We’re not going to beat around the bush here, Anthropologie is one of our favourite stores. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to fall under the spell of their heavenly edit of fashion, home, gifts and, well, everything, you’ll know what we mean. It’s hard not to smile and go home with a bag or five when you experience the magic of their shelves, with the products being displayed in the most gorgeous yet approachable vignettes that entice and inspire, which is where Nicola St Louis comes in...
As a district visual manager for Anthropologie, Nicola supports the in-store visual teams to deliver beautifully curated store environments and when you take one look at her sense of personal style, it’s easy to see why she’s undoubtedly the perfect fit. With her knack for mixing colours that compliment rather than compete, clever mix of high and low brands and innate appreciation for design and fit, Nicola is the perfect advertisement for Anthropologie’s ode to uniqueness, fun and creativity.
“The role of VM has actually become more important in the digital age. I think that shoppers are looking for more sensory shopping experiences with a point of difference to make the journey to a bricks and mortar site worthwhile. A successful retailer needs to offer both a stylish and intuitive online experience as well as curated, exciting and engaging store environments. At Anthropologie, we like to keep our customers engaged with the element of ‘surprise and delight’ that come from creative visual merchandising and exceptional display.” It’s this passion for sensory experiences and clever in-store styling that have made Anthropologie last the distance in an otherwise embattled retail climate.
Ahead of Mother’s Day, we caught up with the delightful Nicola to talk about her path to visual merchandising to how her creative mother inspired her choice of career (and wardrobe!), and so much more. We also quizzed her mother Beverley on everything from her career as a fashion designer to raising a daughter. Ready?
Nicola wears Selected Femme Checked Blazer, £83.95, and Selected Femme High-Waisted Checked Trousers, £39.95, from Anthropologie. Beverley wears Colleen Stitched Jumpsuit, £120, and Gingham-Detailed Trench Coat, £160, from Anthropologie
Tell us about growing up with a fashion designer mother – what are some early memories of your childhood?
My mother’s fashion background taught me simply, to be individual. She studied fashion and made most of my clothes for me when I was little, at least the best ones! Creative direction began at an early age, and when she started to ask me what colour stitching I wanted on my dungarees (green to blend in, or pink to pop) – my interest in fashion was born. As she also made amazing pieces for herself, we’d spend some Saturday mornings in the John Lewis fashion pattern department and spend hours looking at the Vogue patterns. I still have a dress she made from a YSL couture pattern which I can fit into. A couple of times she bought me some ‘Simplicity’ patterns to try out. I was amazed at how all those flimsy pieces of paper came together to make such beautiful clothes – it seemed like a feat of engineering. We also used to go to a lot of ‘junk shops’ – I guess they’d be called ‘vintage’ these days – and we’d look for vintage dresses for the dressing up box, but we’d customise them when we got home. She’d ask me how I wanted the dresses to look and we’d get to work, added St. Louis couture!
You studied politics at university and it’s something you’re still very passionate about – how would you sum up your current opinion on politics?
As a politics graduate, it’s no surprise that I think there should be some sort of understanding of the British political system taught in secondary schools and as a former student, it’s currently a really exciting time. The country is in the midst of a political storm and the significant change this will trigger is fascinating to me. Both major political parties are suffering from widening schisms and the debate around coalition and third-party governance we indulged in as recently as five years ago has completely disappeared.
As a citizen, however, I am worried. I worry about the politics of division being used to stoke fears, I see a lot of economic scapegoating which concerns me, complicated issues being exploited in the name of populism and I find myself in the position for the first time since reaching voting age where I don’t feel there is a party that represents me. On a positive note, however, I feel like we are having intelligent and open conversations about inclusion, diversity and what that looks like. And I feel like we’ve moved from a period of disaffection towards an atmosphere where people are demanding the right to be heard, which I’m hoping will lead to intelligent political debate.
What does being a woman today mean to you and what qualities do you want to encourage in young girls?
Being a woman – and a black woman in particular, as I cannot divorce the two – I feel dynamic, multi-faceted and powerful. As a collective, we need to acknowledge and harness this power to gain further momentum. I don’t think that we are fully realising our potential. I am empowered and emboldened at how far we have come – we are having discourse on the complicated dynamics around womanhood and what that word ‘looks’ like. We are demanding equality and holding people to account. I’m proud of what has been achieved, yet also determined, as we still have so much work to do.
The most important message that I would want to relay to young girls today is we need to support and empower each other to greatness. The success of one is success for us all and compassion does not equal weakness. Be confident enough in your talent to not feel threatened by others, because we are always better together.
This year I have also been learning to be more comfortable standing in my own power. As a result, positive things have manifested. So my message to young girls would also be – ‘Your playing small does not serve the world. Who are you not to be great?’ – Nelson Mandela.
How do you handle things such as criticism or self-doubt?
I am actually my own worst critic. Over the years I have found ways to silence my ‘gremlin’ as I like to call it. I discovered that once you do this, everything else falls into place. I have a mantra for this – you cannot legislate for other’s behaviour, you can only control your reaction to it.
As a creative, I tend to put a lot of myself into my work. I’m passionate about what I do and I’m proud of that. It took me a while to learn how to have a healthy distance between myself and what I produced.
It’s not that I’m training myself not to care about what I do – I’ve taught my brain perspective. As my area of work is so visible and so speculative, there tends to be a lot of opinion. It’s 1) remembering that feedback – as long as it’s constructive and not personal isn’t necessarily about criticism – it’s simply just a different opinion, and 2) also remembering to breathe!
Talk us through your career path and how you arrived at Anthropologie?
I left university with a politics degree and an innate love of fashion. I’d had one foot in retail since the age of 16, which is also when I discovered that I was good at and enjoyed visual merchandising, spending my summer holidays doing VM workshops in stores around central London with the VM manager.
So after the initial ‘what do I do now I’ve left university’ panic, I joined London Arts which was an organisation which was responsible for funding music in London. I spent a couple of years there before the fashion pull became too strong and left to work for the central body which funded the fashion and arts colleges in London such as Central St Martins, London School of Fashion and Chelsea School of Art. It soon became clear to me that I needed to be closer to product, so I went full-time as in-store press officer for the DKNY store in Bond Street where I’d been working part-time since I’d left uni. As I’d been working there in some capacity for so long, the manager put me forward for a role as a senior merchandising coordinator for the wholesale business. This involved travelling around the country supporting the concession business and setting up the Milan showroom four times a year for market. I was there for five years before I moved on to become display manager and brand stylist for Miss Selfridge which involved concepting, budgeting and installing window schemes, styling campaign shoots and press days and managing the field display teams. I then finally found my way to Anthropologie after nine years of making special trips to the US to marvel at its glory and as one of its biggest fans. I used to tell my team when we visited that I would work there for free… five years later I had my dream job in my dream company.
What does a typical day entail for you?
My role is to ensure that my in-store visual teams are kept up to date with fashion, trend and concept information so they can plan their spaces for coming seasons. This involves being the conduit between the functions at head office i.e the buying, merchandising and allocation which dictate the product that hits the stores, and then visiting the different sites and types of stores in my district and working with the in-store teams to ensure a consistent visual message across the store profile.
The challenge is to make sure that the balance between the creative and commercial elements of the business are maintained effectively especially as Anthropologie is known for its in-store environments and its story telling through product.