By Hollie Deese

Amongst the craziness that Nashville Fashion Week has become since its 2011 beginnings, three local women in fashion make the connection between style and design, sharing with us how inspiration from interiors, eras, fabric and materials translates into their work, and the look of their space.

Maria Silver, Black by Maria Silver
Nashville Fashion Forward Fund recipient

This may be Maria Silver’s fifth NFW, but when she first moved to Nashville a decade ago, it was pretty much by accident with her band, The Ettes, when friend offered them a place to crash in East Nashville for a few months while housesitting, and after a few weeks off the road, life in one place began to get very appealing.

“We were just like ‘We need a place to live,’” she says. “We’re adults and we should have a place to live. We should not live in a van.” So the three of them rented a house for $900 a month, complete with a basement to practice in and a massive yard perfect for dogs.

Still, Silver says music was a derailment from her original career in fashion, and in in Nashville she found her way back. A graduate from FIT in New York in women’s contemporary clothing
and costume design, Silver worked on Broadway and as a design assistant, and founded her fashion line, Black By Maria Silver, in 2011.

After outgrowing her first space inside Fond Object Records, Silver opened her first storefront on Woodland last year where her contemporary streetwear line is available. Part island, part street, the clothes are influenced by her Dominican background and time on the road.

“I do a lot of separates that I love from the 70s, where separates actually matched but then you can take them apart and put them together,” she says. “It’s also very heavily influenced by all of my traveling with the band, so everything’s super travel friendly.”

She was hands-on in the design of the storefront too, even creating her own wallpaper by finding a design she liked, mirroring it so it created a pattern, and then had it printed. She had the same pattern printed on fabric for the dressing room curtain as well.

And many of the fixtures and décor came straight from her own house – think mid-century 70s, wicker and modernist pieces combined with lots of touches of brass. Inside the dressing room is her butterfly wall, an homage to her mother who has them all over her own South Florida home.

“It’s like butterfly island,” Silver says. “You just walk in and there’s butterflies, butterflies, butterflies. So I have a bunch of butterflies people have brought me. They get a discount and I just keep adding to the wall.”

Stacey Rhodes. Boutique PhotoStacey Rhodes, Stacey Rhodes Boutique

Involved in NFW from the beginning, sponsoring or presenting one of the designers, hosting trunk shows and promoting the event, Stacey Rhodes is a fixture in fashion. But the interior design graduate of O’More brings that sensibility to her

“They overlap, interior design and architecture and fashion,” she says. “To me, they all go hand in hand.”

In business since 2002, the style of her boutique has evolved organically over the past 16 years, seven in her current location.

“Color, shapes, texture, architect’s tiles – if you’re a retailer, your space, the merchandising and how you set up your boutique, the overall space planning… It’s so interesting to me how my interior design degree has helped me in fashion,” she says.

Her first spot was on Elliston Place, where Rhodes had started out designing jewelry, casting metal and working with natural gem stones. A small space in the front area was not being used, so Rhodes took it over as a showroom for accessories, handbags, scarves, and jewelry from other designers.

“I started working with a lot of really cool artisans,” she says. “I developed a relationship with a lot of them, everybody from other jewelry designers to painters and fashion designers, and I incorporated them into the space.”

After three years she outgrew the location and opened a new space in the Hill Center in Brentwood. She kept expanding down there, getting larger and larger as her clientele grew, but also she evolved and saw what her customers loved.

“I added other things, apparel and footwear and more accessories and it just kind of grew and grew,” she says. “It wasn’t like one day I woke up and said I was going to open a boutique. It just evolved from that first little space I had to this.”

“This” is a standalone building on Franklin Road she happened to be driving past one day with a ‘For Lease’ sign in the window.

“I saw this little fallen down, dilapidated building, and me with my interior design background, had a vision,” she says. “I could see it. Then, I walked inside and looked out those front windows and it was like, this is it. To me it just seemed a perfect fit.”

Seven years later and she still loves her space, and loves supporting and learning from the young designers.

“To me, the creativity there is so cool,” she says. “It’s hard and you have to be dedicated. It’s not an easy business to get into, so you have to be motivated and you have to want to learn. And there’s a lot to learn.”

And of course, she is always making tweaks to the boutique.

“I think people have to feel good when they walk in the door,” she says. “It starts with the people – they give it the spirit. But I think it also has to look good, just like a person. You have a great and wonderful person, but you can enhance them by putting something lovey on them but that they also feel comfortable in. That’s the thing, we want our customers to be comfortable when they come in and relaxed and have a great shopping experience here.”

Mclaine Richardson, Margaret Ellis Jewelry

Always in the arts, Mclaine Richardson grew up dancing and involved in the visual arts while at USN. And in college she made her own major mixing business and design, creating an individualized curriculum program at Furman before going to Italy to study for six months.

It was there she took her first jewelry-making class.

“I always enjoyed pottery but I hated how messy it was,” she says. “And I loved 3D sculpture, but nothing ever clicked. But while I was taking the jewelry class I really enjoyed it and thought I would keep doing it if I had opportunity.”

After graduation she moved back home to Nashville and her hairdresser told her about a copper jewelry class she was taking at Vanderbilt. Bored in her marketing job down in Franklin she enrolled in the class for fun. It was a game changer.

“I grew up with my mom wearing Margaret Ellis’ pieces, and so when I was doing one of those projects my mom reached out on Facebook about a light box that I needed for something I was working on and we reconnected with Margaret,” she says. “Two weeks later I started working part-time for her. And the rest is history.”

When a long-time employee gave her notice they started training Richardson to take her spot. So while she was learning how to make the jewelry Richardson was also teaching Ellis Photoshop and social media.

“I took over shipping, digitized our style sheets,” she says. “Eventually she said, ‘I always thought I’d close the door and walk away, and you came into my life and I’d love for you to take it over.’”

Margaret Ellis Inc. became Margaret Ellis Jewelry on January 1, 2013. Sadly, Margaret was diagnosed with cancer in 2016 and passed earlier this year.

“I kept the integrity of the brand because she had built a 30-year business,” Richardson says. “There was no need to alienate anyone and that was my personal aesthetic too. My first ring at age 10 that my mom gave me was a Margaret Ellis ring. So that was kind of my first piece of jewelry that I actually wore.”

Her mom, Connie Cathcart-Richardson, is one of the founders of NFW and also her business manager. “She gets paid in jewelry,” Richardson jokes.

Richardson finds inspiration all over the place, like a pair of earrings from last summer that came from a light fixture she saw scrolling through on Instagram or Pinterest or a collection purely based off shoes she had bought with little perforated holes.

Soon their longtime Cummins Station space will close as they move and renovate their new location, a house on Bradford with a bit more space.

“My goal was never to get so big,” she says. “I like being a small business and keeping it local. And yes I want, as we all do, national acclaim. But I’m not going to overstretch myself to get there.”