Placement Experience: Siana Jones, Interior Architecture and Design, working with Karen Millen

Siana Jones is undertaking a Placement+ year, currently with her second placement Studio Four Architects. Here she talks about her first short placement with Karen Millen and what she got up to there!

What and Where?

I am a Store Development Assistant with Karen Millen.

Karen Millen has stores in over 65 countries across six continents, including flagship stores in London’s Regent Street and New York’s Fifth Avenue.

My daily tasks included, but were not limited to:
• Project Management
• Sketch Design Work
• Implementation of store designs and maintenance
• Arranging collections and deliveries
• Procurement
• Coordinating international shipping and logistics
• Engagement with partners and suppliers

Born and bred in England, Karen Millen is known globally for creating beautifully crafted fashion for confident women who know their own style.

The First Few Months…

During the first few months we had many concession refits around Europe. This ranged from Galeries Lafayette in Montparnasse, France, to 2 stores in the El Corte Inglés shopping centres around Spain. I had to project manage these, along with my manager. This involved ordering furnishings, fixtures, graphics, contractors and all other essential people and items needed to ensure that the refits were completed efficiently and correctly. It was at this point when I started to realise that retail is a tricky business to work in. When it came to the ECI stores, this was where my patience, skills and knowledge were really put to the test due to the many barriers that were getting in the way. Things such as Security issues, deliveries not being able to be placed in the holding bay of the Shopping Centre, meaning we had nowhere to put our furniture and fittings ready for the refit, amongst others, not to mention the international communication between our head office and multiple stores and various managers.

As well as all the above, I was then put in charge of my department during 2 weeks in August as my manager was on annual leave. Within this time, I had to open the 2 ECI concessions in Spain. I had only been working at Karen Millen for 2 and half months when I was given this opportunity, and as I said, it was very hard and extremely testing, but I took it in my stride. I learned a lot and taught myself some valuable lessons that I will take with me and apply to my professional practice in the future.

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Karen Millen Concession in House Of Fraser, Oxford Street, London

My Highlights…

To name a few, I found that taking trips to different locations, such as the Chelsea Harbour Design Centre to acquire samples for upcoming store refits, relocations etc. was very exciting as it gave me a real taste of what I would be doing in the future. It also confirmed to me the level of trust the higher management had in me. This was because I was trusted to choose and bring back a variety of samples that we would be using in our stores, for both mine, and the Visual Merchandising teams.

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I was also given the opportunity to design a workstation for the stores. This was designed to help ensure that the “Ship from store (SFS)” and “click and collect” processes were efficient and seamless. I had to think of every possible element that would be needed during the “SFS Process” and apply these to the station. This included things such as hooks and shelves for 4/5 different size bags, shelves for stationary, printer and laptops, a pull out desk amongst other features. There were also the smaller design details such as cable holes in the back for easy access to wires and easy lock wheels to stop it from rolling/moving. This project had a rough budget of around £1000, and although it doesn’t look ground breaking, it was a huge step for me as I had control over every step of the design process, and now I know that something I designed will be in every Karen Millen store around the world.

However, I would say the biggest highlight from working at KM was being sent on an all-inclusive trip to one of the Concessions in a department store called Printemps, in Lille, France. I was assisting the KM Country Manager in setting up the store, merchandising and ensuring it was all completed properly and up to standard. This was normally the role of the “Global Visual Merchandising Manager”.

This was the biggest highlight of the placement because of the skills it taught me, going from never having set a store up under my own supervision to successfully re-opening this concession essentially overnight. It was a truly invaluable experience and I was proud to be given the chance to have control of such an important project, especially considering I wasn’t even a graduate.

“The end of the beginning” – Winston Churchill

As I was coming to the end of my placement I was been given the opportunity to “leave my mark” with Karen Millen by redesigning the London Head Office Kitchens. Throughout the last few of weeks of placement, I had been designing 3 new concepts for the new KM Home kitchens. This proved both exciting and challenging; exciting because of the project itself and the opportunity it gave me, and challenging because I was working to a tight budget. This meant sourcing materials that were of a good quality and had the correct lead time/delivery dates, that also fitted the concept without going overbudget was difficult but very interesting. Once I was confident with my proposal, these concepts were presented in front of the “Forum” who had nothing but good
things to say! They even showed them to the CEO who absolutely fell in love with them, and especially loved one of my Concepts- “Magie Des Champignons” which was my Mushroom and Champagne Gold concept.

