Click here for link.
Universal Display and Design has undergone significant changes this year. Only recently Anthony Lombardi, formerly of DK Display, formerly of Saks, was brought in as its new Creative Director. Bill Conklin, formerly of Patina-V, formerly of Goldsmith was brought on as Sales Director. (Two nicer people would be had to find in this industry. Trust me, I’ve looked!) Between the two of them, and with less than a few months, have recreated the sartorial point of view of the company. Kudos! This is an accomplishment that deserves attention. My photos only are evidentiary, a kind of forensic to help tell the story, but unlike every other showroom (the vast majority with their standard titanium white eggshell walls) was painted in a rich impressionistic blue. Brilliant! A real color. An actual choice. Universal gets an A for making an artistic statement, also known as a decision, and standing by it, and a relatively daring choice in our world of cowardly vanilla. Blue can be a difficult color, it’s complicated, but a color when understood, and chosen correctly that Monet valued for its sereneness and depth. The Universal Showroom blue is a warm blue that was further enriched by generous amber lighting. A blue that grounded the second floor showroom, and was watery and warm as lilies in Giverny. (I might repaint my bedroom that color!) To temper the femininity of the blue, rough hewn jute cord with its fibrous fly away strands were meticulously strung like harp strings from floor to ceiling creating demi-walls and backdrops. (I once read an article in that old “Flair” magazine about two bachelors in Greenwich Village who did the same thing in their studio apartment. What can I say, it‘s a classic!) It’s a great example of what can be achieved with a minimal budget, and a bit of creativity. It looked smart. I’m surprised that my favorite store, Anthropologie hasn’t done it yet. Creating more with less is a challenge that many Visual Merchandisers are trying to accomplish these economy angst ridden days. Universal pulled it off. Getting down to brass tacks…the mannequins were shown in a nice mix of grey, natural (read: Caucasian) and gloss white finishes. Also present was a great collection of mannequins artfully collaged in inspired Chinese newsprint donning teeny weenie bikinis (very hip), and peppered into the amalgam were a few masculine wood tones with coordinating props. Oversize bowling pin props with their pear shaped derrieres were a covert contrast to the femenine hourglass shaped mannequins The fashion was all RTW, but a nice mix of optimistic colors with neon pops of color, and this year’s fashion trend, classic soft flannel plaids and tartans. One of Lombardi’s bailiwick at Saks was fashion merchandising, and clearly he still excels at it. The fashion consisted of excitingly layered colors. He can shop for me anytime. I also appreciated the artful use of dramatic lighting befitting a broadway production. Alas, so many showrooms rely on hot white spots and merely call it a day. Universal used light and shadow to help tell a story. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I vividly recall when retailers like Bonwit Teller and B. Altman used to create intense psychological moods to enhance the garment through the use or lack of light. Lombardi and Conklin are too young to recall those retailers, still the showroom invokes the ghosts of Visual Merchandisers who used to labor or constructing lighting scemes.
Universal also introduced great mini-mannequins (just 95.00) which were perfect for caselines, counters and props and reminded me of Lester Gaba’s gorgeous 1930’s soap sculptures. (Sorry I didn’t get a great photo of Universal's, but you’ll go online to view them!) My only criiticism was that I wish more was made of them, but this is a needle in a hay stack.While there was an array of mannequin styles running the gamut from abstract to hyper-realistic, unlike other showrooms that were overwhelming, and tended to appear like things were being thrown at you, there was no sense of schizophrenia, or chaos at Universal, the collection was presented cohesively, confidently and demonstrated how great a diversity of product could look in store. If you are in the New York area, I can only encourage you to visit. www.universaldisplay.co.uk