We head into the gallery, which doubles as an exhibition space where artists and designers who collaborate with Melissa exhibit their work. “This boutique feels very different from the boutique in São Paulo on Oscar Freire,” I comment to Maarten. “But it’s just as cool.”
A man approaches us: “Hi, I am Paulinho, we spoke on the phone.” Paulinho is responsible for the Melissa brand. “Welcome to Galeria Melissa SoHo,” he says, sweeping his arm, inviting us further inside. “You are now in Melissa’s world of plastic dreams.”
“It looks like a dream world,” I say. Brightly coloured paintings and sculptures are pulling my attention in several directions. Staff members, all wearing Melissa shoes, are busy straightening displays and constantly glancing out the large display window. “What exactly is going on here?” I ask.
Paulinho smiles. “The crew is excited because there’s a rumour that a celebrity is coming to shop with us today.”
Maarten’s eyes light up. “A celebrity as in a movie star?” he asks.
“We see quite a few models and actresses here,” Paulinho says to Maarten, lowering his voice and leaning towards us, “it might be Kate Moss.”
“Maybe we should continue our tour before it gets crazy when this mystery shopper arrives,” I suggest.
“That’s a good idea,” Paulinho agrees. “This is an art gallery where you can buy Melissa shoes, but where you can also see other
work by the designers and artists who collaborate with us,” Paulinho explains. “Every few months we change exhibits to showcase a different designer.”
“That’s cool. But why do these established artists want to design plastic shoes?” I ask. Paulinho replies, “Melissa represents plastic as design. Our shoes protect your feet while you go from one place to another, but they are more than just footwear. They are fashion accessories. They are design pieces.”
“Kate Moss has so many different looks, and they’re all terrific, aren’t they?” Maarten says to Paulinho, who nods his head in agreement. I roll my eyes; we’re here to talk about Melissa, not Kate.
“Whose art are we seeing now?” I ask. “It’s really cool.”
“This installation is by the Campana Brothers,” Paulinho tells us. “Fernando and Humberto have worked with Melissa for years. They are also Brazilian. They like using everyday materials to represent the chaos of life, but in a beautiful way. That’s why they were so taken with the idea of design shoes, made of plastic.”
There’s a flurry of activity near the door as a limo slows by the kerb. “It might be Anne Hathaway,” Paulinho whispers. “She has been seen wearing Melissa shoes several times.”
“Tell me more about this plastic,” I say, picking up a shoe sprinkled with Swarovski® crystals.
“There is a huge revival of plastic in fashion right now. Designers like it because it is versatile and colourful. It’s fun. Melissa has been able to translate all kinds of touch and texture into fantastic forms with plastic,” Paulinho says.
“Do you know she’s going to play Catwoman?” Maarten says excitedly to Paulinho. “Anne Hathaway, I mean.” I start thinking Maarten is losing sight of the reason for our visit.
I try to ignore him and continue. “I can see why the Campana Brothers like working with the Melissa brand. What other artists get excited by the concept?”
“Melissa’s ethos attracts designers from around the world and from diverse disciplines,” Paulinho says. Vivienne Westwood, Jean Paul Gaultier and Alexandre Herchcovitch are just three of the world’s top designers who have designed shoes for us.”
“Who are some Melissa designers from outside the fashion world?” I wonder out loud.
“Zaha Hadid, the first female architect ever to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize, in 2004, loves working with plastic and fashion,” Paulinho says. “Her vision of form is amazing. She says she loves the fluidity of design that plastic allows, without requiring closures as leather shoes do.”
“How do you find new talent, to stay ahead of the crowd?” I want to know. Paulinho has the answer: “Edson Matsuo, who leads our Creative Team, also runs a project called Melissa Academy. The purpose is to invite fresh creative minds to come up with brand-new ways to design with plastic. To keep the concept as broad as possible, we didn’t ask the students to design a shoe. We asked them to design a ‘walking object’. The results were unbelievable and three of the creations actually went into production.”
A group of trendy people is gathered just outside the door. The sales people have stopped straightening displays and some of them are now busy putting on lipstick and adjusting their hair. Maarten and Paulinho are suddenly standing up taller. They are not paying much attention to the shoes. “Men,” I sigh.
“How cool for the students!” I exclaim, trying to break the ‘Anne Hathaway’ spell. “It is very exciting,” Paulinho agrees, still glancing over his shoulder at the front door. “Our first programme was at the Geneva University of Art and Design. Our goal is to foster the same kind of exchange at all the major design schools. It is our vision to catalyse entirely new approaches to plastic.”
“What’s the secret behind the plastic itself?” I ask. “How do you make these cool shoes?”
“We began refining our plastic early on. We wanted a better quality PVC, really flexible, elastic and longwearing. And recyclable!” he adds before continuing. “We patented Melflex technology, which covers both the material and the injection moulding process. It is exclusive to Melissa. We’ve also played a lot with different effects and textures, as you can see.”
“Oh my gosh,” a sales girl says loudly. “Jason Wu is here!” My eyes go wide: this is a Melissa designer, right here in SoHo! “I love Jason Wu, I love the Melissa collection he made!” I say with excitement. Maarten and Paulinho look disappointed as Jason enters the store.
“Plastic is fantastic,” I say with a big smile.
© 2012 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands
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