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Heart and Soul

Marie Helene Morrow brings an artistic flair and creative spirit to Reinhold Jewelers in Puerto Rico.

By Joyce Kauf
 RAPAPORT...

Carla Amorim
Art is very much in my soul,” explains Marie Helene Morrow, president of Grupo Reinhold Jewelers, a group of 12 stores in Puerto Rico. From prestige designer lines to graffiti-strewn walls, the stores reflect Morrow’s heartfelt understanding of jewelry as art and her enthusiastic embrace of innovative decor.
   Much sought after by designers who want to sell in her stores, Morrow has a well-established reputation for identifying innovative and original work that stands the test of time. “I want each designer to stand out differently,” she says adamantly. Morrow is critical of what she sees as too much “copying” in the market in order to make a quick sale. “It would behoove designers’ agents to nurture them. Following the trend of the moment does not grow their talent,” she laments. She lauds events like Inhorgenta in Munich where art school students are invited to show their work at no cost to them.
   Morrow, the recipient of the 2014 Jewelry Information Center’s (JIC) GEM Award for Lifetime Achievement — the most recent in an impressive array of awards for her contributions to the industry and her philanthropic efforts — did not start out in the jewelry business. “So much that has happened to me has been accidental,” she admits. Born in Haiti, to a Haitian mother and Austrian father, Morrow worked for the United Nations after graduating from college. She came to Puerto Rico to learn Spanish, but fell in love with the island, resigned her job and in 1968, opened a boutique that sold paper dresses.
   Morrow’s introduction to jewelry came through a chance meeting with her future husband, Henry Reinhold, who owned the jewelry store across the street from her boutique. When Reinhold’s manager resigned six weeks before Christmas, Morrow offered to take his place temporarily. Eighteen years later, when Morrow and Reinhold separated, a new manager still had not been found.

Strategic Shift
   Reinhold’s store catered to men who bought jewelry for women. None of it appealed to Morrow. “Imagine me — someone who wore paper dresses — selling this type of jewelry?” she asks. The beginning of “my Reinhold” was in 1975 when she leased a 10-foot-by-10-foot space to sell jewelry at the prestigious Velasco mall in the Plaza las Américas in San Juan, promising the owner, “I’ll give you the best jewelry store in the world.”
   The group now consists of four Reinhold Jewelers — the flagship store in Plaza las Américas, with the others at Ponce in the Plaza del Caribe Mall, El San Juan Hotel in Isla Verde and the St. Regis Hotel in Bahia Beach. There are also six TOUS stores in Plaza las Américas, Ponce, Bayamón, Mayagüez, Carolina and Hatillo and a David Yurman store in Plaza las Américas, the only eponymous store not owned by the designer. Kiyume, a new store, sells lifestyle products for men. Almost all the stores are located in shopping malls.
   “I believe anyone should be able to buy a well-made design for whatever they can afford — even for $100,” says Morrow, articulating her retail philosophy. “From the start, I specifically bought jewelry that women can buy for themselves,” she continues, emphasizing a strategic point of distinction in a market that was then dominated by male shoppers. John Hardy, Temple St. Clair, Stephen Webster, Carla Amorim and K. Brunini are among her top sellers. Given the impact of the retail recession, Morrow has added gold-plated designs by Elizabeth and James, Eddie Borgo and Robert Lee Morris.
   To encourage sales at Reinhold Jewelers, Morrow created Faschou, a loyalty program, that awards two points for every dollar spent, with a $50 gift card given for every 5,000 points. Reflecting Morrow’s creative bent, the program’s name derives from a combination of Francesca, the name of Morrow’s granddaughter, and mon petit chou, a term of endearment in French.

Less is More
   An ardent admirer of Steve Jobs, Morrow applies his “less is more” concept to merchandising and store decor. The environment is very informal and very casual. Commercial displays are used as little as possible, with the exception of vendors such as Garrard and Tiffany & Co., who provide their own displays.
   “We do whatever we want for window displays. Sometimes I use rocks or I find things at the hardware store or flea market,” Morrow says. One holiday season, she recalls using a Christmas fairy with a skirt made out of garbage bags.
   In 2009, Jorge Santini, the Mayor of San Juan, wanted to jail graffiti artists. “As a protest, I invited one of the artists, Sofia Maldonado, to paint graffiti all over the back of the store,” Morrow says, thinking she would keep it for a few months. “But when I saw how beautiful it was, I added graffiti to the other Reinhold stores.” Morrow even chose graffiti as the theme for a Reinhold Jewelers’ “Holiday Book.” Like an art book itself, this annual catalog imaginatively pairs jewelry with an artistic theme.
   Always looking ahead, Morrow has just opened her first store for men because it was an underserved market. Kiyume means male in Kenya. “I heard the word on a trip,” she says. “No matter where you are in life, your ears and eyes should be open. Marvelous things can happen,” concludes Morrow.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - May 2014. To subscribe click here.

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