The colors and textures of Jade Sky captivate you before you even step through the door. All that positive energy is personified by Marissa Jade Willinsky who will welcome as you enter. Eye-catching pop art by Charlotte artist Matt Moore (@puckmcgruff), shocks of color, and diverse fabrics immediately transport you to a thrilling, creative space.
Officially, Jade Sky is a women’s fashion boutique for all ages, all sexes, all races, and all beliefs. But it’s more than just a clothing boutique. Marissa wants to give each customer a personal one-on-one stylist session. “I’m not selling clothes here, I’m here to give an experience,” she explains.
And she has an incredible experience of her own to back that statement up.
Growing up in NYC, she remembers going to Sound Factory in the late 90s, “my generation’s version of Studio 54,” where the fashion statements being made in that club truly inspired her. She said, “Whenever you were there, you were already thinking about what to wear the next time.”
Since her first job at a Korean boutique in Brooklyn when she was 14, Marissa has been working with and interested in fashion. So, when she graduated with a B.S. in psychology and a career path counseling children, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she may not love that route forever. There was something else calling her.
Taking a chance, she went for a second degree in Fashion from the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). She graduated in 2008, at the peak of the recession, making a little over $25,000 a year in Manhattan (“…and my rent was $24k!”). Fortune found her back at a former job with MAC Cosmetics with higher pay, where she facilitated classes, events, and VIP clients at the original Saks Fifth Avenue location. When MAC opened its first boutique store at Grand Central Station, she was promoted to that location.
After just three months at the boutique store, Marissa awoke to an unexpected call early one Sunday morning that would change her life: “Pack your kit, and get to the Bronx.” That day, she did makeup for a photo shoot to promote Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball Tour and was asked to join Gaga’s crew.
So Marissa joined Lady Gaga on tour: 300 shows in two years. Though technically the makeup artist, Marissa also would be asked to do hair, nails, or even to choose wardrobe because “being with [Gaga], you have to be fluent; you have to have a huge fashion vocabulary.”
Even between tours, she was working closely with Lady Gaga, whom she speaks of as nothing less than a beautiful human being.
When the Joanne World Tour ended early due to illness, Lady Gaga generously paid her crew for the five weeks they would have worked. Rather than booking a new job to fill the time, Marissa decided to use the five free weeks to visit her mother and sister who had moved to Charlotte. She says happily, “And within those five weeks, I met the love of my life.”
Marissa always knew she’d open a store. It had been her game plan all along. And after 10 years of touring and working with legends—photographers, stylists, designers, and production artists—she feels like she received a master’s course of knowledge.
She now carries the world with her, a mesh of experience and travels to places like Japan, London, Barcelona, and Auckland, New Zealand. “It was a beautiful, unexpected detour in my life, and I feel grateful and incredibly lucky,” she gushes.
With all those stamps on her passport, she still made the decision to open her shop in Charlotte, live closer to family, and be with her soulmate. So Jade Sky opened on November 17 last year at 3550 North Davidson Street in the Renaissance.
It’s a unique shop for Charlotte. All clothes are custom-designed for the store by Marissa or as collaborations with friends from New York to Los Angeles. And she would love to be your stylist and find the right design for you. When she speaks about the store, she gets emotional herself, saying “I feel super lucky to be trusted with people’s stories, and that they allow me to narrate them through my fashion.”
Because you see, her degree in psychology isn’t a waste. The makeup chair is like a therapist couch. “People share deep secrets in my chair. Sometimes we cry, and often we laugh. It’s a sort of release,” she describes. “I’ve utilized what I’ve learned and what comes naturally to me—really feeling people out—listening to what they want but giving them what they really need.” As a stylist, she challenges people to express themselves in a way they have never done before but have always dreamed of.
And this is how Marissa connects to all her clients, treating the girl or guy who walks in from the street with the same energy and sincere attentiveness as she would world-touring stars.
In the near future, she plans to open a dance studio below the store, with workshops led by the dancer friends she met on tours.
For more information, visit Jade Sky in person or check out @shopjadesky on Instagram. (It’s a real treat to see the bold, big city fashion splashed across NoDa’s vibrant backdrop.)