There are successful women and then there are exceptional women…
Konstantina Dimitra Mahlia falls into both categories. If one can use the quotation of Joan of Arc, “I am not afraid…I was born to do this,” it would sum up this extraordinary talented woman in just a few words.
Konstantina Mahlia has indeed used her strength, passion, and determination to build the Mahlia legacy, a wonderful world of designs and artistic works.
She is the driving force and motivation behind every design in her magnificent collections.
Here Konstantina opens her heart and takes us back to the beginning of her wonderful journey.
Where were you born and what is your educational background?
I was born in Vancouver, Canada and my parents had come from Greece, so I was first generation. I say that I was raised as a European in a North American envelope, which is a sentiment that I’m sure most 1st generation children can relate to. My dad is from the Aegean; from the island of Skopelos, and my mom is from the Peloponnesus, near Tripolis. It’s funny, because I am so much like both of them…one a voyager, dreamer and a romantic, the other the pragmatist with their feet on the ground. My name Mahlia, is from Crete (the palace of MALIA), where my dad’s family originated, and my crest, the lions, are from my mom’s side of the family, from MYCENAE in the Peloponnesus, which both existed, historically, at the same time. I was very fortunate that education was veryimportant to my parents, so I went to a girls private school from the age of 10 and learnt French from the age of four. I was really active in the studentgovernment, debate, drama and choir. I am forever grateful for that schooling because it trained me academically to write and think. Later on, I started at the University of British Columbia, in Psychology, but didn’t get very far and ended up graduating from the University of Arizona Sum Laude with both University and English Honors. The following year I got my degree, ‘With Distinction’ from the Maguire Entrepreneurship Program at the UA as well.
What was like growing up with a British influence?
Very perceptive question… and where do I start? Canada is /was part of the British Commonwealth, so since I was young, I had tea in china cups, scones,Horlick’s, a Scottish baby sitter when I was little, an English green grocer on the corner, played British Bulldog with the neighborhood kids and boughtScottish cashmere at Edward Chapman with my mom. I went to a private school, or prep school, which meant we were educated in a very, British type of academic environment which was rigorous, with seated exams from grade school, tons of homework, and very high standards. I had English friends, Scottish friends and Irish friends all of my life, and English History was more familiar than Canadian or American for sure. Manners and civility are a very big deal too, as they are in English society, and I am very, very, thankful to have had those customs bred into my bones.
When did you first realize that you wanted to be a designer?
When I was sixteen. I had been invited to go to a friends house in Mexico City for the summer and her mother had this enormous collection of Architectural Digests in the most beautiful library. I would sit in there for hours and eventually, I took a subscription slip from its pages for myself. I was hooked.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Beauty, proportion, the harmony of composition comes from the balance of so many things. I think that all the reading has certainly helped- and traveling hasbeen a tremendous source of inspiration. I have whole worlds in my head from a very young age. I love Art, museums… history. It all plays a part.
How does designing jewelry and furniture differ from designing clothes?
Materials and construction, also…fabrics can be draped and the process is so much more hands on and organic with fashion than it is with jewelry or furniture. It’s probably why I enjoy designing the fashion the most.
What’s your favorite part about conceptualizing a design?
The mind game that it is, it really is so much fun and creatively challenging. When I tackled the concept of the jewelry for The Silk Road collection – I was juggling different silk weights that would thread through beads that had different bore holes, leathers, chain,10 different beads, 8 different silk colors etc… and it was extremely challenging… and satisfying when it came together.
What are your favorite fabrics and colors to work with and why?
I love color and have been called a colorist. I love rich colors and fabrics that are very tactile and usually opulent like silks, velvets, lace, tapestry, cashmere andvintage velvet or silk ribbons, crystal buttons- I use a lot of suede too.
How would you define your personal style and your character?
