In the early years of the grand department stores, the merchant princes of the day incorporated The Three A’s – advertising, art and architecture – to entice customers into their stores. Merchant John Wannamaker, considered by some to be the father of modern advertising, told us that the time to advertise is all the time. World renowned artists from the French Impressionists to the Modernists had their work featured in store interiors and window displays in all the bustling retail centers across the country. Magnificent architecture was the hallmark of the great retail emporiums in Chicago, Philadelphia and New York. Throughout the history of retail design, advertisers, store designers and visual merchandisers have been inspired by the important movements in art and architecture, ranging from Art Deco and Art Nouveau to the Bauhaus. Today, technology not withstanding, The Three A's remain as important as ever before.
As visual merchandisers, we know that inspiration is everywhere. Often, it's right in front of us, and at times we find it at the end of a long journey. This summer, I crossed the Atlantic to find it during my days in Barcelona, a city that is a glorious study in contrasts. It's an urban center whose architecture takes us from the madcap but brilliant work of Antoni Gaudi to the futuristic vision of Santiago Calatrava. The forms created by both demonstrate a robust distain for the straight line, while the Pavelló Mies Van der Rohe, located within walking distance of the Fundació de Joan Miro, is a celebration of the straight and precise.
Barcelona was the birth place of Joan Miro and the one-time home of Pablo Picasso, two wellsprings of inspiration. Miro spoke of the ability to see, which is the lynchpin to successful visual merchandising. When recalling his early art education he said, "We carried no brushes or paints, we only went to look." One of his first teachers told him, "Wear a crown of eyes upon your head."
Barcelona is a city for wide eyes. At mid-century, the eyes of global fashion aficionados watched Barcelona and other Spanish cities as Cristobal Balenciaga taught the world that fashion is spiritually connected to art. Just like this compelling Mediterranean city, Balenciaga's work demonstrated a unique form and structure that inspired so many.
All of the above knights of Spanish art and design have been tremendously inspirational to visual merchandisers. Include the famous Narcissus White window created by Salvador Dali for Bonwit Teller on Fifth Avenue and it becomes clear that we have drawn from the art world and have returned to the world our own art form – the art of visual merchandising.