We sat down for a Q & A with Armani’s Regional VM Taylor Tyssen to find out how he got his start in VM and where he goes to find inspiration.
How did you get into visual merchandising? How did you know it was what you wanted to do?
My first exposure to VM was working in a Brooks Brothers Factory store in Williamsburg, VA. In a store with no interior mannequins, I found one bust form and dressed it and put it on the front counter. Our regional sales manager at the time, saw it and invited me to open a mainline Brooks Brothers Store in Maryland that’s when I fell in love. I knew VM was my passion when I realized that it combines fashion, commerce, people, and beauty! Also, it justified all my push-pin holes in my childhood bedroom from years of always redecorating, looking back I was always a visual.
You studied fashion merchandising in college. What do you think is the most valuable or useful thing you learned?
Computers for the Fashion Industry at The School of the Arts for Virginia Commonwealth University gave me the skill set to take visual ideas from concept to a digital rendering. Utilizing technology to convey visual ideas allows visual installs, directives and guidelines to be easily explained to other VMs as well as sales team members (who more often than not, need a little more help in visualizing finished projects).
What’s your biggest challenge day-to-day? What’s it like working with dispersed teams and managing the visuals across lots of different locations?
Biggest challenge is to communicate a clear message the helps achieve the best in-store set-up or asking for changes to other people’s work. Giving too much information can be as confusing as giving too little. You have to make sure that you are to give constructive feedback about people’s personal work that isn’t demeaning or disparaging. VM is very emotional, and to be the person to audit other people’s work at times can be very sensitive.
Managing people across the US is a lot of fun, I can be talking about the same brand, in the same wholesaler, in different towns and give completely different direction on execution. Our customer is very familiar with our brands but react and want different things in different parts of the country, being able to tailor our experiences keeps things exciting.
What is your favorite part of the job?
Making people feel like they are a part of something bigger than just the singular. Our lead designer’s career started out as window dresser, and when I share with my VMs that heritage and remind them that there are people all over the world striving to uphold our standard of beauty it really binds our efforts together. Its more than just making sure that there are perfect folds, etc. its making sure that our client is having the best experience surrounding their purchase.
VMs are the controllers of every environmental element in a boutique. We are the flagbearers for our company’s vision.
What advice would you give to up-and-coming VMs or folks who are considering it as a career path?
BE FLEXIBLE. In everything. Be flexible in the direction that your company is heading, even the most established companies today are trying new things to attract customers. New VM guidelines are usually one of the first areas changed when business may become challenged. Be flexible about where you are needed, when companies cut back and if VMs aren’t on the block, then you need to be able to wear all hats. Being able to analyze your business, help with stock, support your store-development/ops team and being the best brand ambassador for the company will make you vital to your company. Be flexible about where you want to live. NYC is great but there is a lot of great retail out there across the country, while the big apple may be fashion’s home there are a lot of opportunities out there.
What type of person do you think would do well in a VM role?
A real split mix of a type A and type B person, I believe make great VMs. Type A is successful in the planning stages and those finishing stages. You need to be able to do a lot of pre-work to make a project run smoothly and you need a detailed eye to make sure that all the “I’s” are dotted and those suits are pinned! Type B comes in handy somewhere right in the middle stages. This is where being flexible and reacting in the moment should all link with critical thinking to produce a great outcome. Type B people can have fun – get dirty! take risks and make the most of any situation.
Where do you go for VM inspo? Or more generally, what inspires you?
Beautiful interiors of buildings really get my mind racing about what a person interacting with that space would be wearing? What fabrics would complement the surfaces and materials of a room? How does the lighting help or hinder you from seeing things? What activities did they just get finished doing? Or what are they about to do? Does the temperature make you feel welcome or uncomfortable? I think doing pop up shops inside historical homes would be the most amazing collaboration. This would bring people who normally would not visit a historical home in to shop, and experience relevant or juxtapositions of clothing brands shown there.
What are your top merchandising pet peeves? (aka common mistakes you see retailers making that make you roll your eyes)
Poor mannequin pinning…if you can’t get what you want it to look like with 2 pins – think again!