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VM Basics: Bespoke fixtures

We have become rather accustomed to generic retail fixtures, which could be employed in any one of a hundred stores. Even Anthropologie’s wiggly rail and Marni’s arced chrome fixture, with its bespoke hook-less hangars, have become almost generic. But there is a very specialist category of fixtures that might perhaps inspire personalised store fittings across all retail sectors.

The store above belongs to a camera-shy expert on walking sticks, who is in the process of closing his long-established store located within two blocks of the Grand Place in Brussels. As he explained, the walking stick business is no longer viable. But he allowed Retail Design World to photograph the store.

This elderly metal wall fixture, perched on slabs of stone, was made especially for walking sticks. Each ring (many now missing) is far too small to showcase an umbrella. But despite its rather worn appearance, how lovely this piece of retail history is, set against a soft olive green wall and surrounded by carved African art. Its very size suggests the extensive collection of sticks it was designed to accommodate.

Of course, fashions change. Any such fixture made today would be far smaller, reflecting the decline in the popularity of sticks as fashion items and their shift in category away from fashion and towards efficient but rather dull medical equipment.

The smaller fixture in the foreground has a domestic scale, and an Edwardian look with its machine-turned metal finials. It might be found today in a provincial doctor’s waiting room, accommodating wet umbrellas.

The store has become as much a museum of walking stick display stands as it is a walking stick retailer. This example is a delight: a metal ball-finished claw holds each of the sticks in place on the perimeter of the stand. The entire fixture is held on a central pole, mounted on a slightly-tarnished central plinth, decorated with incised swirls. A lovely piece of design, this is robustly useful yet beautiful in its own right.

This is rather an oddity. Perhaps it was intended to showcase a single walking stick as much as to store one? Perhaps it was intended to be purely decorative? Alternatively, perhaps it was designed to hang a selection of curved-handle walking sticks from? The wooden hands on the wooden wall-mounted plaque might allow the stick they are holding to be changed, but possibly not easily. There is a touch of African carving about the hands, which is not seen in the wall mount, and which looks altogether newer. I wonder if the two elements were combined some time after the hands were created, perhaps originally to hold a spear or an arrow? Certainly, an ivory-tipped walking stick would not have originally been used as a VM fixture.

This fixture has a delightfully ambiguous look too. Was it originally a mirror frame that has been personalized, with hooks either side and an angled metal extension below, to accommodate even more walking sticks? Was it an inexpensive solution to a plethora of merchandise that demanded wall display? Either way, its creation was a while ago: today’s brass cup hooks are rather simpler than the nicely finished versions used here.

The picture frame is, of course, a classic VM trope. It draw customer attention towards the space within the frame. The way in which the sticks break the bounds of the frame, and yet are balanced by the void space in the upper half, is visually very pleasing. A contemporary version of the same idea might be used for any slim merchandise today including umbrellas, brooms, or mops.

An alternative to specialised metal fixtures is a classic cane basket. This is a nicely-made basketry example from European reeds, and similar to the craftsmanship still available in the wetter parts of the UK and Europe. It should last for years if not exposed to sunlight or the weather. Its neatly-woven surface contrasts pleasingly with the wooden forms of the walking sticks but again, baskets make wonderful containers for mops and brooms too – as a scaled up version of a florist’s display techniques.

A definite retail piece, this gloriously eye-catching fixture was clearly designed to display walking sticks to their very best, with its stacked rings and individual cups to support the tip of each stick.

The store owner explained the provenance of this piece: it had been created for a man who was a member of a Masonic lodge, hence the triangular shape. He either had a lot of visitors, all users of walking sticks, or a large collection of his own. To the left are three smaller versions of the large circular stand above, each with a similar incised weighted base, but this time with a single short straight row of rings and matching cups below to accommodate the end of the walking stick.

When this store closes in the near future the world will have lost something. That retailing can be so charmingly happenstance is a view fast disappearing from the West, driven by the necessary pursuit of return on rental.

Perhaps in its closing days, it might inspire the future development of retail fixtures with a little more personality than we have seen of late.