in browns and beiges!
Here is one by another pair which I really liked - this one was very pop art punk rock, I loved the attitude of the mannequins they chose!
One of the last things we learnt about that day was dressing bust forms, we learnt about making tissue paper arms - something I never knew was a thing! We each had to use some layering of a jumper and a jersey top so we could style the arms and give the models some life. 
Day 3 - 
The final day was by far the most fun, and the most knackering! All this lugging around of mannequins and running around hunting for good clothes is super hard work by the way so if you do take one of these course wear good shoes and comfy clothes. 
We had a room full of props to have some fun with and everyone was being a little cheeky trying to get the best stuff. There was definitely a little bit of competitive spirit that day even though it wasn't a competition for the best window, we all wanted to do something impressive! We worked in pairs again, me and my partner found a bag full of sparkly black artificial vines with leaves on. I liked the idea of using these to make shadowy shapes in our background. We also had lots of small pink flowers to add to the edges to bring some colour to the display.

Our models were naked for a lot of the day! Picking matching clothes was the hardest part for some reason... We spent half the day staple gunning flowers to the walls and getting bits of glitter and flower petals everywhere.
The finishing touches to the display were adding some artificial coloured birds and a bird cage before getting some spotlights to add to the shadows. 

So above is our completed window, which I was pretty happy with for  first attempt. Below we have the other two groups. I loved the very different concepts we all ended up with, though we did all fight over the pink flowers as you may be able to tell!

I finished this course feeling happy with the huge amount we achieved in 3 days, I think it is a great introduction to a lot of different skills. For me I knew I would then need to find ways of expanding and practising what I have learnt which I have found hard over the past 6 months! Still, I hope this can give a good overview of the course for anyone who is looking into it and maybe help you see if it is for you or not.
Thanks to Josie Maskell for your post on our 'Intro to Visual Merchandising' short course. Check out Josie's blog here -