Institution of Exhibition – The Display Window

April 29, 2012

The window display is perhaps the most powerful communication tool a store has access to, and therefore the most important. Displays are changed frequently, both in the windows and the interior of the store. The person in charge of this is the ‘Visual Merchandiser’ and quite often larger stores and chains have whole departments dedicated to the development of the window displays and interior of the store.

“Institutions, then, not of confinement but of exhibition forming a complex of disciplinary and power relations…” (1)

On a superficial level the display window is supposed to suggest an association and a feeling, without taking focus away from the clothes, however the role of the display window is a lot more intricate. Although on one side, attracting customers with the latest fashion, the other side is one of confinement which uses the disciplinary and power relations abstractly to divide the customers into wanted and non-wanted.

The display window confinement is best illustrated through the examples of different brands, for example H&M versus Prada or Gucci. H&M typically has display windows with several mannequins, a lot of clothes and accessories, where Prada or Gucci usually has a display window with a significantly smaller amount of items, it may be a couple of mannequins or a few handbags, but reducing the number of items is the general strategy.

The same strategy is applicable for the interior of the stores, where H&M commonly have all the models and sizes of their products accessibly on display in store. This would be the opposite in Stores like Prada or Gucci, for example Prada’s flagship store in New York is an open, vast space – with hardly any clothes visible, yet again the reduction of numbers. So what effect does this have on the customers?

“…In doing so, it translated these into exhibitionary forms which, in simultaneously ordering objects for public inspection and ordering the public that inspected, were to have a profound and lasting influence…” (2)

Confinement through display windows – the stores are choosing and ‘sorting’ through their customers via the design of the storefront display. The institution of exhibition takes a form, where while arranging objects for public inspection it orders and abstractly restrains the public which inspects it, and furthermore, the field is reset so the inspecting public also becomes the inspected.

– Sofie Andersson


1 – Tony Bennett, ‘The Birth of the Museum’, Routledge, England, 1995, p. 59.

2 – Tony Bennett, ‘The Birth of the Museum’, Routledge, England, 1995, p. 61.


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