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Melissa Gonzalez of The Lion’esque Group Talks Pop-ups, Tech, Fashion & More at Refinery Hotel

Melissa Gonzalez, owner of The Lion’esque Group, a pioneer company of pop-up architects, is one fearless lady! She’s owned a Vespa in New York City, went hang gliding once, skydiving three times, and left a high-level job on Wall Street to start her own company. The mastermind behind more than 80 pop-ups in NYC, LA, and the Hamptons, along with the recent J. Hilburn pop-up here at the Refinery Hotel, Melissa sat down with us earlier this month for a little chat on how she does it all. Oh, and she just released her groundbreaking debut book, The Pop Up Paradigm: How Brands Build Human Connections in A Digital Age, this month. How does she do it all? Find out more after our round of quickfire with Melissa.

Quickfire with Melissa Gonzalez

1. Coffee or Tea?

Neither! A latte does the trick.

2. New York City or Los Angeles?

New York City.

3. Cats or Dogs?

Dogs. Definitely dogs.

4. Press Play or Shuffle?

Shuffle.

5. Sex and the City or GIRLS?

Sex and the City of course. It’s a generational thing.

You started The Lion’esque Group in 2009, and it’s really great how you walk through the entire experience with the brand you’re working with. What happens to be your favorite part of the process and why?

I love ideation. I feel like I don’t get to do enough of it, but I love ideation because it’s really sitting with the brand and honing in and asking “what are we going to do that’s unique and innovative to help us achieve our goals, to help us really connect with our customer in a different way, in a deeper way?” So it’s really diving in help them think about who their customer is. Three companies can have similar goals but depending on the customer base that they’re going after, and the brand promise, they’re going to have to attack it in so many different ways … Coming up with different creative solutions and then figuring out what the brand can do on their own and what kind of strategic partners we can bring in is really fun to me. Part of our job is to be as on the pulse of things so when we’re helping the brand with ideation we have all these fresh, new, different ideas on our fingertips.

2014-10-22_041-CEM_3191-lr“Pop-ups are short in duration, but you can’t skimp on the planning.” Melissa Gonzalez

This year you were named as one of The 12 Amazing People You Need To Know In N.Y. Fashion Tech by AlleyWatch.  How do fashion and technology go together for you?

I always say what’s great having worked with pop-ups since 2009 till now is that technology has really advanced in such a way that it enables these retailers and brands to create truly immersive retail experiences. Everyone is online now, and that was the shift in the beginning: I’m not going to open a brick-and-mortar, it’s too expensive. I’m going to open online, but now there’s so much noise online and it’s so expensive to compete … makes sense that they’re coming back to physical ways to connect, but there could be limitations in that if you’re short-term, or you don’t have a huge space, etc. So with technology, if you have a made to measure brand for example, you can bring in Fit technology that’s unique and different. If you are working with Boohoo, they’re doing a shoppable show-room where they have no inventory in the space. We can bring in a technology partner like Stylintity where it’s life-size iPhone mirrors and the customer tries on clothes and takes pictures in the mirror and it catalogs every outfit that they’ve tried on. Afterwards, Stylintity emails the customers an online catalog of everything they’ve tried on. The customer isn’t just getting a spreadsheet from the sales person of what they’ve tried on. They actually get to see the outfit, share it with friends, and get opinions on it. Technology allows the brand to be more immersive.  

Speaking of fashion, as a hotel in the garment district, we love a well-dressed woman. Who inspires your personal sense of style?

Ohhhh! People always ask me that! I think I’m probably a little more classic. Sometimes I feel like I’m a cross between an Audrey Hepburn direction and Mod. I go after the classic pieces, but I like to give them a modern twist. I have a ton of basics and then I love to add my pieces of flare. I’m like Audrey Hepburn meets Raquel Welch.

We know you used to work on Wall Street, but left to start Lion’esque Group. We’ve noticed a trend of women leaving the trading floor to pursue their passion. What made you take the leap into fashion and start your own business?

I left my job on Wall Street in January of 2009. It was definitely after a tough market in 2008, and I just didn’t feel inspired anymore. I was fortunate enough to be successful. I always made good money and had great bosses, but I wasn’t inspired to go in everyday anymore. I was also hosting a television show at the time called Latin Beat on BET for three seasons as a Veejay, as well as producing indie films, and my boss was always really supportive of it. I went in to speak with him one day, and he wanted to promote me and instead I asked him to let me go. He was shocked, but he was so supportive about it. I gave myself six months to figure it out. It was just eating at me that I wasn’t fulfilling my creative side. After leaving I thought I would be a famous actress because I was hosting this television show, but stumbling upon pop-ups, I think it’s a good balance for me. I get to bring in my business savviness, having worked at a trading desk with my desire to be creative. For me, this is a very ideal space to sit in. I get both sides satisfied, like what I’m naturally good at, and what I really want to be a part of. I’m happy I made the switch.

As a native New Yorker, what are your favorite apps for exploring the city?

Oh gosh! My husband is a much better person to ask! He is an app genius. Let’s see what’s in my phone. Uber, definitely Uber. I use OpenTable a bit. There’s two great apps I use for parking. One is called BestParking, you just put in the address of where you are and it tells you the prices of garages nearest to you. Then there’s another one called Smooth Park, and that one shows you all the free parking on the street. I feel like you always need those things! I like Host Committee also. It’s kind of like a crowd sourcing for parties. It’s a really great way to meet new people.

An inspiration all around, we’re looking forward to reading through Melissa’s upcoming book and watching her as she continues her takeover of NYC one pop-up at a time.

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