Creative window displays play an essential part in the success of a retail business as they are an effective marketing tool and build a brand's image There are those who say Hongkongers spend more time in shopping malls than in museums. If there is any truth to that, it may have something to do with the visually exciting window displays that are designed to tempt passers-by. Often, they are inspired by, or aspire to be, art. According to Lane Crawford's senior visual merchandising manager, Vincent Lee Wing-sang, the theme that appeared in this season's runway shows has been translated directly into their stores. 'This season, it's all about canvas paintings as patterns on clothes,' Mr Lee said. 'It's a key point in this season, so we used that idea and asked some students and my own team to draw some canvases. 'It's effective and arresting, one of the basic reasons why visual merchandising is an essential part of the retail business. It's part of the marketing and builds the brand's image. The point is to make it feel luxurious for the customer and to display the best of the best merchandise that we can offer them.' Mr Lee leads a team of 25 who work on graphics, production and store operations for the department store, which was named International Retailer of the Year by the National Retail Federation in the United States this year. It took observation and research to keep the ideas fresh so customers kept coming back, he said. 'You need to know fashion well but you also need to know how to construct things because you need to know how to achieve the results you had envisioned,' he said. 'I'm always thinking of ways to make things more interesting because shopping is an experience.' As regional creative manager for the ImagineX Group, Elton Cheung Yuk-tong heads a centralised visual merchandising and graphic design team that oversees more than 20 brands in the mainland and Hong Kong. The company manages a portfolio of international fashion, cosmetic and lifestyle brands which include standalone stores and in-house retail outlets. Working closely with brand and store managers, the visual merchandising schedule revolves around product deliveries before creating windows or interior displays that best highlight them. 'If the brand doesn't provide props from overseas, then we'll source them locally to suit the merchandise and theme of the season,' he said. For a recent product launch, the ImagineX team created a window for the Nars shop in The Landmark based on a photograph sent by the cosmetics brand's creative team. 'We created a new interior look using lighting and came up with our own interpretation of the theme,' Mr Cheung said. 'Our idea was a 'Shanghai Lily' concept that includes real feathers in the window to match the photo.' Assistant visual merchandising manager for the I.T Group, Eunice Ko Ling-tung likened the process to dressing up the shop. 'It's just like every day you choose what to wear. It's the outerwear of the shop,' she said. 'It gives people the first impression before they come in. 'It doesn't mean that we have the same display all the time but every time we present something, it is a reflection of the brand.' Ms Ko heads one of the company's two visual merchandising teams. Her team of 20 handles 88 shops in Hong Kong and also provides support for operations in mainland China. The multibrand shops that make up the group all have different design directives that remain true to the company's mission to provide a diverse range of edgy fashion. 'With I.T, there are more Japanese labels so we try to have more fun with the window displays. We have more freedom because these labels don't have brand identity restrictions.' I.T and its associated brands, such as Maison Martin Margiela and Ann Demeulemeester, target a more sophisticated and fashion forward market. 'I.T's market is more mature so we will try to make window displays more conceptual,' Ms Ko said. 'We carry more European labels so they have their own ideas every season that we interpret.' For a recent Autumn/Winter window display at the I.T store in Sino Plaza for the Ann Demeulemeester label, her team was told only that it was to be full of feathers. What was created had the mystical elements of a fairy tale. 'The creative idea was a girl living with a feather monster,' Ms Ko explained. 'It took one week to stick the feathers on, one at a time. The huge foam body was about nine feet tall.'