In a matter of days, stores unveil their holiday windows, in all their fantasy, sentimentality and underlying commercialism.
And by New Year’s, they disappear, though some survive through photographic and digital record.
“We photograph all of our holiday windows and a lot of our other windows during the year, but not every single one,” a Bloomingdale’s spokeswoman told WWD. “It depends on the magnitude of the campaign.”
“Louis Vuitton has excellent records. That’s part of the reason why the brand is so strong, and most luxury retailers do tend to maintain good records, but overall, not many brands do,” said Jon Harari, chief executive officer and cofounder of WindowsWear, a web site that archives hundreds of thousands of photos of window displays, store interiors, merchandise presentations and e-commerce from around the world.
“Companies like Coach and Macy’s actually have archivists, and usually, it’s one person. But can you imagine the amount of content these companies put out and how time-consuming it is to create a digital record of everything? It’s painstaking work,” said Harari. “Not many companies commit the resources for that. But we think it’s valuable data that helps brands understand where they came from and what they used to do.”
WindowsWear, a six-year-old service that essentially digitizes and archives content for retailers and brands, was relaunched last month to grow its vast visual database of the retail industry.
“Before we had a web site that only provided content and no one could upload content. Now we have enabled any member on our web site to upload their portfolio and engage with our global community,” explained Harari. “This is a huge change.”
WindowsWear’s enhanced web site also features data, insights and trends about retailers’ physical, digital and e-commerce environments, with archives dating to 1931. There are also photos of pop-up shops, exhibitions, events and trade shows. In addition, WindowsWear provides photographic services for retailers and brands, an app for communicating and collaborating, conducts walking tours to see store windows, manages a small museum space on the main floor of Berkeley College in Manhattan, runs workshops for retail professionals, and stages an annual awards show for “the best” in visual merchandising.
The service has different tiers of membership providing different degrees of access to what the web site offers. Paid members get access to more content on WindowsWear. But regardless of being a paid or unpaid member, you can upload your portfolio to WindowsWear and access the portfolios of other members. Harari said WindowsWear has about 15,000 individual members and 200 paid member companies. He cited Fendi, Ralph Lauren, Tory Burch and Michael Kors as among the brands tapping WindowsWear content. Additionally, specialists, designers, architects and academic institutions such as Fashion Institute of Technology and SCAD, use the web site.
Harari, who is an adjunct professor of marketing and public relations at Baruch College and worked at Lehman Bros. as an investment analyst and at Aurelius Capital Management, said WindowsWear has about 200,000 images from roughly 1,000 retailers and brands. “We upload thousands of images every month.” WindowsWear dispatches photographers around the world to capture windows and other visuals, with a focus on New York, where the company is based, as well as Paris, Milan, London, Barcelona, Tokyo, Mexico City and Berlin.
“If you think about the retail industry and the sale of a product to a consumer, it’s a trillion-dollar industry globally, and all the ways retailers are merchandising and marketing represents so much visualization,” Harari said. “With new technologies, it exponentially increases.”
He said WindowsWear’s format can be compared to an Internet movie database, which identifies the movie and talent behind it, including the director and the actors. WindowsWear’s content identifies the retailer and those creating the retail setting, including the architect, and the talent behind the merchandising fixtures, flooring, lighting and other elements.
The company, founded in 2012, is owned by Harari; the two other cofounders Mike Niemtzow, who also worked at Lehman Brothers; Raul Tovar, a fashion photographer, and some unnamed investors.
“Retailers, designers and brands use us for inspiration, trends and competitive analysis. A retailer wants to get ideas about what others are doing. This industry is constantly changing. Technology is exponentially increasing the amount of ways retail can merchandise their products to consumers. We are a tool for helping retailers understand what is going on, with their own brands and other brands.
“There are always new stores, new events, pop-ups, new experiences happening and everyone wants to go and check it all out. But that’s a very time-consuming process,” and not always practical. “We are essentially a resource for that. A lot of retailers don’t keep records of what they do. We are capturing that and archiving it.” Asked what store fills his eyes the most, Harari replied, “I personally like Ralph Lauren’s Rhinelander Mansion on Madison Avenue. It’s like a museum, everything is so perfect. So beautiful, so pristine. Last year, they had a vintage sports car from his collection. It was cool to see that. When stores bought sports cars in their windows. It seems like more of a marketing thing. This was a more authentic.”