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Lilana Silkman and Maria Pappas of Unique Boutik
By Sasha Fastovskiy
The owners of Unique Boutik, a consignment shop that elevates the term “thrift shop” to lofty and luxurious heights as never before, Maria Papas and Lilana Silkman make it clear that their slice of nostalgic heaven is no average mall store. “Who can tell you where to find silk charmeuse at the mall? Who can tell you what silk charmeuse is at the mall? We do that and more; we can give you the real story behind something, the product knowledge. We have special things,” Silkman explained. “We have the clothes, the furniture, even the music. We’ve really created an ambiance here,” Pappas added proudly.
I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore as soon as I set foot in the door and caught the tail-end of a conversation about a fascinating vintage white fur hat. “It’s the most gorgeous thing. It’s made for a bride, I believe” said Pappas. “It really is a beautiful hat,” said Silkman. “I’d get married again just to wear that hat.” The boutique was filled to the brim with gorgeous vintage furs, barely-worn designer duds (Versace eyeglasses, to the left! Balenciaga motorcycle bag, in the back! Chanel jacket, sold!), home furnishings (what the twosome call “Antique Homegoods”), more affordable brands (Chicos, Talbots, Old Navy), men’s collections, and even newer pieces by the latest “It” designers. Yes, I was now happily smack-dab in the middle of a fashion fairy tale.
“Everything used to be in such limited amount here,” said Pappas. “‘Just you wait,’ I used to tell them.” When she and Silman took over the boutique just over two years ago, they knew they were in for an apparel adventure ~ but they didn’t imagine it would quickly become the epicenter of Worcester’s vintage clothing revolution. “We literally just jumped right in,” said Pappas, noting that she and Silkman do all of the shopping for haute haven themselves. Shunning malls and department stores, they peruse auctions and estate sales, choosing only the pick of the litter. They do accept clothing and other items from trusted clientele and other sources, too, but again it must be to their standards. So what do these ladies think really separates them from other consignment shop owners? “Passion. We love clothes here, we really do,” said Pappas. “We’re so fussy here. All we want is the crème de la crème!”
And both Pappas and Silkman are qualified to recognize that kind of quality, since both bring years of experience to their boutique: Pappas worked in retail for Talbots and J.Jill, Silkman owned Alta Moda in Mechanics Hall back in the ‘80s. Being in the fashion industry for so long, they equally understand what women look for and what’s up next. “The average size in America today is a 12 ~ we take that base and provide for that,” said Pappas, describing how their store is arranged so that different sizes, from 0-XXXL, are represented. In addition, they are constantly trend watching and predicting. “You must always have your finger on what people want,” she said. Most of the time, they are right on the money with what customers like. “It’s so hard to be funky, so we go out and look for them [the customers]. We have people we can call to get certain looks in, so we do,” explained Silkman. “Like the ‘70s parties this year. Everything we had that was ‘70s, we sold out of almost as soon as we got it.
Decade-specific trends will always have their place at Unique Boutik, but Papas and Silkman truly revel in gorgeous, timely pieces dripping with nostalgia, amazing vintage furs, gowns, hats, and high-end designer clothes (including some one-of-a-kind pieces), and the occasional 1800s wedding blouse ~ and while I was having the time of my life going through the racks of delicious dresses and tantalizing tops, each more glorious than the last, I came upon an original Diane Von Furstenburg wrap dress ~ a fabulous piece of clothing that has stood the test of time and proven itself ageless and peerless.
The tailored twosome never dreamed that they would have such a wide selection of clothing, jewelry, and antiques coming in in such abundant supply ~ but they are thrilled to be able to keep their loyal customer pleasantly surprised and stylishly dressed and accessorized with all the incoming items that find their way to the shelves, hangers, racks and displays that line the boutique. Knowing that many of the pieces are rare, too, makes for a much more interesting shopping experience. Whatever your eye is drawn to, it’s going to have character, it’s going to have a personality of its own, a story behind it. It may remind you of your first dance, it may light up your face with a smile when you remember that Jackie O. wore one just like it…
Now, for those who aren’t ready to commit to vintage 100%, Unique Boutik also offers the best items from currently hot and trusted labels like Ed Hardy and Talbot’s, too ~ and these brands are part of the reason this little shop of treasures has come such a long way in the two years Papas and Silkman have been at the helm: the unparalleled variety of decades, styles, and designers from wxhich clientele can choose. Customers can choose to carefully dip a toe into the vintage waters with just an accessory for a more modern jacket that they love. “We have a huge European base, and many college kids, and mothers and daughters come in and shop together. The mothers want to look good, and the daughters want more vintage things,” said Silkman.
“It’s like shopping déjà vu! Mothers are so stuck; they need to feel creative again. When women come in here, it’s empowering. They come to feel creative again; they inspire us, so we inspire them,” said Silkman. “It’s not about age – we don’t even think that way! It’s about going with your gut. Life begins at 40 these days, anyway. I opened this place as my third job, with three sons and educations to pay for. You can never be afraid to take chances.”
Pappas and Silkman’s passion for their business and inventory is contagious ~ come catch it at Unique Boutik, 123 Highland, St., Worcester, (508) 791-2900.