Designed by our in-house creative team, the 2019 Christmas windows feature 47 kilometres of reprocessed ribbon. Over 26,000 of the red ribbon drops form the immersive welcome to The Conran Shop.
Made from recycled plastic waste collected from the Mediterranean sea and local recycling sites, the harvested waste is transformed by a machine process and woven into reclaimed polymer ribbon. The recycling process requires fewer stages than normal, meaning less energy and water is utilised at the production, spinning, and dyeing stages versus traditional yarn and fabric dyeing. Importantly, after Christmas, the ribbon will be repurposed and reused for our gift wrapping service throughout 2020.
We sat down with Betsy Smith, the Head of Creative Presentation at The Conran Shop to discuss the iconic windows, the inspiration behind them and the meaning of all that ribbon.
Where did the idea come from? What was your inspiration behind the design concept?
We decided the windows should be all red very early on at our initial brainstorming sessions. It was a natural and logical choice following the last few Christmas windows, last year was all white. We wanted the colour to be really dramatic and impactful in its own right so we chose to play with the power of red on red, on a dramatic scale.
We knew we wanted the colour to glow and transcend surfaces and become an all-consuming immersive environment. For inspiration, we looked at the paintings of Mark Rothko, Anish Kapoor pigment sculptures and James Turrell’s light installations, where you are drawn into and absorbed by colour, and where it becomes more emotive than decorative.
The challenge was to figure out a way to create a festive environment that was simply about the power of the colour and wasn’t too complex or heavily constructed. We were aiming for a contemporary interpretation of Christmas, an installation that felt effortless and simple and that transmitted a festive warmth and light more abstractly. We incorporated a very gentle and refined sense of movement, which plays with light and shadow and is reminiscent of a flickering candle or open fire.
Sustainability is an important sub-theme here - can you tell us more about this?
Sustainable design is important to us as a brand. It’s something we are paying more attention to and investing in across all levels of the business. Our ambition with this year’s Christmas window was to make as little waste as possible when putting everything together, hence the eco-friendly ribbons. Through a mechanical process, the bottles are transformed into Polymer which is then woven into the ribbon – the use of the recycled polyester requires fewer processing stages, meaning less energy is utilised in the production of the ribbon.
A sustainable approach and mindset are crucial today, for the individual as much as for brands and institutions. Everyone can contribute to change, even the smallest actions count and add up quickly – it’s about changing people’s awareness, perception and attitude.
Are the stands that the products are sitting ongoing to be recycled? Or are they made from recyclable materials also?
The plinths aren’t made from 100% recycled materials, however, we tend to reuse as much of our prop as possible so they’ll most likely be used for another window or floor display in the future, or recycled as appropriate. Also, the LED lighting around the base is ‘second hand’ as it’s been featured in a few of our window displays in the past.
The thick felt top is a sound-proofing material created from sustainable resources (and more plastic bottles! – meaning a good majority of this year’s window is recycled plastic bottles).
How do you expect visitors will react to the display?
Hopefully, they’ll find themselves soaked into it and inspired to walk around it – the window looks different from all angles and is very interactive and playful as you can see through the ribbons and run your hands through them. The simple yet dramatic red backdrop showcases our amazing Christmas gifting offer, which we of course hope will grab their attention further.
We have a lot of customers who visit the stores every year purely to see our Christmas windows. Many tend to be fairly vocal about what they think about them as well, which I love as am always keen to take feedback onboard, good as well as less so. So far this year, a lot of customers have been overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of ribbon drops and curious as to how we managed to hang so many.
The Conran Shop invests heavily into their window displays - can you speak to how important this is for us?
The scale of the windows allows us to create truly dramatic displays and this is enhanced by the current full height mirror on both end walls of the space which makes it feel endless. It allows us to be playful with design, to tell a story and take the customer along on an inspirational journey. The store visit begins and ends with the window, it’s the first and last thing our customers experience, and so what we showcase in the windows really matters – it’s very central to the ‘Conran Shop experience’.
We always design with the customer in mind, and we want them to be wowed and impressed as soon as they enter the store. At the same time, and an equally important aspect of the design process, the windows need to appeal from the outside too, and have the power to draw people in.
When will the ribbons be used as gift wrapping? Are they free for those buying in-store or available at an additional cost?
The ribbons will be used for gift wrapping after the display has finished in the new year. It will be part of our in-store gift wrapping service at no additional cost, available for customers who shop at The Conran Shop.
Did you work with a particular organisation to source the ribbons? Can you tell us more about the work that they do?
We started by researching and experimenting with lots of different red materials: fabrics, lighting gels, plastics, rope and coloured sand amongst others before we settled on the ribbon.
We then tested loads of different types of ribbons, trying to overcome various problems such as curling, creasing and the amount of static conducted. We selected a recycled ribbon made from recycled plastic bottles and thus were environmentally friendly as this was an important element to us. The ribbons hung beautifully and have a slightly translucent quantity when light shines through, so we knew we needed to nest lighting within the ribbon to bring out the glow.
The ribbon was sourced for us by DZD who we have worked with for many years and are a well know UK supplier of display props and materials.
How does this year’s window display differ to previous years in terms of design and material approach?
This year’s window has a warm glow to it, especially when compared to the stark white icy appearance of last years. We opted for the flat ribbon drops to create the 3D structure and volume in the space, with the result being a very honest and simple display without too much heavy construction and waste – which, as mentioned, was a big part of the brief.
What key products are featured in the display? Were particular products chosen because of how they work with the design of the window?
Our rich gift collection is showcased on two simple long plinths with thick felt tops. It was important for us to demonstrate a carefully edited selection of our beautiful gifting offer – the selection on display will rotate over the coming weeks to keep the window fresh and interesting.
The selection, placement and styling of the product required careful consideration as the plinths need to be full enough to look seductive and enticing, but also clean enough to echo the geometric aesthetic at the same time. To achieve this, we added different scales and heights of product, to avoid it looking flat from a street-point-of-view. We also considered the adjacency of products carefully to ensure we had a thread running through the arrangement, including the material, colour and function of the product. The plinths have a lit shadow gap at the bottom which gives off a floating illusion.
Have you looked at other leading Christmas displays in London, how does The Conran Shop’s differ in terms of approach?
Yes. It’s important to be aware of what other brands are doing, and there are some beautiful displays out there. At The Conran Shop, we aim to design windows that are contemporary and emotive of Christmas but not literal, and you will not see any traditional Christmas motifs in-store. This year’s immersive installation encapsulates a glow and sense of warmth befitting for the festive season in a simple, contemporary and surprising way.