Marissa Collections’ gamble on Palm Beach has paid off. The Naples, Fla.-born luxury retailer signed a lease for its approximately 3,300-square-foot space at Palm Beach’s Royal Poinciana Plaza in February 2021 and quietly opened with a small soirée in December. There were hoops galore to jump through — a saturated market as brands and multibrand boutiques followed the herd to Florida, the island’s strict preservation codes and COVID-19 construction woes. But they had an ace in hand: their Gem Award-winning fine jewelry gallery.
“The catalyst for us coming to Palm Beach was when Neiman Marcus pulled out, and it opened up a handful of our jewelry designers there. New York stores were also closed,” said chief executive officer Jay Hartington, son of founders Marissa and Burt Hartington. “We’d talked about a second store for years and first considered a pop-up but then decided to go all in.”
The store added the category 12 years ago and launched its jewelry gallery in 2013. Jay Hartington said jewelry sales organically grew from nearly nothing to 60 percent of the total business, which shot up 44 percent in 2021 and only dipped 3 percent in 2020. Clients may have skipped cocktail and runway attire during the pandemic, but a shiny new accessory was a different story.
“If you’re a shopper, you’re a shopper,” he said, of clients having money to spend. “Say you’re a family that normally takes a big trip to Europe or Stein Eriksen Lodge, but now you’re just staying in Florida or coming to Florida. Our jewelry sales went through the roof.”
The Palm Beach store’s merchandising makes it difficult to escape jewelry. Sylva & Cie and Mattia Cielo were formerly at Neiman’s, while Irene Neuwirth and Sidney Garber didn’t have Palm Beach representation. Some designers, like Melissa Kaye and Anita Ko, are also carried at the Naples location, but Marla Aaron and Brent Neale are exclusive to Palm Beach. The store stocks new David Webb pieces (his vintage designs can be found elsewhere on the island). The store hosts trunk shows on a weekly basis.
“People who are buying over-the-top jewelry 100 percent want to meet the designer. It’s like the art world,” Hartington said.
A piercing studio partnership with Venice, Calif.-based Stephanie Anders’ Royal Heritage Tattoo also drives traffic. Hartington said besides shaking up the Stubbs & Wootten set — Victoria Beckham recently stopped by for a service — the only local piercing options were Claire’s or tattoo parlors. The store also offers in-house alternations, a key amenity for eveningwear that isn’t common here. Hartington said they’ll add more event-driven attire, the store’s specialty clothing-wise, as well as the bags and shoes to tie it all together.
“We’re outpacing our forecasting. Clothing is killing it, too, and we need more of everything,” he said.
For her part, Marissa sought out clothing lines that didn’t have local representation. Australia has been a fresh source for what Hartington describes as “the new Ulla Johnsons.” She thrives on the challenge of cracking the market’s code of dress.
“You could drop her in Telluride, and she’ll figure it out,” he said, unfazed by the proximity of Kirna Zabête, the Webster and Fivestory New York. “They’re very good at what they do, but we’re a Florida store at the end of the day. We live and breathe Florida and know how to dress here.”
Compared to buying for Naples, Marissa is able to take a chance on small labels and buy more than a size run in Palm Beach. The chances of clients showing up to an event in the same outfit in smaller Naples is too risky. But both locations are trending younger.
“Our mentality is that Palm Beach is a laboratory,” said Hartington, of learning from its younger demographic and applying that confidence to be more dynamic in Naples. “We realized we weren’t attacking Naples like we could have. So many people moved there in COVID-19.”
Palm Beach store designer Harry Heissmann is involved with the renovation of the 20,000-square-foot Naples store, about half of which is selling space, over the summer. Hartington envisions adding an event space upstairs for fashion, jewelry and vintner dinners, bridal and baby showers and a salon series. He’s excited that a boutique hotel is opening across the street (Third Street South) in Naples, and for the mini–Marissa Collections to open in the renovated Ritz-Carlton, Naples in the fall. A car service will ferry guests to and from the flagship.
Marissa Collections is coming up on its 50th anniversary in 2025, but its namesake has no plans to retire, according to her son.
“She doesn’t golf.”