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Friday, October 3, 2014

First Friday: Anthropologie, one of a kind experiences

Wendy (left) and Heather (right) in their "gallery."

I have recently had the pleasure of getting to know a couple of creative masterminds and am so excited to share their work with you today. Some of you might be thinking...Anthropologie? As in the department store I would love to makeover my life? Yes, Anthropologie. The store I would love to make over my life.

Laurie and I are often cleaning up small puddles of drool when we peruse Anthro's magazine or browse online.... We have told you many times how much we love this brand and the experiences we have when we shop in their stores. I have told you that one of my favorite travel past times is to see a city by it's food and it's Anthro store. Why you ask? Well, in this month's First Friday piece you will learn why.  Each Anthropologie is unique to it's location. Sure, you will find some of the same staples at any location but if you are really taking stock you will find that some of the clothes are more specific to the audience the store welcomes. You will find that there is a general theme that is apparent in every store but something is a bit different. You will find that there is a certain artistic voice a bit different than the last location you were at.... This is all because this incredibly thoughtful brand not only knows their local fans but they hire local artist to create work local guests will love and connect with. 

So, in the last couple of months I have gotten to know a couple of ladies who create and bring the beautifully crafted details of the Knoxville store to life. Heather and Wendy make up the majority of the visual team at our local store. Heather recently moved from NYC and has the retail world experience mixed with an eye for perfection and beauty while Wendy has lived in Knoxville all of her life and creates stunning work from, well, anything. I met with Heather and Wendy at the store as summer was coming to an end; Wendy was excitedly waiting to peel away some layers on the current window display. I quickly realized this resourceful, jane-of-all-trades is just the right woman for the job. Her carpentry skills mixed with her ability to dream is powerful combination.

Enough of my gushing. Let me share a peek into the world of Anthropologie's Knoxville, TN visual team.

I met Wendy peeling freshly gathered leaves from hand-dyed paper that would later make the curbside window beauty you see below.

PP: How is Anthropologie's take on store aesthetics different than at other retail stores?        

Heather: Anthropologie is the only specialty retailer that employees a Visual Team in every store.  Because of that, the level of artistic expression and aesthetic is truly maintained at the highest level.  Displays are all handmade from raw materials and we do our best to show the client how average things in your life everyday can be utilized as an art form.  We want every customer that shops with us and find both our product and display expression an "Unimagined Experience." 

PP: Heather and Wendy, how is your position at Anthropologie different than if you were at another retail store?  

Heather: Visual Managers in other retail environments typically work at a district or regional level. My position is unique because it is a full partnership   with a store manager in an individual location. Also, I oversee all product placement and display provided with only inspirational information, where in other retail environments, stores are expected to follow corporate direction and all display materials and signs are shipped in rather than handmade. 

Wendy: At Anthropologie, I am a full time artist and have the opportunity to re-imagine the store setting everyday.  Other retailers do not typically hire artists on a full time basis, in fact, I do not believe my position exists within other retailers.

PP: Tell me a little bit of how your creative team works together to create what guests see every day.

Heather: Anthropologie Corporate provides inspiration, from that we derive a plan, adding individual store appeal, then begin the process of breaking down how projects are created.  We then shop for materials and begin production. We follow a specified calendar for installation and finalize the merchandising to coincide with the display install. 

PP: Tell me how you take the items Home Office sends for settings from the box to the store? 

Heather: Our Corporate Office will occasionally send raw materials bought in mass, but instructions in that regard are not sent.  Instead, a "how-to" will be posted on our Corporate website for a particular project that gives step by step directions on how to achieve an artistic feeling for these materials and we will shop to procure what we need.  Many times we will make adjustments according to materials or processes to suit our individual store.  The company encourages that as they like stores to have their own individual expression so that no two stores are exactly alike.

PP: Tell me about the fun illusions you used in the kitchen setting. Was that an idea that came from corporate or is that something you all decided to do?

Heather: Trompe L'oeil which means "trick of the eye" in French was a Corporate idea provided for inspiration, however, at least half of these pieces were our own design creations.  Only the chandelier and risers were built from corporate direction.

PP: Wendy, how often are you creating new displays and art to go in the store?

