Meet Marilyn Hellman, Champion of Women’s Power through Fashion
Celebrating 10 years as owner of Marilyn’s boutique at 375 5th Avenue South
Naples, Fla. — Marilyn Hellman is a pioneer on multiple fronts. Her first eponymous Naples boutique, Marilyn’s, was established on 5th Avenue South in 2009 in the earlier years of the neighborhood’s redevelopment. She has since elevated Naples’ traditional designer boutiques into her own fashion house by collaborating with European artisans for signature clothing and accessories and creating her own couture fashions.
She is also well-known as the “hat lady” for her creative hats that each outdoes the other at the annual Hats in the Garden luncheon at the Naples Botanical Garden, one of the most successful and well-attended events in the region.
Her pioneer spirit came naturally. “My north star is instilling a sense of beauty and confidence through fashion, an ethos I inherited from my mother.” Hilda Hellman was a style maven who owned The Pink Closet, a high-end consignment boutique in Minneapolis in an era when women still made clothes from patterns. Hilda sourced the best, gently used designer fashions and tailored clothing for the social set while teaching young Marilyn the art of draping, tailoring, fabric and the importance of fit.
The most profound lesson for Marilyn was witnessing women exude confidence in their femininity and power while wearing superb fabrics tailored to their bodies in designs suited to their personalities and lives. She adapted the lesson to her own life and style, and with towering confidence gained unusual expertise in all her endeavors, including a future career in corporate America.
Marilyn worked with her mother in The Pink Closet during her teen years. After graduating University of Minnesota in Art and Speech, she continued working in the shop for ten years before entering the business world as a high-powered sales executive for a Xerox, based in Chicago and later New York City.
“I wanted a big life and exposure to a bigger world,” Marilyn says. “I was fearless and determined when I decided to go corporate in the era of the E.R.A. (Equal Opportunities Act). I wore a Halston Ultrasuede dress to the interview. Thank heaven my mother owned a luxury consignment shop! When I was asked why the Xerox should hire me, I said, ‘because I am the image you want presenting your products,’ and I got the job.”
After all, dressing for the occasion is one of the pillars of etiquette that Marilyn learned from her mother, an Amy Vanderbilt devotee. “Fine fashion and etiquette are intertwined. I believe that old-fashioned etiquette should drive a woman’s fashion choices. Dressing for the occasion is important and overdressing or underdressing are trends and fads and don’t reveal the true potential grace of a woman,” comments Marilyn.
She honed her already sharp business skills in Chicago, but New York City beckoned. Her company arranged for her relocation to the city where she, as always, was the one friends turned to for advice on styling and accessorizing.
“In 1998, by a stroke of fate, I found myself in Milan and Paris, attending fashion fairs and showrooms, never knowing it would change my future forever. The beauty of fashion was overwhelming,” Marilyn says.
“I knew that Naples was full of opportunity when I visited it in 2000, and it inspired my entrepreneurial spirit. It was time for me to continue my mother’s legacy and open my own shop,” she continues.
Marilyn opened her first 900 sq foot, accessories boutique, Marilyn’s, at 331 5th Avenue South in 2009, which at that time was becoming the chic, popular destination that it is today.
The shop was a hit, and Marilyn moved to larger quarters in 2013 and expanded her accessory inventory to include clothing, and eventually transitioned to her own couture brand in collaboration with European designers.
“I look for new, emerging designers in Europe,” she says. “They are creating interesting, unique styles with exquisite craftsmanship and are more than willing to collaborate with me on my own collections.”
Marilyn listens to her customers and their requests and questions, a lesson taught by her mother. “My customers direct me by asking for certain items, or requesting adaptations to a style, or simply adoring the staples of our boutique such as our crisp white shirt and feminine denim dress,” she says.
Marilyn’s boutique is today a destination for unique clothing not seen anywhere else in the U.S. From edgy to classic designs, the fashions are tailored to her customers in Naples and beyond.