Shop windows first started in London in 1800. The first was created by retailer Francis Place in his tailor shop in Charing Cross

Nowadays, we live in a world where it is hard to maintain concentration. We are, in fact, constantly distracted by thousands of stimuli. However, we are often unable to absorb them. We walk down the street without looking at buildings or people; we read a book without understanding its content; we watch a movie, but we hardly remember the plot or the actors. Nonetheless, in this age where the attention threshold is so fleeting, some places and objects can still attract our interest. Those are the shop windows. As Daniel Goleman - American psychologist, writer, and journalist - asserts: "Being able to concentrate amid the noise is a sign of selective attention." adf-web-magazine-shop windows' charme - valentina cannava-01

2015 Holiday Shopping Windows - New York, New York

NEW YORK, NY : General view of Bergdorf Goodman Holiday shopping window displays at Bergdorf Goodman on November 30, 2015 in New York City.

Selective attention consists of selecting and paying attention to a single stimulus present in one's environment. Imagine walking down a crowded street, where honking sounds and voices overwhelm us, and advertising images cloud our minds. During this hustle and bustle, we can focus our gaze on a particular object. We are fascinated by it, and we no longer hear and see anything else. From that moment, our senses are only focused on it. This thing, it can be said, is one of the peculiar aspects of the shop windows. You walk, talk, run, or do something else, but you stop to look at them when you pass one of them. You feel intrigued by color, interested in an object, or excited by light.

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Photo: Library of Congress

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Shop windows first started in London in 1800. The first was created by retailer Francis Place in his tailor shop in Charing Cross. Thanks to a strong tradition of stalls and markets - where the goods were usually exposed for sale - customers much appreciated the idea of ​​reviving this setting beyond a glass. Later, in New York in 1874, the first Christmas window was designed in Macy's shop. The set-up, created with the scenography taken from the "Uncle Tom's Cabin," concerned a collection of porcelain dolls. From that moment on, every shopkeeper wanted to set up shop windows to attract customers. Colors, fairytale scenarios, hydraulic engineering works, everything was allowed as long as it was creative. But in 1938, the owners of the Lord & Taylor store in New York came up with a new method of presenting merchandise. No longer products in the window, but decorative bells that, swinging, generate sounds.

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Over the years, shop windows evolved exponentially with the consequent appearance of the theory of Visual Merchandising. Based on some essential points – such as exposure, setting, lighting, graphics – this theory aims to reconcile all five senses. Having become a real discipline, it started to involve leading figures from various sectors. Architects, artists, designers nowadays bring an extra touch of creativity, attracting a more significant clientele and transmitting an emotion or a visual story. Luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, Valentino, Prada, Dior, and many others use artistic collaborations, creating innovative shop windows and ever greater customer expectations.

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More and more intriguing and captivating, the window displays of luxury brands are real works of art. For example, the Swiss artist Urs Fisher proposes a series of bizarre characters for Louis Vuitton. A cat asleep in a banana peel; an avocado and an egg that meet; a cat is holding a light bulb, and a bird is carrying a peach.

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Photo: Domusweb

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Photo: Domusweb

The Italian artist Gianluca Malgeri, with the Japanese artist Arina Endo, designs the shop windows of direct stores Hermès in Japan. Theaters with wheels, pedals, antennas, moving to generate physical and mental pleasures, such as yoga. Malgeri affirms that the work is "a tribute to communication as a desire for participation."

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Moreover, fiberglass sculptures by the American artist Daniel Arsham invade the windows of Dior. They appear as a suspended, windswept white fabric wrapped around a mannequin or chair.

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The Italian designer Martino Gamper proposes a geometric symbol for the Prada brand: the corner. Emphasizing it with natural materials, perspectives, and fragments, the showcase becomes a space within a space.

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Each brand knows its audience well and knows how to win them over. It stimulates and intrigues people through visual communication. This strategy – adopted through various arts such as graphics, photography, and painting - allows achieving the maximum communicative effect quickly. The display of the goods is, in fact, a form of advertising. It represents the first point of contact with the customer. The shop windows, once undecorated and poorly maintained, today are the focal point of customer attention.


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