Red Bank, NJ

Red Bank Royalty: Maria Molino's Transformation From 'Ugly Duckling' To Full-Fledged Swan

Bridget Mulroy

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Dressed to impress with one of Hermes' most trendy bags.Kyle Devesty

Hopefully, you’re familiar with Hans Christan Anderson’s short story, “The Ugly Duckling.” The story is about a young duckling who is made fun of for looking different from the other ducklings. Time passes, and the duckling discovers it wasn’t a duck – it was a swan – a beautiful swan.

The other ducks realized how beautiful the swan grew to be and how poorly they treated the duckling. The story has gained popularity amongst children and educators since it reinforces the concept of not judging people based on looks.

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A yearbook photo of a young Maria Molino made it out of the vault for this article.Maria Molino

Meant with the most respect, "The Ugly Duckling" story is exactly what happened to Maria Molino. Today, in 2022, Maria is far from being an ugly duckling. By all counts, Maria is a swan.

Today, Maria Molino is a pillar in the community of Red Bank, New Jersey. By her own merit, she is a mother, fashion icon, influencer, blogger, podcast host, the head of creative direction in her Red Bank studio, and former boutique owner/someone who weathered the health crisis in a way no one else was able to do.

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Maria shares her looks and accessories with her followers on Instagram. Pictured with the Saffiano Prada Triangle Bag.Kyle Devesty

Not many people know, but Maria came from a life very different from the one she lives today – however, she is humble. If you follow Maria on Instagram or read her blog, you know she lives a fast-paced, high-profile lifestyle.

Growing up, Maria’s family lived like many American families, paycheck to paycheck, parents working long hours, siblings stepping in to help where needed, and a hard line limiting luxuries. Maria was also bullied in school for being overweight. Of course, no child should experience bullying, but you may see where the story “The Ugly Duckling” comes into play.

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Maria will soon be sharing an unboxing of the Hermes Kelly Mini, you saw it here first!Kyle Devesty

Red Bank also has a link to ‘The Ugly Duckling’ since it didn’t always have the uppity reputation it currently has. In the 1980s, Red Bank was nicknamed “Dead Bank” when the town’s businesses were being forced to shut down by the overpowering influence of local shopping malls. Politically, the former leaders disregarded a tax base that was fundamental to the town – and so Red Bank suffered.

As time passed, other investors came to town in an attempt to revitalize it. Unfortunately, their efforts only further widened the gap since investors would buy buildings and increase the rent. Businesses were driven away at an alarming rate as this was not helping anyone in Red Bank bounce back.

After years of watching the economic ebb and flow, Maria took the plunge into opening a boutique in town. This was the catalyst Red Bank needed to get its spark back. It’s likely Maria saw something in Red Bank that she was able to identify with.

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Do you recognize this picturesque spot in the Red Bank area? Mechanic Street!Kyle Devesty

In 2017, Maria’s boutique – The Haute Maven – opened directly across from one of the buildings owned by a counterintuitive investor, and for years, she dealt with negative, spiteful energy from the neighbors across the street. Yet, despite the craziness, Maria’s business thrived. It was then that her impact on Red Bank became evident.

Despite the world turning upside down in 2020 and the Haute Maven closing, Maria Molino has no intention of slowing down. She was able to pick up the pieces and refocus her energy on the next phase of her journey. Having worked in Red Bank since she was young and eventually operating her own business there for over twenty-five years, she has become a driving force in ensuring Red Bank continues to grow and blossom in a positive direction.

Maria uses the lessons she’s acquired through her experiences to improve the world around her – starting with Red Bank. Like a swan, she is extremely graceful in not allowing bad experiences to stand in the way of something’s potential.

Below this article are Maria Molino’s responses to a few questions regarding her journey, passion, plans, and even some heart-warming advice.

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Maria Molino on a family vacation in Amalfi, Italy, wearing Dolce & Gabbana.(@mariamolino/Instagram)

An interview with Maria Molino:

What are some things you’ve accomplished today that the little girl version of you would be proud of?

“Little girl Maria would never believe my life today. She would be in awe. Never did that little girl think she would be sitting floor-side at a major designer show. Never. But also, I don't think she would believe any of what has come from all those years of quietly crying one's self to sleep, the moments of heartache where I would question "what is wrong with me that they hate me so?" I think she would be proud though. There's still so much, however, to overcome. People forget that Instagram isn't real. There's so much strife that still exists in my life and in the lives of many people whom the masses on the internet view as confident or accomplished. I guarantee that even with accolades, so many of the women we all look up to, are still trying to make their younger selves proud.”

‘The Ugly Duckling’ may help illustrate the next inquiry, the story is about the transformation from young, and misunderstood, to grown, and glowing – a ‘Glow-Up’. When thinking of other young women questioning themselves, ‘glow-ups” take all shapes and forms, academically, professionally, physically, mentally, spiritually, financially, and all of the above. Is it wrong to think of this story in a way to inspire others with a dream, who are living under unfair circumstances?