I think that I have a very distinctive, feminine/ soft sexy- not edgy sexy- personal style. My designs are pretty timeless. I seem to always get quite a lot ofattention, even if I’m in Paris during Fashion Week or on the streets in NY at a red carpet event. I’m not a celebrity, but I seem to photograph well. I oftenhave people stop me, to compliment my style and I can’t say how many times I have sold a Mahlia Collection fashion piece off of my back. That’s why I thinkthat I have to stick to my convictions and follow my dream…because I can FEEL how it works when I’m out in public. It’s almost tangible. One of my trade names is “Boldly Feminine.” I am a very female, I wouldn’t say girly… people describe me as ‘elegant’ far too often for that…and I think the adjective ‘elegant’ denotes a certain self possession or confidence.
Why is the language of symbolism so important in your work?
I grew up in a very multicultural world. Vancouver is a very young city and it was and still is, full of first generation cultural immigrants. It was a very important part of my childhood experience, and I was and am very passionate about sharing and celebrating our commonalities, and not festering in our differences. The language of symbolism transcends culture; boundaries and is inspirational. It is about sharing a language of ‘good’…loyalty, triumph over adversity, love….it is very humanistic.
Does your handcrafted furniture sell all over the world?
I don’t sell copious amounts of furniture all over the world…remember these are very special, hand made pieces; but I do sell all over the States. I just started with ‘One King’s Lane’ and that has given Mahlia Collection a great deal of exposure that I wouldn’t have had on my own. I was asked to show at Fierra, Milano, the most prestigious show in Europe, but I just don’t have the energy for it. Building , crating , shipping and displaying all that furniture is a HUGE endeavor. I have enough on my plate with the jewelry right now.
Now, Konstantina, something quite different. What made you decide to write your book, ‘The House of Many Faces?’ What the book is about?
I decided to write my book, because I knew from sharing my story that I somehow had an ability to connect very powerfully with people through my own experiences; that my voice somehow spoke for them too. The book is technically a memoir, but I see it more as a social discourse. I address sexism, materialism, addiction, abuse, tradition, cultural norms… and just try to make people think a little harder about things they blindly accept. The book uses a home that I designed as a metaphor of my life… to tell the story through rooms or objects. I say that it doesn’t matter if you live in a mansion or the back of an eighteen wheeler, we all collect things that contain our histories- live in rooms that share our stories and if you connect the dots…our lives and personalities are there.
Why do you think that the book inspired so many women?
It symbolizes freedom and independence. The question itself acknowledges how few experience true freedom and independence … how far we still have to go before women can have truly equal experiences free of social constraints. And I don’t mean in a rebellious way…which is how I view excessive sexual freedom which is almost self- disrespectful, but in a truly intrinsic way where people don’t question, or fight over equal pay for equal work, where their physical integrity isn’t threatened and battered, where they live in a partnerships where two people contribute equally to the relationship in every way. Surely those aren’t just social issues, but personal issues about personal values as well. I have had as many men as women tell me how the book affected them personally and I am so amazed, flattered and touched to find that what I have expressed is just, simply “human”. Every human being identifies with those experiences.
How many times do you visit Greece? Do you feel and speak Greek?
I have visited Greece a few times, and very much feel my roots when I’m there. The first trip was when I was ten. I do feel Greek, but more European than specifically Greek. Facebook has been an unexpected gift, because Greeks all over the world have found me and adopted me. It’s pretty cool. I do speak Greek and can read and write it a bit as well. I grew up learning to cook from two great chefs; my mom and dad and so I’m quite good myself. However, we don’t just stick to Greek cuisine.
How do you feel about the present crisis in Greece?
I feel very distressed about it of course. I am the first generation not to live in Greece and my family and my roots are there, so it’s very personal and very hard.
What advice do you have for aspiring designers?
Be well funded. Keep your intellectual property safe. Build distribution. Don’t compromise your vision; if you do that…you have nothing left. You’re done. And be willing to work really, really hard. Harder, than you thought possible and then some more. It is going to take everything you have.
Finally, Konstantina. Do you have any unfilled goals for the future?
To become a global brand. To see my lions positioned as a source of proud alliance to anyone who loves what I do, and who wants to be a part of it through what I create.
For more information on Konstantina Dimitra Mahlia and her creations:
Mahlia Collection Inc. 123 S. Eastbourne, Tucson, AZ, 85716
T: (520) 791-2185
F: (520) 842-2037