A picture is worth a thousand words, especially when it comes to inspiring clients and educating hairdressers, and with 14,000 hairdressers delivering 20,000 services a year to inspire, illustrating the vision rather than explaining it is crucial. The alternative would be talking ourselves hoarse.
When JCPenny began its hugely ambitious plan to rebrand four years ago, its aim was to sustain its position as one of the best-loved salon brands in the country. It knew that to recruit and retain the calibre of hairdressers its clientele expected it had to prioritise and invest in a creative agenda. And that meant photographic collections.
I was brought it to describe, without saying a word, what our clients – professional women aged 25 to 55 years old – can expect when they visit one of our salons and what standards we expect from our partners around the country.
Twice a year my artistic team and I barricade ourselves in the studio for six days to produce 100 images that are ahead of the trends. It is utterly gruelling, possibly the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do in our careers. Behind every shoot is six months of obsessive planning and prep, squeezed in between an ambitious schedule of visits to every salon to train the team on the current collection.
Even though we are based in different regions we meet regularly to pore over the catwalks and soak up inspiration from hundreds of sources. The rest of the time we are in constant touch by Whatsapp, Facebook and, of course, Instagram.
I feel privileged. There are not many creative people who can spend so much time and energy on finding ways to capture their vision.
But the collections also have a second, crucial function – an educational role. And it’s what makes those six days so demanding. As we create each look, a photographer clicks away storing thousands of ‘how-to’ pictures that will be collated into individual pictorial step-by-steps for in-salon training. Alongside is a video technician capturing it all on film, allowing us to pick and choose which ones will become training videos.
From the shoot, two beautiful coffee table books are produced: one focused on trends for the clients to browse through; the second full of images accompanied with step-by-steps to show our partners how to achieve the look. We aren’t prescriptive; we don’t create looks that our stylists must recreate. What we produce are looks, accompanied by technical information, which inspire our partners, giving them the tools to create similar fashion-forward styles for their clients.
This top-flight educational material creates the basis of a highly structured education platform that we then roll out over six months with visits to every salon. It is invaluable, giving our stylists the opportunity once the artistic team is back on the plane heading to the next location to refer back to the images and reinforce their learning
The focus on artistic collections is just one part of the huge rebranding enterprise that began four years ago, but I would argue it is the most far-reaching and profound element of the whole process. It has put JCPenny back in the heart of hairdressing.