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Melissa CEO Michele Levy on Creating Unforgettable Retail Experiences

Melissa, the Brazilian brand famously known for its scented shoes, changed the way the footwear industry looked at plastic footwear when it began to expand its presence in the U.S. with its avant-garde designs, fearless use of color and series of big name designer collaborations, including Vivienne Westwood, Jason Wu, Gareth Pugh and Karl Lagerfeld.

And now the brand is rewiring the way people shop, with one of a kind concept stores that double as galleries and event spaces, and are often architectural gems in their own right.

“People complain that retail is losing its edge, and in order to succeed, you have to be more attractive to customers. We did just that,” says Melissa CEO Michele Levy.

In 2014, Melissa opened five new stores in the U.S. and Caribbean. The brand also embraced omnichannel strategies by linking the stores to the website, www.shop601.com.

“We have a very unique product, and in our stores we’re able to fully display our entire collection, have the space scented with Melissa’s unique smell, and interact directly with clients while showing and talking to them about our unique product,” Levy explains.

The brand brings another layer to the shopping experience by reinventing its retail spaces multiple times a year. Melissa stores’ modular designs allows a lot of room for change and novelty presentations, Levy notes. For example, the façade of Melissa’s Brazilian flagship, Galeria Melissa São Paulo, has transformed into everything from a multimedia collage and a neon-lit rain forest to murals depicting melting ice cream and a big top circus.

The London flagship creates drama, by pairing traditional features like wainscoting with futuristic touches of Lucite, mirrors and floating fixtures, while the New York City flagship in SoHo plays up to its nabe’s world class art galleries with rotating installations by Walt Cassidy and long-time Melissa collaborators, the Campana Brothers.

“It is the congruence of art and fashion at an accessible presentation,” Levy notes. By changing the stores’ look and feel, Levy says there’s always excitement in Melissa stores that go beyond product, which is crucial in a tepid footwear market.

In terms of 2015, Levy says she is cautiously optimistic, especially as so many retailers offered steep discounts during the holiday season. “It is not a healthy practice, and has a large impact on consumer expectations. I hope that with lower gas prices and more disposable income, we see a jump in overall sales. This holiday season will tell a lot about what 2015 has in store for the industry,” Levy says.

A lack of breakout trends is hurting the industry, too. Without real trends, Levy says the industry is unable to see a jump in sales. “It does not affect us as much because we are our own category, and we infuse novelty into everything that we do. But without that, it is really hard to excel,” she adds.

For Spring ’15, Melissa is banking on flats——cozy territory for the brand that was founded on the premise of bringing comfort and affordable luxury to the masses. Highlights include glittery flats inspired by ballerina’s pointe shoes, tortoise shell slides, sandals with aggressive tread, D’orsay slingback flats adorned with daisies, as well as a staple of thong sandals bedecked with bows, blooms and rubber chain details.

In regards to collaborations, Levy says, the brand’s line with the Campana Brothers “produced some of the coolest and best-selling flats and ballerinas we have ever had.” The company is also extending its partnerships with Westwood, Wu, Pugh and Lagerfeld, the later who turns heels upside down——literally——for one “made you look” Spring ’15 design.

“We want to continue to offer the best product and service to our client,” says Levy. “By being able to be closer to our customers through our retail stores, we strive to continue to listen to their needs, give them what they want and surprise them in a way only we can do with our products.”

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