Melissa, one of the most celebrated footwear brands in Brazil, counts star designers like Jean Paul Gaultier, Karim Rashid, and Zaha Hadid as partners, but it’s not yet a household name in the United States. Parent company Grendene aims to change that, replacing its small shop on New York’s Greene Street with a new 8,000-square-foot flagship on Broadway, envisioned by Brazilian artist Muti Randolph and designed by architecture firm Mancini Duffy.
The eclectic, energizing space is part retail environment, part art gallery, and more than anything a channel of energy from the kinetic cityscape outside.
“We wanted to use what was here and expand on it, so we put a strange lens on it and exaggerated it,” says Mancini Duffy associate Ali Aslam.
Modern, tech-infused design creates dimension
This strategy is on display in the first of the store’s four major spaces, the entrance or “moving landscape,” where visitors cross a metal gate bridge and approach a kaleidoscope of light and color surrounded on all sides by angular LED screens, and mirrored-glass walls and floor panels. The LED experiences are programmed by visiting artists and rotated every three months, as is the artwork inside the store’s art gallery, located to the left of the showroom in a small angular space surrounded by mirrors and lit via gallery spotlights. Perhaps the best view of the entrance is across Broadway, where the digital art comes alive through the classic cast-iron building’s storefront windows.
The next space, the showroom, is the shop’s centerpiece, anchored by a suspended ceiling composed of fin-shaped, milled white MDF and LED light strips. The lights bend up and down and funnel your attention to the far end through their narrowing perspective. Like the ceiling, virtually everything is angled, sculptural, and flashy: mirrored glass walls (some double mirrored, revealing ghost-like display cases behind); triangle-shaped hanging plastic shelves; custom-milled Corian and lacquer tables; vinyl wall decorations; and even the original white oak floor, with its repetitive chevron arrangement. All these reflections and diagonals, says Aslam, evoke Melissa’s brash products and create a transporting, ultra-modern environment—but they also make the space inside seem bigger, and carve out ancillary spaces for storage and art display.
Beyond the showroom is the “green room,” a darker, relatively subdued environment (albeit also with mirrored glass walls) meant for closer interaction with staff and closing sales. Here, cappuccino-colored porcelain floor tile, a dropped walnut slat ceiling, and walnut veneer benches, shelves, and alcoves complement a lush green feature wall by Plantwall Design and a milled black Corian desk. Small spotlights emerge from above the slat ceiling for a soft, dappled effect.
Selling a brand by engaging customers
All this spatial variety, reflectivity, and funhouse-like playfulness helps the company carry out this particular store’s ultimate goal, which is more about selling the brand than its merchandise, according to Aslam. “We have to rethink how retail works,” he says. “I don’t care how many shoes you sell, you can’t afford Broadway. The value is about what the space does to expand the brand and engage the customers.”
Store manager Patricia Scipioni was initially opposed to the idea of excluding merchandise from the storefront display, but now understands its power to wow people and draw them inside. “People go crazy for this space,” she says. “They say they’ve never seen anything like it, and call it the coolest place in New York.” On Saturdays, Scipioni notes, the store usually receives around 1,500 visitors, not to mention thousands more gawking outside—almost all of them taking selfies.
who Architect: Mancini Duffy. Project team: Ali Aslam. Interior designer: Muti Randolph. Contractor: Nycon. Engineering: C&B (MEP); Gace Consulting (structural).
what Paint: Benjamin Moore. Lighting: Millwork Lighting, custom. Drawers, casegoods, and custom woodwork: Viecelli. Planters and accessories: Plant Wall Design. Signage: New Style Signs (fabricator); Fastsigns (vinyl installation).