A window on fashion — OCC students learn from brand masters at South Coast Plaza
South Coast Plaza, a premier destination for brand-conscious shoppers this week doubled as a classroom for Orange Coast College fashion students, who contemplated window displays as they learned the fine art of visual merchandising.
Small groups huddled together before posh storefronts Wednesday, observing the intricacies of register placement, materials selection, color and tone at mega retailers Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton and Saint Laurent, among others.
They were there at the behest of instructor Steve Jones, who teaches a Display and Visual Presentation class for OCC’s Fashion Department.
“What I really want you guys to think about is why this brand chose what it did for the storefront,” Jones told the class ahead of the assignment. “With each one of these brands, there’s a visual language and vocabulary. They’re trying to tell you something.”
Owner of boutique real estate development company bettershelter, Jones served as vice president of visual arts for Huntington Beach-based surfwear retailer Quicksilver from 1989 to 2007. There, he oversaw the design of hundreds of stores for the company and sister brand Roxy.
He’s been bringing students to South Coast Plaza for the past 15 years or so, finding it an ideal learning space for those interested in the business side of the industry.
Last year the Costa Mesa retail center generated a record $2.4 billion in sales revenue, according to South Coast Plaza representatives, a fact attributed precisely to the number and quality of the brands housed there.
Tenants Van Cleef & Arpels, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Cartier, Bulgari and Balenciaga are in the process of opening new locations or undergoing major expansions, while retailers Graff Retail, Balmain, Byredo, Bucherer, and Maison Margiela will open storefronts in the coming weeks and months.
“They’ve got all these incredible brands, and you can see these brands talk the talk and walk the walk,” Jones said of the complex
“To really be a full-fledged brand, even in today’s online economy, you have to have stores. Stores are a way for them to completely control the environment — it’s very much a brand builder.”
After receiving basic instructions for the day’s lesson, student groups set out to observe their assigned legacy brands and report back in 45 minutes with findings.
Elsie Walker, who transferred to OCC this year from Cypress College, was assigned to study the plaza’s Saint Laurent store.
The 20-year-old Huntington Beach resident noted the retailer’s many mirrored surfaces and use of the images of pop icons like Gigi Hadid, Zoe Kravitz and Hailey Bieber, which seem to reflect a shift from the tried-and-true traditional French luxe brand Yves Saint Laurent toward a more modern market.
“They’re trying to integrate those more popular styles and looks that Gen Z is interested in. [The store] is not necessarily trying to target the old money clientele,” Walker said. “It’s trying to connect with younger people who know it’s cool, but actually want to wear their clothes.”
Ella Brynteson, a 19-year-old Newport Beach resident whose group studied French retailer Hermès, is a second-year OCC student with aspirations of getting a job as a stylist in New York City.
Growing up in Boise, where her mom ran a consignment shop, fashion quickly became a personal passion that allowed her to create an identity.
“I didn’t fit in with the popular kids at my high school and couldn’t really figure out what was my thing,” Brynteson recalled in a talk after the class. “I would [shop thrift stores] after school, and it sort of became my personality, my friend.”
She said she feels fortunate to be able to take classes at Orange Coast’s Fashion Department, which offers a host of real-world, hands-on learning opportunities that expose students to the realities of working in the industry.
“Every class I have feels like real life. It doesn’t feel like school; it feels like a job,” she said.
That’s exactly the experience Jones wants students to have with the lesson, as they prepare to design their own retail storefronts for a final project and embark on their future careers.
“Where kids learn is by doing, so I’m trying to get out of the way,” he said of the class. “It’s meant for them to participate in a real life sort of way.”
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