Mercurylab/Go Forth! | Mercurylab in the Veneto, Italy (Part Four): The Allure of Presentation

September 05 2014

We all know know that there is an art and craft to effective merchandising display. I was really struck by the divergent displays I found on a quick hit and run trip to Italy. The Veneto is a hotbed of medieval towns and cities, Palladian architecture, and extraordinary masterpieces by Giotto and Tintoretto. It’s also an incredible place to experience truly divergent approaches to merchandising presentation, ranging from controlled vintage to sleek contemporary Italian design.

Cases in point:


An up-to-the-minute gourmet shop built on top of a wine cave built on top of exposed medieval and Roman streets in Vincenza. The prepared food was incredibly light and offered an alternative to a conventional pasta lunch, the product selection a sophisticated mix of carefully chosen artisan made foods, and the display a contemporary approach in its repetition, form and colors.


An osteria in Verona. Osterias serve simple, well-prepared food, and can be known for their wine list. This particular osteria utilizes the complete vocabulary of what was considered by Americans in the 1950s to be the ultimate in traditional italian restaurant design, including checked tablecloths and wine bottles covered with candle wax. The atmosphere is personal and welcoming, reflecting the sense of being invited into the owner’s home. And you could easily buy a bottle of wine to take with you, reinforcing the idea of taking Italy home with you, no matter where you live.


A historic candy shop in Verona, displaying traditional glass jars and product design associated with the past.


A local fashion designer in Verona, one with a quirky Italian aesthetic perfect for a girl from Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Her collection encompasses natural fibers and simple shapes for the bookish girl — slightly boyish, referencing school uniforms, but with sleek and natural details.

All are strong local brands with clear and successful brand messages.

Down Home in New York: Fishs Eddy, and the Retail Experience

January 23 2014

Many may view kitchenware shopping as a boring chore, but Fishs Eddy makes the experience totally fun and enjoyable. Honestly, it’s less like shopping, and more like the easiest treasure hunt you’ve ever done. Fishs Eddy is fully stocked with one-of-a-kind vintage and vintage-inspired pieces. They have literally everything you need, and plenty of things you never knew you needed so much. The merchandising and display reinforce the sense of personal fun, yet its true power is in being tied to our memories of a solid America that many of us have only experienced through books, movies, and the things we buy and the homes we create. So the brand is about a personal, universal, and romantic view of America, much like an uber brand like Ralph Lauren, or even a mall brand like Anthropologie.


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Fishs Eddy is a consistent and well-managed brand that has been around since 1986, one that has weathered many trends in home décor and entertaining. Shoppers respond to their casual vibe and country flea market "general store" environment, where hand-painted signage and wooden crates spill over with sturdy china bowls and plates. Even with their rustic aesthetic, the designs still feel relevant and on trend — a perfect example is their recent collaboration with minimalist, stylized wildlife illustrator Charley Harper. The pieces he designed with Fishs Eddy are crisp and modern, yet their retro, mid-century feel fits in perfectly with the brand’s thrifty, eclectic atmosphere and products. I can just as easily imagine a 50’s southern housewife shopping here, as well as a hip, young New Yorker. The shoppers around me were saying that it’s simply impossible to leave without purchasing at least one tiny cup.


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The takeaway: Know your brand, and manage it well. Know your market, and hit your market with consistent brand touch points. Have a think on that, and then we can meet for some apple pie and coffee, served on Fishs Eddy’s dishware. Later!

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American Apparel: When Simplicity isn’t So Simple

October 09 2013

American Apparel is a brand well known for its’ pared down, comfortable aesthetic, one that appeals to the young. urban, hipster-chic teens and 20s of America and across the World. Long known for simple basic unisex t-shirts, hoodies and jeans, they have moved into the territory of vintage-inspired disco pants, chiffon blouses and palazzo pants. By bringing more “design” into their clothing, American Apparel has attempted to set themselves apart from their competition -- Hollister, Abercrombie and Fitch, and Urban Outfitters. They have been so effective in branding themselves in the mind of the consumer that it will be interesting to see what happens as they move forward in this new vein.

On a political level, American Apparel’s heart has been in the right place (at least from my leftie perspective). The brand is a strongly voiced advocate of LGBT rights, it is committed to environmental protection, and is known for having all of their clothing made in the U.S. without the use of underpaid sweatshops in other countries. That is a big one, as more and more ethical issues arise regarding how the fashion we love and wear is made. American Apparel’s company website also has a list of other ethical causes that they support.


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This is a brand with some major disconnects despite its success and good heartedness. Despite their ethical chops, the brand has been scrutinized in the past for having overtly provocative advertisements, for not being plus-size friendly, and for their inflated price point, given the quality and lack of originality in the merchandise. In addition, if American Apparel is going to claim a more constructed, designed sensibility, they will need to pull other elements of their brand communications in line. Their window design frequently looks like a cheap mall brand that sells five-dollar T-shirts and ten-dollar parkas. The store merchandising is decidedly barebones as well. It’s certainly not an issue to expand upon a brand’s sensibilities, as Juicy Couture moved very successfully from coveted velour tracksuits into much more cultivated pieces that still retained a high level of comfort. American Apparel might benefit from studying Juicy more closely, as that brand has had all of the elements working in sync since the beginning, and was just sold to Authentic Brands Group for $185 million. Get it together, AA!!

However, American Apparel has come a long way in the message it gives through its brand. What makes American Apparel such a strong brand is their exuberant, precise, and edgy advertisements. American Apparel speaks volumes through their fashion photography. Each advertisement exudes a feeling of the American dream through clothing, in other words the emotion of living your life through these clothes.

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