Checking Out: John Kerr

One of Australia’s most prolific visual merchandisers is celebrating his 30th year in the business. But he started before that with shoeboxes and cellophane
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Posted May 31, 2018

Thirty years in visual merchandising! How did it start for you?

There was never any question in my mind. From a very young age, I was creating dioramas inside shoeboxes with cotton wool and colored cellophane stretched over torches – my destiny was set.

What was the state of VM in Australia in 1988?

In the late ’80s, retail establishments were closing their in-house VM studios, which created an opportunity for me to fill. The Myer department store Christmas windows were a goal and to pitch for that required a company structure. So, at age 20, I started Stage One with the intent of providing artistic production resources to the visual merchandising industry.

What have been your favorite types of windows?

Those that combine trickery of theater, 3-D modeling, clever masking, a light show and animatronics. They become ‘miniature stages of the street.’

Is there one piece of work you’re most proud of?

Department store David Jones presents its annual Flower Show each September in the Sydney flagship store. Chanel was invited to present a hero window, and we created a miniature Chanel façade. Each window was animated and opened to reveal a Chanel fragrance that suited a particular time of day, with the overall display synchronized to a light show featuring dawn to dusk to midnight.

How has technology changed visual?

In today’s selfie culture, it’s always rewarding to witness shoppers being attracted to a window or in-store prop and taking an in-the-moment photo opportunity. It’s reassuring to know that our human eye will always be attracted to the third dimension.

Talk about how your work has evolved in 30 years.

Today, we measure a window’s success on the quantity of postings on Instagram. Retail windows now have more exposure in the digital world than ever before. They’ve become topics of social commentary.

Still getting satisfaction from it?

To this day, that final moment before the windows are revealed is still addictive. The final rush to turn working lights off and make that last touch, while working my way out of a window as the blinds are being raised to reveal our efforts to Melbourne, greater Australia and the world – it’s still exhilarating.

However, the day I complete the perfect window will be the day to retire. Until then, I am my own worst critic. 

Myer Melbourne seems intertwined in your life.

Yes, from a young age. My family’s annual Christmas pilgrimage into Melbourne to view the Myer windows increased my fascination with visual merchandising. At age 10, I recall telling my mum, ‘One day I will make these windows myself.’

And you did.

During my early years in business, I serviced Myer with production support. This got me in the door. I was able to pitch for the design and production of the Christmas windows, unsuccessfully in 1992 and ’93, but [the] third time I was lucky – in ’94 I was finally awarded the contract at age 25.