There appeared to be very little need for accessories during the pandemic as special occasions dwindled and fashion was at a standstill.
This turned out not to be the case.
Accessories kept us going. We wore hoop earrings during Zoom calls. We put our keys, wallets, and cell phones in fanny packs as we hustled through the outdoor malls, big box stores, and the supermarket. Grocery stores stopped giving out plastic bags, turning reusable totes into a necessity. And there was the most important accessory of all, the face mask.
So to celebrate the designers whose baubles and backpacks lifted our spirits and thank them for their good works, the New York-based Accessories Council is honoring the Accessories Industry Heroes Tuesday night at its annual 2021 ACE Awards. Included in the list of 13 honorees — who include Carolina Herrera’s creative director, Wes Gordon, and Project Runway judge and Season Four winner, Christian Siriano — is Haverford-based jewelry designer Marlyn Schiff.
“I’m so very excited,” said Schiff, who in the last 19 months has donated more than 50,000 surgical masks to area hospitals and tens of thousands of pieces of jewelry to essential workers through her Fill a Box, Send a Smile program. “Never did I think we would win. We learned so much from this experience. It wasn’t easy, but we rallied. Our customers rallied and we are the better for it now.”
The Accessories Council has been honoring innovative accessories brands and fashion icons with a glitzy ACE Awards dinner, a customized Judith Leiber miniauidiere clutch, and beaucoup industry cachet for 25 years. Past winning designers include Michael Kors, Stella McCartney, and Proenza Schouler
This year, because of the pandemic, the Council’s president and CEO, Karen Giberson, did ACE a little differently and recognized brands that made beautiful accessories and demonstrated integrity during such difficult times. “We wanted to celebrate the beauty of the action as much as the beauty of the product,” said Giberson, who is based in New York, but lives in Margate. “Marlyn’s company was a great example of that.”
In addition to Gordon and Siriano, Qurate Retail Group, the West Chester-based parent company of QVC and HSN, are also receiving an Accessories Council Hero award this year. Qurate will be honored for its work with Meals on Wheels, which provided healthy meals for seniors and children facing food insecurity. The 100-year-old fashion icon and former interior designer Iris Apfel, known for her fancy glasses, bold style, and exquisite taste, will take home the Accessories Council Superhero award for being the bona fide queen of accessories.
Schiff, like many entrepreneurs — especially those in the fashion industry — lived through many a dark day during the early months of the pandemic.
Four months before the March 2020 shut down, she opened a fancy, 3,800-square-foot loft-style boutique in the former Mock Fox Interiors Design Building in Haverford. Schiff’s sparkling earrings, evil eye bracelets, and tasseled necklaces were sold in national specialty stores including South Moon Under and Nic + Zoe. Schiff’s pave diamond and sapphire diamond collections were sold in the swanky Ritz and Waldorf Astoria gift shops.
» READ MORE: The jewelry brand that’s everywhere, but you didn’t know it called the Main Line home | Elizabeth Wellington (from December 2019)
Schiff employs 19 people and earned several million dollars in sales each year. The pandemic threatened all of that.
“In the beginning, I didn’t know if I was going to have a company,” Schiff said. “But then I got quiet. I started thinking. I went to a ton of webinars. I learned how to design cleaner. I decided to do more seasonless jewelry as opposed to seasonal pieces. We needed pieces that would continue on, not die off. And we pushed our website.”
Still Schiff didn’t forget her philanthropy.
Schiff made thousands of cloth masks and sold them in 500 of the 800 specialty stores that carry her collection. With that money, she bought more than 50,000 surgical masks for hospitals and nursing homes.
The idea for her Fill a Box, Send a Smile came about a month into the pandemic. Schiff found herself becoming affected by the plight of essential workers who were suffering physically and emotionally. She wanted to find a way to give them hope. Schiff began to sell pieces from her collection, including rings, bracelets, and necklaces, for $1 each. Customers could buy bulk jewelry packages with 50, 100, or 250 pieces.Schiff matched the purchases, so someone who bought 50 pieces of jewelry got a box of 100, and shipped the box to the designated group, workplace, or person.
“It was so out of the ordinary to receive this lovely box,” said Barbara Klatt, a nurse at the Medical Center — Woods Services in Bucks County. The facility that helps the developmentally disabled received an anonymous Fill a Box, Send a Box donation in early spring. “We were all working so very hard and struggling to make it through. It just brightened everyone’s spirits.”
At a recent fund-raiser for breastcancer.org, 10% of the sales were donated to the organization.
“My mother passed away from ovarian cancer and I promised her that I would do something about these horrible diseases,” Schiff said.
Schiff, two members of her staff, her husband, and three children will attend Tuesday night’s festivities. She’s hoping the party is a sign that even if things don’t get back to “normal,” jewelry will be a part of our everyday lives — again.
“People are feeling more colorful as they got vaccinated,” Schiff said. “They want to go out again, live a little. We’ve all realized how fragile things can be.”