When the executives at Melissa, the Brazilian footwear brand known for its colorful PVC jelly shoes, decided to open its second store — the first outside of Brazil — in New York City, it was not with ambitious sales projections in mind. In fact, they prefer not to think of it as a store at all. “The point is not to sell a lot of Melissas. It’s a galeria,” said Paulo Pedo Filho, Melissa’s brand director, using the Portuguese word to describe the space at 102 Greene St., which opens Wednesday, and is not to be confused with a museum. “There are no portraits. It is not a gallery.” What he meant is that the space was conceived as an interactive experience, where the brand identity is radiated through art and design as much as the shoes, which are displayed and available for purchase.
Creating a unique aesthetic was key. Creative director Edson Matsuo worked with architects Domingos Pacascali and Moema Wertheimer to create a bi-level “urban cavern,” ultramodern in its all-white plaster walls and resin-painted floors. Throughout, brightly colored Melissa shoes are perched on movable pedestals meant to evoke stalagmites. The recent collaborations by Jason Wu (dainty styles with his owl logo attached) and Gareth Pugh (black and white chunky gladiators) are up front, while the more classic styles (ballet flats, sandals, wedges) and kids’ shoes run toward the back. In the center of the store is a spiral staircase that leads to a lower level, which will serve as the focal point of a rotation of art installations beginning with a vivid mural and illustrated projection by the Brazilian artist Eli Sudbrack, who recently designed Gaga’s Workshop for Barneys New York.
Melissa invested $5 million in the SoHo space, yet the firm is not banking on seeing the return in same-store volume. Filho estimates that the label’s first store, also a concept space located in São Paulo, accounts for only two percent of global sales. Since opening it six years ago, the company reports a 300 percent increase in overall sales.
If Melissa is slightly enigmatic outside its domestic market, it’s a household name in Brazil. A native Brazilian in WWD’s office likened the brand to Keds — almost everyone has owned a pair at one point in their life. Launched in 1979 in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, Melissa is owned by Grendene, Brazil’s largest shoe manufacturer and exporter, the parent company of Grendha, Ipanema, Grendha Kids and Rider. Melissa’s trademark is its PVC jelly shoes that are mold-injected in a single piece. The brand profile has been raised through designer collaborations, including Thierry Mugler, Zaha Hadid, Vivienne Westwood, Gaetano Pesce and the Campana Brothers. Retail partners include Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman, Galeries Lafayette and Colette in Paris and Corso Como in Milan. Melissa has plans to open two more galerias in the short term, one in London in 2012 and another to follow in Asia.