TWO LIFELONG-FRIENDS-turned-business-partners are breathing new life into a Houston jewelry brand which initially launched in 2013. Pia Tolomei and CC Brollier recently purchased Bella Madre from the founders, one of which is Brollier’s mother, and are gearing up for their first holiday shopping season.
“I got my master’s degree in accounting at Rice University and worked as an auditor for two years,” says Tolomei, 25. “I always wanted to work in fashion, and knew I didn’t want to sit behind a computer all day. I wanted to own a jewelry business.” For her part, Brollier, 28, a TCU alum and mom of one, says Bella Madre has always been a family affair. “I was working for a company for six or seven years and always helped my mom on the marketing side. I would work shows with her and I loved it.”
Delicate everyday pieces are beautiful — and giftable.
A colorful charm necklace makes a statement.
Not only are Tolomei and Brollier close friends — their moms are childhood besties, too. The name, which translates as “beautiful mother,” guides the duo as they carry the torch. “It’s called Bella Madre because two moms started the company eight years ago to honor their mothers. I loved the name and kept it to honor our own mothers,” Tolomei says.
The company partners with several vendors to offer one-of-a-kind pieces for their customers. “We can work with you to find the perfect gift for whomever you are shopping for,” Brollier says. “We can do customization where we design aspects of pieces as well.” The pair hopes to soon be designing their own line of jewelry.
And while Bella Madre has a built-in clientele, the new owners are hoping to reach a new audience, too. The latest creations have “a contemporary, young spin,” says Tolomei, whose own bella madre is CityBook publisher Lisa Holthouse. Brollier and Tolomei typically only buy one of each item, which “adds to our desire to keep our brand very personalized,” says Tolomei.
Touting both bold and delicate rings, earrings and necklaces, and statement pieces featuring motifs like evil eyes and butterflies, Bella Madre is available online and via social media. The duo also has a by-appointment showroom in Uptown.
At the end of the day, Brollier and Tolomei want their customers to feel empowered. “Jewelry instills confidence, and we want to make sure everyone feels confident,” Brollier says.
Tolomei agrees: “When you wake up in the morning, you want to feel good about yourself. If you have a beautiful piece of jewelry, even if no one sees it, you’re going to feel really good. We hope that people will buy Bella Madre pieces for themselves and for others to help them feel beautiful as well.”
Who says retail is dead?! If Houston’s scene is any indicator, brick-and-mortar boutiques are alive and well — and ready for holiday shoppers.
HOUSTONIAN COURTNEY PELL Wilkerson has opened Pell 1990 (24811 Gosling Rd.) in The Woodlands. It’s a “wink to the ‘90s,” she says. Find posters and photos of ‘90s-era fashion icons and pop-culture moments; a custom neon sign featuring everyone’s favorite Clueless quote, “As if!"
And after nearly 12 years of operating as an e-commerce site, Golden Thread (9135 Katy Fwy.) opened its first retail storefront in Spring Branch, featuring the jewelry designs of former neonatal-ICU-nurse and native Houstonian Jennifer Welker.
Women’s boutique Pell 1990 has opened in The Woodlands.
In the Heights, ethical fashion boutique Oak + Sparrow (1051 Heights Blvd.) by Houstonian Elizabeth Berg touts fair-trade and eco-friendly clothing and accessories. And florist Phuong Nguyen opened her Casa Mi Bella Rosa (1815 Taylor St.) by-appointment storefront with floral arrangements and accessories and gifts for home. It is open to all on Nov. 27 — perfect timing for holiday shopping!
And go-to online giftshop Birdie’s has announced it will open a brick-and-mortar location in River Oaks, where customers can shop for unique, one-of-a-kind and buildable gift baskets for all occasions.
Birdie’s has gifts for adults and kids alike.
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BEAUTIFUL, WORLDLY AMANDA Mills, who divides time between Houston, Aspen and adopted hometown L.A., is well known to the society set in each city. Describing herself as a “tightrope dancer atop a house of cards, muse, influencer, writer, fashionista, reluctant socialite, rainmaker, party tosser, world traveler, yogi and dog mama,” she boasts nearly 80,000 followers on Instagram. Here’s how she answered our quirky questionnaire.
What accomplishment are you most proud of? Founding Amanda Mills Los Angeles, my online retail store, that gave a portion of all sales to charity. Living through 2014, 2020 and 2021. Completing 2,000 hours of yoga-teacher training with the greatest teachers in the world.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Hollywood Mandy. Nailed it!
What’s the best gift you’ve ever received? Is the IRS going to be reading this? This is a tough one. I have received some of the most incredible gifts in the world: cars, jewelry, homes, trips, bags, coats, ponies, art. But the absolute best? A first-edition copy of Breakfast at Tiffany's signed by Truman Capote. Not only was I gifted this treasure, but my ex, who has since passed away, read the entire book aloud to me. Priceless. He thought I was the modern-day Holly Golightly. Was he correct? Definitely maybe.
What’s the best gift you’ve ever given? A trip to the World Series in Los Angeles, gifted to my precious nephew Thomas Mills. Also, a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting to an ex. Cartier watch for another ex. Wish I could get the last two back. Kidding! Kinda.
