Shoe Show

Galeria Melissa invites customers into a space that merges art, fashion, design and sustainability for a next-generation retail space that serves as a cultural touchstone.

By Jenny S. Rebholz

A juxtaposition of elements draws people in and, before they know it, they are at the heart of a retail experience. It doesn’t matter that they don’t know exactly where they are; they are hooked. This visual artistry is how Brazilian footwear brand Melissa is expanding its presence in the New York fashion scene. By moving to a new 8,000-sq.-ft. space, it has introduced a flagship location in the heart of the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District. It’s the perfect setting to share its Galeria concept, an environment so engaging that it transcends shopping to provide a truly signature experience. With an inspired concept from visual designer Muti Randolph, the design team at New York-based Mancini Duffy realized this unique retail vision that combines a high-end retail environment with a gallery platform.

Owned by Grendene, the largest retailer in Brazil, Melissa is one of its most significant brands with international recognition. The brand merges art, fashion, design and sustainability, and has embarked on numerous collaborations with singers, models, artists, and fashion and design icons, including Karl Lagerfeld, Alessandra Ambrósio, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Zaha Hadid. The brick-and-mortar Galeria concept enhances the retail experience by showcasing contemporary artists who are aligned with the Melissa brand.

The design team wanted to deliver impact and distinctly introduce the brand in this iconic area—what is considered ground zero for fashion. “Everything is landmarked in this area and we were dealing with a historic façade, so there were limitations to what we could do with the exterior,” explains Ali Aslam, associate with Mancini Duffy. The team used the double-wide façade and historic cast iron detailing to their advantage, allowing it to become the touchstone for everything that happens after.

Located at 500 Broadway in New York, the retail space is broken into four distinct experiences, the first being the entry sequence. “We created an immersive experience just beyond the historic storefront,” Aslam describes. “Three LED panels and mirrored surfaces transport people from the hustle and bustle of the streetscape into an otherworldly experience. It is an interesting dichotomy of façade and a ‘twilight zone’ experience. We departed from traditional product-focused window displays, using art to attract attention.”

Enticed by color, light and movement, visitors journey through this kaleidoscope-like entry via a metal bridge. They are mesmerized by the dynamic digital display that is a rotating installation (every three months) of one of the brand’s featured artists. Grendene and Melissa have always used retail spaces as art showcases and this environment offers numerous opportunities for curated art installations, one being this digital platform. A dedicated exhibit space off the main showroom is another art-focused space. The limited product displays in this room use narrowly focused museum-quality lights to highlight product.

The team took great care to integrate the proper infrastructure to provide the power and access required to support the varying needs of the rotating art installations. In addition to providing a setting to highlight artists, the brand also hosts events with influencers, an opportunity to talk about art and explore their ethos with a public presence.

The entry sequence leads visitors into a diamond-shaped main showroom, which continues the gallery appeal of the space, displaying product in an artistic and visually impactful way. Eyes are drawn upward to a dramatic light fixture sculpture that covers the entire ceiling. This was a custom millwork and lighting collaboration. The millworker strategically fabricated the long pieces in Brazil and then they were joined together on-site and installed. The strips of MDF were routed to encase a light fixture. The structure comes apart in sections for access and maintenance, but was designed to look seamless in the space. Critical to the effect of this detail was the use of mirrored surfaces. The reflection of this strong linear element creates hundreds of lines surrounding visitors in a surreal experience.

The visual merchandising was influenced by art gallery techniques, keeping things simple to make product accessible while showcasing it like artwork. “The strategy was about marrying product with art and where it lives in our social consciousness,” Aslam says. Custom millwork doubles as display and seating. These abstract geometric forms made of white Corian offer a solid foundation within the visually stimulating environment. Cast iron columns infuse the modern space with a touch of history, an element that maintains a connection to the cast iron façade. Replica columns of varying heights were created for display poles. In addition, display cases reveal themselves behind mirrored walls that also reflect an expansive artist-created mural, another installation that can be changed periodically.

With the dramatic ceiling detail and use of mirrored surfaces, it was important to use a neutral, subdued color palette in order to allow the art and product to be the focus of attention. The existing herringbone wood floor was a pleasant surprise that the team took advantage of for the main showroom. In other areas, a porcelain ceramic flooring material offers a concrete look. From white and black Corian to lacquered, painted wood or MDF, the intent was to provide a non-specific texture and uniform look so as to not compete with the strong architectural lines and reflective surfaces.

The final destination is the Green Room, which offers a completely different experience for visitors. Rich, saturated woods, earth tones and a living green wall create a more casual and comfortable atmosphere, serving as a more intimate setting for customer interactions. Hanging displays showcase product like jewels, while bent acrylic pyramid shapes are fitted with LED light fixtures to highlight featured merchandise. The centerpiece of this area is the large, sculptural transaction desk.

From the art-focused entry sequence to the Instagram-worthy detailing, visitors are intrigued by every angle, reflective surface, product display and art installation. Where does one end and the next begin? You can bet they will share this #galeriamelissa experience and be watching for what is coming next.

“The current reality for retailers like Melissa is that consumers are purchasing more online,” Aslam says. “The function of the retail space needs to be something different. The intention here, and with other new spaces, is to start a conversation with a target market and the things they care about. Being challenged to create a cultural touchstone versus a selling area is an amazing opportunity.”


project file

Galeria Melissa
New York

Melissa (parent company Grendene)

Muti Randolph, Mancini Duffy

Mancini Duffy

Nycon Interiors

C&B (MEP engineers), Gace Consulting (structural engineers)

Mancini Duffy, Muti Randolph (custom designs); fabricated by Viecelli Móve

Mancini Duffy, Muti Randolph

Viecelli Móveis

LEDCOM (LED screens)

Information in the project file is provided by the retailer and/or design firm.

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