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America's Coolest Stores

ACS 2011: Fifth Place, Small Cool: Mahlia Collection

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Quick facts

URL: www.mahliacollection.com
Owner: Konstantina Mahlia
Interior buildout cost: $60,000 
Opened feature location: April 2010
Area: 1,500 square feet 
Designer: Konstantina Mahlia 
Employees: 3 full-time 
Tagline: “Mahlia, A Name That is a Lifestyle”


Whether it’s their first visit or their 10th, when customers enter the new location of Mahlia Collection, they tend to describe it as inviting, gracious and magical.

Maybe it’s the rich brown interior that acts as a neutral but elegant backdrop to owner Konstantina Mahlia’s jewelry, furnishings and clothing, or maybe it’s the fresh linen fragrance that floats from Mahlia’s own candle line.

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As enchanting as the talismans she incorporates into her creations, the store whispers “welcome” in a soothing voice.

Location

In the past year, Mahlia relocated her showroom from a downtown area in the process of gentrification to an historical building in an established neighborhood, across the street from elegant, old guard homes. Terra cotta saints poised on its tile roof add to the old-world charm. Mahlia describes the furniture as something that could have been lifted out of an elegant old European estate, and her soaps and candles could easily have been poured from gleaming copper pots and pans. “Though elegant and filled with beautiful things, the space is warm and inviting,” she says. “Not sterile, cold and mechanical, but filled with scents and memories.”

It’s a good fit for her regular, high-end customers, the majority of whom she describes as ultra-affluent, ages 40 to 70. Her sterling-silver customers represent a distinct demographic, too, she says, being fashion savvy, style-conscious and “allergic to brands.”

Pools of Light

The lighting in the store is challenging because it must meet the needs of a boutique as well as illuminate jewelry. “I have beautiful table lamps that serve as both ornament and lighting, and as pools of light to soften the rooms, and I have overhead halogen track lighting to illuminate special highlights.” The jewelry cases are fitted with a combination of low-voltage and incandescent lighting to enhance the color of gems.

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Boutique Browsin

Mahlia has found that shoppers are comfortable browsing and lingering in a boutique setting, which gives her plenty of time to connect with them. In contrast, she believes “the ‘soldier-like’ formal, glass-case setting of the traditional jewelry store” forces a customer to be serious and to be there on business.

Mahlia also objects to showing jewelry on static hard forms.

“The jewelry to me should represent the sensuality of the body and should be laid out in a way that reflects the treasure that it is.”

To that end, she uses a variety of pillow forms to cushion, cuddle and prop up pieces. “I will tie up my chocolate velvet brown pouches with my logo embroidered on them and my symbolism cards folded and positioned strategically among the jewelry, to attract the eye to key pieces. The jewels are placed so that they look ready to be picked up by the person who happened upon this amazing discovery.”

Symbolism and the Brand

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Although the star of the Mahlia show is the jewelry, she’s managed to incorporate seamless branding in every inch of her space. Customers enjoy Mahlia Belgium milk chocolates, drink Mahlia Collection bottled water from Washington state, and sit on Mahlia Collection furniture while wearing Mahlia Collection jewelry and accessories.

Symbols also tie the elements of her brand together. The laurel leaf is one of her favorites, representing loyalty and triumph. “It’s uncanny how often I’m drawn to these patterns,” she says. The skull is present in her work as well, but she says she uses it in a “philosophical sense” rather than a macabre one, underscoring the precious but finite nature of life and the importance of experiencing each moment to its fullest. “I believe we all want to live up to our highest expectations as human beings; these values have inspired us from the beginning of time.”

Affordable by Request

Responding to comments from Facebook and Twitter followers who admire her work but have found it out of their price range, Mahlia will launch a new line this month of more affordable pieces. She was motivated by an inspirational audience she had with the Dalai Lama. “This is in line with my values and is still going to be accessible, in the $400 to $500 range.” Inspired by prayer beads, the line will feature Tibetan copper with sterling accents as well as her trademark symbols. “Alexander the Great traveled east to conquer Asia, leaving a trade route in his wake,” she says. “That’s why I thought this is the perfect alliance; my roots are Greek, and I believe in peaceful harmony.”

  Interior

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  Exterior

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  Marketing

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  What the Judges Say

Terry Chandler: Mahlia sounds like a warm word of welcome one might hear spoken on some tropical island. It is, in fact, the family name of Konstantina Mahlia, owner and designer of a singular and inviting store in Tucson. Mahlia has embraced an exciting and individual approach to jewelry sales combining her custom jewelry designs with clothing, candles, home furnishings and all sorts of other lifestyle merchandise. The interior is warm and bathed in rich colors. The feel is old world and intriguing. Konstantina’s jewelry designs are bold and evoke an immediate emotional response. They are meant to be amulets and talismans conveying important feelings to the recipient that will last through generations. Mahlia could also mean “cool!”

Ruth Mellergaard: This store exhibits a strong point of view, obviously Mahlia’s. She will not appeal to every customer, and those she has will love her, she is so original. Her website is excellent and if this is your first introduction to Mahlia, you will get her and her store and want to visit, at least once.

George Whalin: The courtyard and trees in the front create a warm and inviting entrance to the store. The same warmth and comfort can be felt throughout the store with lots of light coming through windows and from unobtrusive fixtures.

Don Muller: Very eclectic product mix. I’ll definitely stop by and take a look while attending the Gem Show in Tucson!

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Embrace Connections

Since she first heard of Facebook, Mahlia has embraced the opportunity to connect with people from all walks of life, interfacing not just about jewelry, but about world politics, social issues and art. “In 2009 I had 500 friends; then I dug in aggressively and now have four pages of friends (5,003 last count).”

  Play Lists

James Blunt, Moby, Dido, Matchbox Twenty, compilation CDs from Buddha Bar (a glitzy Paris nightspot). “Our music tends to be very international, yet lounge-y techno,” Mahlia says.

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