Favorite holiday tradition? Christmas Eve with my mother’s huge side of the family keeping my precious grandmother Myrtle Stockton Martin's memories alive. My grandmother was the Coco Chanel of East Texas; they even looked identical. From her I got my love of fashion, impeccable eye for design and style. She used to say a dress should be as beautiful on the inside and it is on the outside, and that went for people also.
Santa already knows, so you might as well tell the truth. Were you naughty or nice this year? I think that the pandemic really softened my heart, placing a priority on peace, good health and patience for myself and others. I removed things and people that disturbed the peace I had cultivated while virtually being alone for about a year. So nice. With just enough naughty to keep it interesting!
Best way to warm up on a cold winter’s night? A few guys named Glenlivet, Glenmorangie, Lagavulin, Macallan and Yamazaki. Yes, I'm a Scotch Whisky kinda girl!
Finish this sentence: I’m gonna get me some mistletoe and… Head to the set of Yellowstone. I’m the perfect age for John Dutton or Kayce Dutton. But Rip Wheeler is totally off limits, as Cole Hauser [the actor who plays him] has been married to my friend Cynthia Daniel for years. I have known Kevin and Christine [Kevin Costner, who stars as John Dutton on the show, and his wife Christine Baumgartner] for years from Aspen, but I am not above asking her if I could get a hall pass with Mr. Dutton!
Your elf stripper name — of course, that’s a thing, duh — is a beloved childhood toy plus a dessert your grandmother used to make. Go! Barbie Fruitcake.
Where’s the best place to find holiday cheer in Houston? Maybe a restaurant or a pub? Riva’s Italian Restaurant Montrose. Michael, the owner, decorates the place from top to bottom with Christmas cheer. Know before you go. No children allowed!
Tell us about your closet. Something old you love, and something you hope gets stuffed in your stocking? I have amassed an amazing handbag collection. My favorite piece is my Tiffany-blue Hermès bag. For my stocking stuffer, how about $5 million? No bitcoin por favor!
Name-drop time: Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever met (and how did that happen)? Girl, please. I lived in Malibu and Beverly Hills for about 10 years and New York for another two and have been in Aspen for about 30. I really have met everyone — and dated a few. Wink. Many I call friends who happen to be famous. But my best craziest encounter where I was speechless for like five minutes was when Oprah Winfrey was my spa partner at The Peaks resort in Telluride. So I am sitting in the indoor hot tub waiting for my services naked, and in walks Ms. O, also naked! After the “I’m sitting in a hot tub naked with Oprah” wore off, we ended up having great time. It was New Year’s Eve, and we ended up at the same dinner party of about 25 people like Oliver Stone, Tom and Nicole. We stayed up till the wee hours of the morning talking about adoption, Daryl Hannah and JFK Jr. Lady O was gracious and tons of fun, as were the rest. Everyone in Telluride laughed at the Oprah-in-the-hot-tub story for years. And we ended up being neighbors.
Name three things on your bucket list. Norwegian fjords and Northern Lights. Vietnam, which I had to cancel because of the pandemic. Jeff Bezos, I’m rocket-ready!
What’s your most useless talent? I can write full sentences with my toes. And I can fit inside a midsize piece of luggage… Don't ask.
If you were arrested without explanation, what would your friends and family think you had done? Been framed! They think I do no wrong!
What would you choose as your last meal? Caviar.
What’s the closest thing in life to real magic? My dogs Atticus Finch and Chrissy Snow, of course!
What’s the worst movie you love? Pretty much anything with Will Ferrell. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, The Campaign, Step Brothers, Old School, Anchorman
Is there a charitable cause you support, and why that one? The Ubushobozi Cooperative in Musanze, Rwanda. After the loss of my fiancé in 2014, I traveled to Africa to heal while on holiday. I stayed at the Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, part of Governors’ Camp Collection visiting the mountain gorillas. One day I asked my driver-guard if there was a place I could take a yoga class. He immediately said I have the place for you! As luck or God would have it, his wife volunteered at the Ubushobozi Project.
With a population of about 12 million, Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa. Women in Rwanda are especially vulnerable when it comes to education. After the genocide 1994, 80 percent of the population — predominantly women — were left under the poverty line. Empowering women became an important issue throughout the country. The project provides a home for the women and offers vocational training. The girls produce crafts, clothing and bags, as well as teach yoga and dance.
I left a huge part of my heart in Rwanda. I shared with the girls my loss, and, as orphans of the genocide, loss was a feeling they knew all too well. I told them, I at one time was orphaned, as well placed for adoption when my young birth mother unselfishly wanted to give me a better life. There we sat, women from opposite sides of the world, with more in common than people who lived across the street from me in the United States. The girls and I embraced and cried. This was the first time I had given myself permission to cry.
At the end of our beautiful day, I purchased yoga bags to bring back to the states to sell and raise awareness for this amazing group of women. That’s how I got the idea to start my website Amanda Mills LAto bring not only attention to women living on the margins at home and around the world, but to offer funding to them also. I encourage everyone to learn more visit and donate to this wonderful organization: ubushobozi.org
What’s something about you people would find surprising? I have struggled with dyslexia my entire life. It has never defeated me, only made me stronger in other areas.
In five words or less, what’s your advice for living a happy life? Fall in love with yourself.