Penn State Graphic Design student Ashley Turcheck had her dream become reality when she snagged a summer internship at Michael Kors in New York City. Turcheck, who will graduate in May 2017, has long been a fan of Michael Kors and says she has loved fashion since she was a kid. At Penn State, she juggles her rigorous academic schedule with membership in the Blue Band, where she plays trombone and serves as graphic design chair. Below she shares her experience interning in the visual merchandising department at Michael Kors’ New York headquarters.
I have always had an undying love for fashion since I was a kid, so this made narrowing down where I wanted to intern for the summer very easy. I wanted to dive head first into the industry that I had been following so closely for years and live in the incredible fast-paced city that only seemed like a fantasy coming from rural Pennsylvania. Combining my passions for graphic design and fashion was the obvious route for me, and I wanted an experience where I would not only learn more about design in the “real world,” but also about all the different facets behind an international fashion company.
Michael Kors had been a brand I had come to revere, especially after seeing the man himself on “Project Runway” for years—the show that admittedly played a hand in my fascination with New York and everything that goes on in fashion. While applying for internships at the beginning of the spring 2016 semester, I took the chance with Michael Kors. It was one of the first couple of companies to which I applied. I honestly was not expecting any response. So, when I received an email requesting an interview with the visual merchandising team in April, I was surprised, ecstatic, and pretty much everything in between.
Visual merchandising is the strategic combination of design and retail to create the best experience for customers and the best outcome for the company. This can involve store design, deciding which products to display and the best way to display them, window design, store signage, fixture construction, floor sets, etc. As a visual merchandising intern, I primarily work with the wholesale division, deciding how to merchandise all of the department stores nationwide, including Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Bon Ton, Dillard’s, Lord & Taylor, Belk, and even Michael Kors shops on military bases, cruise ships, and in airports. This requires working with the specific buys for each store and their limited space, and coming up with creative ways to display and sell the products.
A lot of work goes into making these decisions. I have singlehandedly had to pull hundreds of samples and have conducted product photo shoots so that they can be used in the monthly directives for the stores. I have had to become very familiar with buys and the individual products, down to their names, their materials, and their colors (there is a very distinct difference between white and ecru). All of these factors go into deciding which handbags are featured on a wall versus a table, or which shoes go on the lower tier of a table versus the upper tier. I have been able to spend extensive time in all four of our beautiful showrooms with product that won’t even hit the racks until the holidays, and I get to attend monthly walk-throughs at the biggest department stores in New York City (including the famous Herald Square Macy’s on 34th Street) to see my work implemented firsthand in the Michael Kors shops.
I have also been exposed to visual merchandising for the stand-alone Michael Kors stores all over the world, allowing me to see the entire process behind extravagant window displays and campaigns for something that will not be seen for another year. One of the most interesting things is hearing the feedback from the company CEO and Michael Kors himself about the decisions made for the stores.
More than anything, this internship has been the ultimate learning experience. Working in visual merchandising has shown me the endless possibilities with having a degree in graphic design. While this may not be print design or web design, which many graphic designers set off to do, visual merchandising is a form of designing the environment around us, specifically retail environments. This internship has been the ideal bridge to my experience in retail and design, and it has built my knowledge of sales and business. The window of opportunity post-graduation has only been opened further with this experience and an unprecedented path set by a Penn State education. Working for a name as big as Michael Kors has left me wanting more, and I cannot wait to work towards the future.