Our website uses cookies

Cookies enable us to provide the best experience possible and help us understand how visitors use our website. By browsing Retail Design World, you agree to our use of cookies.

Okay, I understand Learn more

VM Inspiration: the taste of Elvis

Inspiration VM installations can come from anywhere, but is surprising how frequently cars appear in store windows. The car is an icon from which any amount of meaning is deduced. Representing class, position, wealth, interests and above all taste, cars have always stated in shorthand just who their owner is.

There are some interesting cars and other objects in the Elvis exhibition at London’s O2, which might provide statement VM inspiration and illumination.

Elvis’s pink Cadillac, a 1955 Sixty Special Fleetwood, was originally blue with a black roof but Elvis had it repainted to replace his first Cadillac - a pink one which was destroyed after the brake lining caught fire while he was driving it. Elvis kept this one, later driven by his mother, for the rest of his life. Its very colour would be a relatively unusual male choice today, where pink is associated with Barbie dolls, cute (it is very popular in Asia), and femininity.

A luxury car of its time, this Cadillac was produced in the middle of the period of exaggerated tailfins, wraparound windshields, two-tone paint and extensive use of chrome instigated by Cadillac head of design, Harley J. Earl. These effectively exploited the annual replacement of the panel presses which formed the car’s bodywork. The engine and chassis received relatively little development in this period, but significantly changing the panels conveyed the impression of a new car and ensured very desirable annual replacement sales.

In VM terms, classic and vintage cars attract huge attention as witnessed by any of the well-attended car meets around the UK during the summer. Entire families and all age groups attend. Placed in-store or in a window too, cars command attention.

Replacing the Cadillac, on the bodywork of which Miami-based fans wrote all over a year later, was this Lincoln Continental. A limited edition costing US$10,000 this was the most expensive car of its day, with Lincoln created as owner Ford’s premium brand in much the way that Toyota later created Lexus. The average Ford cost $2,000 at the time. The Continental was the luxury car. Presley, who bought and sold cars almost every year after becoming a hugely successful performer, retained this one. It represented success.

Frank Sinatra had one, so did Elizabeth Taylor. Presley’s had a white leather headlining. Like many customers today, this guy was really keen on cars.

There is more than cars to the exhibition. For great VM inspiration try this Art Deco-inspired 11.5carat diamond ring sparkling with the letters TCB. ‘Taking Care of Business (in a flash)’ was a popular acronym adopted by Elvis towards the end of his career. A gift from his daughter, it is accompanied by a lightening flash motif picked out in diamonds, also employed on other objects belonging to Presley.

Images of the interior of Presley’s graceful, classical, colonial revival-style home, Graceland, are included in the exhibition.

Purchased by Presley in 1957, Graceland was largely decorated by his then girlfriend, actress Linda Thompson, and it still evokes comments on questionable taste today. Preserved unchanged, it reflects historic images of success we might recognise. A number of rooms, as this sitting room, are mostly white with gold accents, sometimes with a single dominant colour, be it purple or royal blue.

This restrained use of colour may have been a fashion of the period, which resonates rather oddly with today’s prevalent use of ‘interior colour plus white.’ Other rooms, which were perhaps more frequently used by Presley, reflect the popular culture of the time. For example, a less formal sitting room was themed as a Hawaiian jungle complete with waterfall. This to our eyes is an example of lurid kitsch. To VM professionals it is both delectably, deeply fascinating and slightly repellant.

Presley was popular in a period where fame and riches beyond imagination allowed a pleasurable fulfillment of fantasy. This gold phone must have represented undreamed of success to a boy brought up in poverty in a two-room shack.

While to our sophisticated VM eyes this seems naively glitzy, we all recognize the human impulse to celebrate unexpected fortune in many of today’s customers. Today designers, stylists, and VM professionals all help mediate this impulse, paring the object down so that it does not overtly scream ‘new money’ and neither offends in its brashness nor invites mockery.

Changing notions of taste have always existed, be they embodied in cars, interiors, fine jewellery or gold phones. An important part of a VM professional’s role is to mediate their acceptability through display.

Elvis at The O2 runs until 10 Jan. 2016.