Wendy: Daily! The customer may see new displays on a weekly basis however these displays take days, sometimes weeks, to see completion.  I have an art room where I spend most of my time designing and building fresh displays.

Notice the custom flower pot covers they have created.

PP: Wendy, Tell me about the hanging mural piece in the area just below the steps in the store. Where did the inspiration come from for this multimedia piece? You said it was a team effort?

Wendy: The tapestry which is nestled in Mollie [PP: the store is 'populated' by various personas envisioned by the Home Office] was a piece designed by another Anthropologie artist who actually trained me during our opening process.  We received corporate direction supported by a how-to.  I took that direction and gave it a lift.This piece represents a very special moment for me as I was able to include several staff members in the creation.  The end result is stunning.  Everyone contributed to the piece and the piece represents true teamwork.  This display is a must see and is one of my favorites to date.

PP: Wendy, what made you chose to utilize concrete in the way that you did throughout the store with the planters and flowers? 

Wendy: The initial direction for building concrete risers came from Corporate.  During the planning phase I had an idea to make these much more than concrete risers.  I decided to turn them into fully functional planters.  My father (engineer) acted as my mentor as he does on many occasions and taught me how to build a concrete form.  I was able to take Corporate direction from simple concrete risers to create more elaborate planters.  When these are turned over, they still serve as risers.

PP: Heather and Wendy, what is your favorite installation in the store at the moment? Why? Anything special about how it was created?

Heather: My favorite installation in the store at the moment is "Stable," the bedding area that encompasses the feeling of a stable and barn area on a beautiful farm. Wendy sourced beautiful reclaimed wood from a barn originating in the 1840's. The unique foundation offers a warm and cozy feel to display all the intimate product a customer would purchase for their bedroom.

My favorite wall. Hand-dyed and torn pieces of paper make up this masterpiece.

Wendy bought old barn wood and created an amazing sculpture for this room.

Wendy: Currently my favorite installation is bohemian inspired "Silver."  At first I was not feeling enthusiastic about the concept.  Once I started designing and building displays for this area, she quickly became one of my best renderings to date and the end result swoons me with overall aesthetic!

PP: Do you all ever feel uninspired in keeping the store fresh and unique?

Heather: With new product flowing in 3 to 4 days a week, it is our commitment to the brand to ensure we are constantly updating merchandising and display work...its what I love most about my position here at Anthropologie, the product drives my inspiration.

Wendy: Anthropologie has always been one of my favorite places to shop.  One of the reasons I'm attracted to Anthropologie is the artistic nature and quirky unexpected elements.  I have looked to this retailer thoughout the years as my inspiration.  Anthropologie provides additional inspiration for their artists and there is never a shortage for ideas here!

PP: I love how you all re-purpose and reuse as many items as possible. Is this a mindset that Anthro has or is it a combination of Anthro and budgeting?

Heather: The culture here is certainly one of re-purposing for all of the reasons you mentioned: budget responsibility, being environmentally responsible and also for the sheer inspiration that can happen when an older art project is transformed again into something new.

PP: Heather, I am quite impressed at your ability to lead and manage a retail operation while possessing a creative sensibility that keeps a store like Anthro unique and inspiring to visit. Is this something that you have always done or do you use both skill sets more at Anthro than in previous jobs in the retail industry?

Heather: Thank you.  I have been working as a visual merchandiser at both an entry and at times an executive level for over 23 years on the business and artistic side of things.  My previous skill sets with other retailers most certainly paved my way here.  By far, this is the most original and artistic retailer I have ever had the pleasure to work for.

The detail...I just can't get over it. The themes mesh together perfectly from one room to another.

PP: Heather and Wendy, your favorite part of going to work every day is....

Heather: Walking through the front door every morning with the promise the store will continue to transform and evolve and knowing that myself and my extremely talented team are responsible for helping create such beauty for the customer to enjoy everyday!

Wendy: Getting to see people's reactions.  If I can make someone stop in their tracks to admire the work or make someone smile at the beauty of it all, then it's been a great day.  I have shown them a part of me and it makes me feel good to see both friends and strangers alike enjoying my artistic efforts.


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