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2021 IVC Best in Show

Unusual props unify an eclectic store journey.




THE YEAR 2020, particularly for the retail industry, was a series of intense ups and downs. While much of the world went under lockdown during the Covid pandemic, retail continued to push forward where it could. For those projects that were created during the most uncertain times in recent history, visual merchandising proved to be a key component in facilitating memorable experiences shoppers could immerse themselves in to center their focus, as seen through this year’s winning displays.

Take this year’s 2021 Best in Show, dubbed “Something Like THAT,” a temporary/pop-up experience in Dubai, U.A.E., that used dramatic props and tried-and-true VM techniques to draw customers through the unusual and eye-catching space.

Situated in Dubai’s City Centre Mirdif, the pop-up was created during lockdown and served to establish a brand presence for a new concept store (called THAT). Featuring a florist, coffee bar and art gallery, the space was an eclectic concept using strong visuals to tie everything together. “We came up with the idea to use conventional materials in an unconventional way, while remaining sustainable and within budget,” explains Majid Al Futtaim Fashion (Dubai).

The materials are indeed unconventional, like cooking pots repurposed as seat covers. Other hard-to-miss moments include disembodied mannequin legs on swings merchandising socks and shoes, an oversized hanger on the wall that held apparel, red gas drums that served as legs on some display tables and a slew of graphics designed by an emerging local artist. And since the space was modular, in-store elements and product could be adjusted weekly. With the store functioning primarily as a shell with exposed, raw walls, the merchandising truly drove the journey.

“From a customer experience point-of-view, we wanted to offer more than just a retail space, we wanted a place for discovery, for customers to come hang out, have a coffee, enjoy art installations, have a space where you customize or personalize goods,” says Majid Al Futtaim Fashion. “We wanted customers to get a feel of authenticity in a place that feels their own, as we target a mindset and not a [specific] age group.”

Beyond the unusual props and decor, the space aimed to speak to the local demographic. “We focused on local elements to remain true to our roots,” says Majid Al Futtaim Fashion. “The balconettes [window props] were the most prominent Arabic-influenced feature in the store, [also] inspired by the streets of old European cities.”

In the end, this year’s Best in Show winner proves visual merchandising remains an important storytelling component for the in-store journey.

“It’s been an interesting season for visual merchandisers,” says Brent Hodge, former Director, Merchandising and Creative for Bromwell’s in Cincinnati, and a judge for this year’s competition. “For a lot of us, this is all we’ve known. We have to figure out how to change what we’ve known and make it relevant.”

Due to an editorial oversight, the article incorrectly stated the concept was located in the Mall of the Emirates. This pop-up experience was actually located in City Centre Mirdif in Dubai. We apologize for the editorial error.


Photography: Courtesy of Majid Al Futtaim



MasterClass: ‘Re-Sparkling’ Retail: Using Store Design to Build Trust, Faith and Brand Loyalty

HOW CAN WE EMPOWER and inspire senior leaders to see design as an investment for future retail growth? This session, led by retail design expert Ian Johnston from Quinine Design, explores how physical stores remain unmatched in the ability to build trust, faith, and loyalty with your customers, ultimately driving shareholder value.

Presented by:
Ian Johnston
Founder and Creative Director, Quinine Design

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