After a couple of days and countless “What ifs”, the final decision was made on which concept was going to be chosen. It was the “Magie Des Champignons”. This was very exciting for me as it was my favourite concept out of those I had proposed so I couldn’t wait to dive in and start designing my materiality visuals. I spent the last few weeks of my internship at Karen Millen drawing up the Final Concept and it is now due to be built over the next couple of months.

My Final Goodbyes…

As my final week at KM approached, I spent most of it writing up notes ready for my handover on my last day. It was a pretty hectic last week, and I felt as though my leaving was poorly timed due to the amount of work that was being handed to us that I knew I wouldn’t be around to help with. I spent my last day tying up any loose ends, cleaning out my drawers and finished it with a good old fashioned Karen Millen Sample sale (another perk to the job).

Overall, I would say that working at Karen Millen- although not at all what I expected- was an amazing and invaluable experience where I learnt things that you can’t be taught at University. I am extremely grateful to the team and everyone I worked with, they all taught me things that I never would have expected to learn/need to know in such a short period of time, and really boosted my confidence in both my design and organisational skills.

Now…

I am now currently working for Studio Four Architects in Romsey as an Architectural Assistant and have been for the last 2 months. I am working on lots of exciting projects, one of which includes the total redesign of an Outdoor Activity Centre in Eastleigh. I am also learning how to use different Architectural and non Architectural softwares that I most definitely wouldn’t have the chance to use at University. These skills I am currently learning- paired with everything I learned at Karen Millen have made me feel much more confident in my abilities, and I know that when I go back to University this confidence will help me reach my goal of graduating with a good grade, and the professional skills I have learned will definitely make me feel more confident when
attending job interviews once I graduate.

Visuals I created using “Twinmotion” for a project I am currently working on.

How did Creative Careers support you during your placement search?

Creative careers were brilliant throughout my search and applications. They encouraged me to use their resources as much possible and are really helpful if you ever need any advice. They provide CV and covering letter checks to ensure you are making yourself as employable as possible and give you the chance to do mock interviews to prepare you for the type of questions you may be asked. They also dealt with my contracts for my current work placements to ensure everything was correct and that I was being given a fair contract.

What new skills have you developed?

I have developed a range of skills across my two placements, some of which will benefit me when I go back to university for my third year, and some that have prepared me for working life.

Karen Millen provided such a varied environment that I was working on several projects simultaneously, and project management was a key role of mine. This type of work has boosted my confidence going back to university, as it developed my time keeping and organisational skills, both of which I struggled with at the start of the placement. Part of the job was also to give presentations to staff all the way up to the CEO. Having responsibilities such as this boosted my confidence which I will be able to carry into university, whether it is for giving presentations or other work of this nature.

Studio Four has presented me with a completely different type of work, however it has meant that I have developed some vital skills for my final year. One of my key roles is to draw technical drawings using all types of CAD software for a range of projects, getting the chance to do this to an industry standard has given me great experience, it has also considerably improved my already existing skills on several drawing software’s such as AutoCAD, Revit, Photoshop, and InDesign.

What advice would you give to students who aren’t sure whether to do a placement or not?

I would say GO FOR IT! It may not have been exactly what I was expecting, but you will never be able to know what it is going to be like until you try it. All I know is that I am so glad that I chose to do it. It has really boosted my confidence and the people I have met along the way have made it so much better. I have met people who I know I can rely on if I ever need any help or assistance in the future, even companies I have spoken to along the way who unfortunately weren’t hiring at the time have told me I am free to contact them whenever I need. Doing a placement really does open up so many doors for you- I had even been asked if I wanted to work part time for Studio Four when back at University for my third year. The way I see it, you never know until you try, but definitely try, the good thing is, if you don’t like it or decide it’s not for you, if it’s before September you can continue your studies.

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