Spurred by her mother to pursue a career as a visual merchandiser when she was just eight, Aimee McCallum is the creative visionary behind some of Melbourne’s best dressed windows. Her tactile and makeshift approach to visual merchandising has made her a distinguished industry leader, garnering the attention of a string of retail heavyweights-turned-clients, including Just Jeans, Husk, Safari Living and Klein’s Perfumery. Alongside her VM pursuits, Aimee is also the creative coordinator behind Melbourne boutique Tiger & Peacock, importing modern contemporary and antique furnishings, homewares and accessories. Here Amy tells us how she fits it all in and the importance of carving your own niche in the quest for success.
What lead to you pursue a career as a visual merchandiser and how did you get your start?
I tried many different paths before I came to visual merchandising, as I was not 100 percent sure what was right for me. Even though I was told at the age of eight by my mother that I would be an interior designer or visual merchandiser, as I was constantly changing my room and our home if mum let me. I still wanted to get my toes wet and experienced life teaching English and being a nanny overseas. I tried a few trades, but would always find myself back in retail. It’s not only the window installations that intrigue me, it’s everything about shopping including where, why and how people interact in stores. I guess my love for displays started with T2 when they had one store! Owner Maryanne would encourage me and I was able to experiment with displays, this is where I started to create my own style.
You’ve worked for some of Australia’s best retailers including Husk, Klein’s Perfumery and T2, which each have their own unique aesthetic trademarks. How do you adapt to them individually while also integrating your own personal style?
After thinking about this question for quite a while I have to say that it just comes naturally, perhaps it is because I have done this for so long. I wish I could give you a formula but there does not seem to be one for me. A little insight is if you were to give me a brief of a window, my brain would start going at a hundred miles per hour. The key areas I think of are things like: the company, the vision, what they sell, their customer and the list goes on and on. These thoughts can go on for days or sometimes even weeks. When I get the idea, I have to create it otherwise I feel like I could self combust! Whether you are new to visual merchandising or been in the industry for a while, you will start to see a pattern in your visual merchandising style. I find that most clients that come to me know my work so they are after something quite detailed, handmade and unique.
What principles or strategies do you apply when creating a visual scene? How much preparation and planning is involved before the physical window dressing begins?
There must be a reason for the window that is to be installed; it could be about a season, an event, something new or old. Window dressing is about telling your customer a story and your window is the front cover of the book, like a book you don’t want to give too much of the story away just an enticing vision to catch the passing traffic. I do try to keep the installations simple in design but give them lots of detail which gives them zest and life. There are weeks of planning and preparation, I think this part is like the foundation of a house, which has to be the strongest element. Then comes the physical installation. There should always be room to change the vision slightly, but remember if you have shown a client a design, then you must deliver what you said you would do with NO surprises.
I was told by one of my old bosses that “successful visual merchandising makes customers want to touch and buy everything.” As someone who has visited your store, Tiger & Peacock, you’ve definitely passed this test. How did Tiger & Peacock come to fruition?
I am happy to hear that Tiger & Peacock has that tactile nature and pull for people to enjoy the space as in my mind it should be a playground for the senses. Tiger & Peacock is here for one reason and that is because my partner Mark believes in me and what I do. There are not many people that come into your life and be 100 percent honest with you and challenge you in all aspects of your life, so I am fortunate and grateful that I found that person does that for me. Tiger & Peacock came into fruition after much deliberation about different business ideas, but finally took shape after a long trip to India where we were inspired by the intricate workmanship, crafts and culture India has to offer.
How do you balance your time between Tiger & Peacock and your VM clients?
It’s quite simple, whichever job is next in line on the calendar is what I work on until it is finished. The hard part is time management and allowing enough time for myself, therefore many personal sacrifices are sometimes made. When you love what you do making those sacrifices is easier and justifiable.
Do you have any advice for budding visual merchandisers? Or perhaps a beacon of wisdom you know now with experience?
Find your own style. I find this a much more satisfying accomplishment. When I design and complete an installation that took its inception through my own discoveries and research, the reward is far more fulfilling. There is nothing worse than regurgitating someone else’s work, so be inspired to be yourself and express your own ideas.
What’s been your all time favourite project and what did it involve?
My favorite installation would have to be one that Mark and I came up with for Just Jeans’ Chadstone store as a highlight concept window. The brief outlined the use of their current catalogue and introduction of a knitwear range of garments. We came up with a ‘skin to Jean’ concept and basically knitted 80 meters of catalogue starting with all skin tones and then gradually getting more and more denim through the knitting. There was so much knitting we needed a truck to get it all to store. This job was very satisfying and the end result was a fantastic window with amazing tactility and attention to detail.
Your handmade aesthetic, which is so prominent throughout your work, makes your windows instantly recognisable to your admirers. Is it important to have your own ‘brand of merchandising’ in this field?
Yes, yes and yes. Your own brand is so important as it’s the only thing that will keep you ahead in a highly competitive industry. My suggestion to this is turn off your computer, stop looking at what everyone else is getting inspired by and go out into the big beautiful world and find what makes you stop in wonderment.
All images are copyright by Aimee McCallum.