IWM (Imperial War Museums) is one of those museums every Londoner or tourist has visited at least once. Many locals could share their childhood memories connected to this museum. It is also a very special place for anyone interested in the history of Britain and trying to reconnect with it. Founded in 1917, today the Imperial War Museums complex has five locations around the country, three of which are in London. It focuses on the history of conflict in Britain, its former Empire and Commonwealth, from the First World War to the present. The museum boasts a vast collection of archives of personal and official documents, photographs, film, audio and video materials, an extensive library, a large art collection, examples of military vehicles and aircraft, equipment and other important artifacts. The key mission of IWM is to explore the impact of war on people’s lives.
One of our most memorable experiences visiting IWM was the incredible museum shop, which is in a way a continuation of the collection and reflects its spirit of the past. Every item of the shop speaks on the nature of war and reveals stories of people, places, ideas and events.
Museeum spoke to Laura Mullins, Head of retail at the IWM, to find out what makes this museum shop so special.
The idea of the IWM shop is rather different from the usual museum shop. Please tell us about its vintage concept.
Many of our products are derived directly from our collections, which means the vintage element is instantly translated, however we aim to ensure this is carefully balanced with contemporary elements and items to ensure the ranges remain relevant to our customers. We also spend a lot of time sourcing beautiful vintage items which we use as props to help curate our ranges as well as selling authentic vintage items such as our vintage Bakelite telephones!
How are the IWM collection and temporary exhibitions reflected in the museum shop selection?
Our aim is to create ranges of products which reflect the themes and stories in our remarkable museum collections. We’re always busy planning new products for our ranges; when we’re not out and about scouting for lovely new products, props or drawing up mood boards, we spend time talking to our museum historians or getting inspiration from the archives at our branches.
We’ve recently been working on a beautiful new range to support the exhibition Lee Miller: A Woman’s War, which opened in October. The exhibition explores the impact of the Second World War on women's lives through the photography of Lee Miller, one of the most important female war photographers of the twentieth century and the shop features prints produced using Lee Miller’s original negatives!
How do you curate the display?
We always look at the themes and stories which inspired the range as our starting point. Our products in each range are carefully selected and often carry wonderful stories themselves, and our amazing shop staff are always at hand to re-tell these stories to the customers. We then look at sourcing props for our products to sit with, whether that be a vintage kitchen table for our home ranges or an antique Singer sewing machine for our fashion ranges.
One of our most popular ranges is our Spitfire range as people are fascinated by the Spitfire’s history, heritage and ground-breaking design. We do a range of products based on Spitfire blueprint drawings which is very popular with our customers! Within this range one of our more unusual pieces is Spitfire shaped cufflinks which have been crafted from the metal of Spitfires which actually flew during the Second World War.What would be your top 3 gift selection for the upcoming holiday season?
1. Our pack of Christmas cards featuring 1940’s posters relating to the home front at Christmas as a unique take on sending cards to loved ones
2. Our vintage pill box lip balms are a beautiful gift for ladies
3. And our mini traditional plum pudding will make a perfect festive stocking filler
Any inspiring stories connected to the IWM shop you could share with us?
We collaborated with cult pattern specialists Patternity to create a range of products inspired by a type of camouflage named ‘dazzle’ which was used on ships in the First World War. Dazzle camouflage worked by tricking the eye, disguising the speed and direction of the ships as they traveled helping them to evade attack. We created a new design inspired by dazzle, and created a beautiful and eye-catching range of gift products which tell the stories of our collection whilst being beautiful items in their own right.