“It's actually funny you mention "The Ugly Duckling". It's a story I've used many times to describe my personal adventure. When I was 16, I was an overweight teen with glasses, and extremely introverted. I spent my free time reading or drawing in my room. In the '90s that pretty much made me a freak. I had a good friend named Tom, he was of the same intellectual ilk, and he told me about 10 years ago, that back then, he had discussed with my mother, after a was hurt by some sort of bullying incident (there were many so who knows which one it was), and she told him, "people will see just how wrong they are. Give my baby time, she may be an ugly duckling to them now, but that girl will become a swan soon enough". She never said it to me. She said it to him. He told me years later after seeing me for the first time years before that, that her prophecy had indeed been fulfilled.

It took a long time following even that discovery for me to even feel my own "glow up". It took a lot of self-introspection for me to understand just how important all those hard times had been and how they shaped me into the person I am today.

I don't mind the use of that story at all. And I'm glad that I wasn't born with the perfect body, the perfect lifestyle. I think it grounded me and taught me the importance of everything else, and that is an invaluable lesson. I sometimes think that all these young women who grow up beautiful from the start, fair after their looks start to fade with age, or something tragic befalls them. I think my early struggles prepared me more for life as a whole.”

At what point did you realize your impact on other people?

“I don't know that I ever really noticed it at a specific point. It sort of developed over time. Starting with people I was close with and then with Instagram. I'm honestly grateful for those who have told me that they feel positively influenced by my style or person in general. It's a very interesting feeling. Having grown up the freaky ugly little duckling, it's both odd and humbling to experience the adoration that's sometimes blessed upon me.”

You come off as an extremely confident person today, do you ever feel contrary to that? If so, how do you deal?

“I struggle with confidence a lot. I think I come off as more confident than I really feel. Mostly because I don't share my lows very often. If I'm absent from social media, chances are I've hit one of those lows. I'm still working through how to share that aspect of myself. I want to, but it's a very vulnerable place, and coming from where I came from, it's a little scary. I mostly try to keep in mind how far I've come with myself. I think about the fact that my mother never told me her prophecy to Tom, about how I struggled through those middle and high school years. I think about how I wish my mother had shared her thoughts about it more, and how I pray my daughter doesn't experience the same lows I have. I try to project confidence more so for Sadie's sake than anything else. I want her to grow up loving herself and not necessarily skip those tough years of learning, but rather be able to decipher them more with inner self-love rather than an outward self-loathing like I did.”

What advice do you have for young girls today who aspire to be more confident? What advice do you have for women today who aspire to be more confident?

“My biggest piece of advice would be to work on understanding yourself and your worth before allowing anyone else to project it onto you. The biggest thing to remember is that confidence is not about your outward appearance. It comes from within. So healing your inner self will intrinsically make you feel more confident outwardly.”

You have mentioned before how your grandmother has inspired your love for fashion and costumes, do you have any costumes planned for Halloween or prior Halloweens, that she’d be particularly proud of?

“I'm blessed that she's still with me. She gets a good kick out of my Halloween escapades. I do think she is rather proud of the fact that I held on to and cherish that part of my childhood with her. It's honestly the best memory I have, staying with her. Learning about fashion and all those homemade costumes was such a big part of forming who I was. She knows this. I've told her so many times. As a family, we have a photo account that links up to a digital frame in her house. I upload photos of my costumes and even today uploaded my Fendi outfits. It means so much to me to get her opinion. It's honestly the most important opinion there is in this world, hers.

She was the proudest last year with Cruella. I worked really hard on both of those costumes.”

What happened when you presented your essay on Gianni [Versace] to Donnatella? How did that make you feel then? How does it make you feel now?

“She was very gracious. I was only 15, I think, and I was so scared but so excited about the opportunity. I walked up to her at the NIAF gala in Washington DC where I was a junior member and handed her the printed copy. She gave me a hug and thanked me. It was a moment I have held on to for decades. I don't know that she ever read it, but it meant a lot to me just to be able to hand it to her.”

What do you miss/not miss/love/hate/wish you did differently/think was the greatest accomplishment from The Haute Haven?

“I miss many aspects of owning The Haute Maven, but I think I miss connecting with customers and sharing my style concept with others the most. I hated having to close, but it was a matter of timing and the climate in Red Bank during [the health crisis] that ultimately helped me make that decision. I am happy that I did it, however, because it's given me more time to work on other projects and ideas. Hopefully, I will be able to share some of them soon.”

How did you grow/change during The Health Crisis?

“I was able to focus on my personal goals during the pandemic. It gave me time to connect and nourish relationships that I held meaningfully and still do. While it was a difficult time for us all. Loses for so many in different ways, it did allow for a lot of soul searching and creative nourishment.”

What was your favorite Baguette?/-piece from Fendi’s show at New York Fashion Week 2022?

“I would have to say the Tiffany collab baguette. The color is iconic and so fitting for such an equally iconic handbag. Of course, the SJP collabs are also exquisite, but I do plan on ordering the Tiffany collab baguette at the Fendi resee on Monday.”

Where did you attend school?

“I attended Rutgers University where I studied English Literature. I went part-time as I worked in boutiques selling designer fashion. It was a 10-year labor of love, working in fashion while getting my degree. I wouldn't change the hardship and experience for the world. It taught me just how important commitment and work ethic were.”

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Maria Molino's eye for style is unmatched, pictured styling the coveted Prada Re-Edition in Re-Nylon.Kyle Devesty

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