It’s rare for a local jewelry line to rise above the cluttered — albeit glittered — hustle and really blow up.
But jewelry designer Marlyn Schiff’s new 3,800-square-foot bauble boutique/showroom in Haverford is proof the sparkling world of beads and charms, evil eyes, and precious stones can truly be at the core of big business.
You might have seen her climber earrings, necklaces made for layering, and stackable cuffs in national chains like South Moon Under, Soft Surroundings, and Nic & Zoe. If you look closely at the cash-register displays at specialty boutiques like Skirt, you’ll likely find a statement ring attached to a card with a Marlyn Schiff bee on it — her longtime logo. And then there are the Marlyn Schiff gold-filled sterling, pave diamond, and sapphire collections in gift shops at the Ritz, W Hotels, and the Waldorf Astoria.
“I’ve carried Marlyn’s line for 19 years,” said Maureen Doron, owner of Skirt in Bryn Mawr and Center City. “When I was just starting, she bought a jewelry case on her own dime and filled it with her jewelry to help me out. And today it’s our No. 1-selling jewelry line. I can say that with certainty.”
But it’s Schiff’s collaboration with Stitch Fix that’s her most impressive business move to date. Pieces from Schiff’s collection have been included in the fashion subscription box since Katrina Lake launched the company in 2011. Last year 400,000 Marlyn Schiff pieces were sold to Stitch Fix. And, Schiff said, 2019 Stitch Fix sales are up 37%.
That all adds up to millions of dollars in annual revenue. “I would have never dreamed of this kind of success,” said Schiff.
It’s this success that set up Schiff to last year buy the former Mock Fox Interiors design building, which she gutted and redesigned with the top floors as office and design space. On the first floor is the first-ever Marlyn Schiff stand-alone boutique, which she opened in late August to mark her 30th year in business. In addition to the glitz and glam of drop earrings and statement rings, Schiff has a selection of camo cashmere sweaters and oversize totes for a very rocker-meets-cozy vibe.
“It’s exactly what I’ve always envisioned,” Schiff said of her loftlike space. “We wanted a place where people wanted to come and stay and have a complete shopping experience.”
The shopping experience is what convinced Schiff to open a brick-and-mortar store at a time when many are closing. She got her start selling in traditional department stores, but those no longer communicate designers’ stories as they once did. Schiff says she believes customers are coming to her store — which was packed with shoppers both times I visited in recent months — to get to know the designer better.
“People are really connecting to makers now," Schiff said. “I know this because we are often on the Good Morning America “Deals and Steals” segment, but when I’m on air we always sell more.”
Schiff, 54, was born and raised in Penn Valley. After she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in art history, she started her career in the Macy’s executive training program. From there she took a job as an account executive at women’s wear designer Elie Tahari. During her lunch hours, she visited the bead stores in the Garment District following a conversation with one of her late mother’s best friends, a jewelry designer.
“She talked about creating things and I was always sketching and creating things," Schiff said. "I really went to the bead district because I wanted to make things for fun. I never expected it to be a real business. I was thinking more hobby, pastime.”
When Schiff wore to business meetings the necklaces she fashioned from precious and semiprecious stones, her fashionista coworkers complemented her — then ordered from her. It wasn’t long before she was bringing samples of her collection to Tahari clients.
During the early 1990s, Schiff spent her evenings stringing beads and hand-delivering samples to fashion magazines and department store buyers. This was before Instagram, when placements in department stores and specialty shops made the careers of emerging designers. She took the Marlyn Schiff line to Market Week shows, especially Coterie, and before she knew it, the Marlyn Schiff brand was sold in heavy-hitting department stores Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, and Neiman Marcus.
“Neiman Marcus had a major catalog business back then," Schiff said. "They would order three things and then order it 10 times over the holiday season. That business is just gone now.”
She married her high-school sweetheart and moved back to Philadelphia in 1994 for her husband to go to Wharton. She had three children. Her business kept growing.
Then the 2008 recession hit, and Schiff went from focusing on pieces fashioned from semiprecious jewels in the $300 range to costume pieces priced at less than $100. These pieces became the bread and butter of her business. In the meantime, she watched the trends change: yellow gold transitioned to white gold and then to rose gold. All the while sterling silver never faded away.
Statement earrings became studs. And we started layering our bracelets for authentic, festival flare. Pieces we personalized with charms, or our names, came in and out of style. (They are in now.) And through it all, Schiff said, hoop earrings have endured.
What’s hot now?
“These days I’m doing a lot of things I saw in the 1980s,” said Schiff, who was headed to a design meeting to add Pantone’s color of the year, classic blue, to her spring 2020 collection. That could mean Dynasty-style sapphires but also leopards, camo-prints.
"I always tell people to hang on to their vintage pieces because what’s old is always new again.”