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VM inspiration: autumn leaves

As we move into autumn and the leaves turn yellow, then red, then russet, and start to fall from the trees, inevitably we see a few arrayed in store windows. Sometimes, be they plastic versions or real ones, these leaves look like an afterthought. But I’d like to share a variation which seems very well considered.

The problem with ‘real’ leaves is that small insects also like them, so they must be checked carefully before they are used in the window. Otherwise, as the store warms up, small sleepy insects wake and try to fly towards the glass: dead insects are never a good look in any store window. Plastic leaves, although a logical choice, are not very compelling and always look a little trite unless used very creatively.

Children’s shoe store Papouelli, in London’s Marylebone Lane, has filled the middle of its window with branches of real autumnal leaves hanging from a metal grid. Using entire suspended branches allows the leaves to survive a little longer than they might do otherwise, and to curl a little more slowly than they would if stripped from the branch. This prevents a withered look, which does not make an attractive display, and suggests a thoughtful, considered approach. Below the suspended grid is an unpainted wooden crate in the centre of the open-backed, carriage window, festooned with more autumnal leaves, which visually link the upper and lower parts of the window.

The nicest touch is the star anise spice sprinkled between the pairs of shoes on the floor of the window. Given the relatively small scale of the merchandise, children’s shoes, to use even small autumn leaves would have overwhelmed the display. Star anise is a dried fruit harvested in SW China and northern Vietnam, where it is used in China’s classic five-spice powder and Vietnam’s pho noodle dishes, and the split, flattened fruits nicely echo the irregular edges of the dried leaves, as does the spice’s natural brown colour. Lastly, the dappled light that the overhead mesh and leaves create adds a sparkly touch to the window, making the floor resemble the autumn countryside with its low sun shining through trees.