Apiece Apart Woman: Malia Bianchi-Mau

Malia Bianchi-Mau Apiece Apart Woman

Topanga-based jewelry designer Malia Bianchi-Mau is in the midst of a reevaluation. It’s not so much that she has slowed down in the last year; it’s more that she has subtly shifted gears, steering herself to a direction that is more focused and true. Returning to the mountains of Topanga after living around Los Angeles (in between spending part of the year in Joshua Tree and Kauai, where she grew up), she's found a new sense of calm and purpose this year. It's an unexpected byproduct of the tumultuous political present, but one that she is fully leaning into. Below, a trip to Topanga and a conversation on grounding in, speaking up, and the in between.
Interview by Yasmine Ganley / Photography by Greta Van Der Star

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It's hard not to feel a shift in energy when you visit Topanga. You lived here before and only recently returned. What drew you back?
Topanga stole my heart the first time I visited many years ago. I kept that dream alive through many phases of life living in other parts of LA over the years. There is something so grounding about the landscape here that makes me feel like I am home. I almost can't even explain it but I do know that I feel in harmony and balanced when I am here up on this mountain. 

It is especially lovely in your home. Your family pictures dotted around feel so personal and special. What was your childhood like? 
My childhood was very full — I loved playing outside and I was always involved in sports, art, and other activities. I would spend my summers visiting Hawaii where my dad was from and loved experiencing something that felt culturally different than the mainland. 
My dad passed away a year ago and after he passed I had a vision of him where he told me to hang his photos up and to make sure to tell stories of him to my children to keep his spirit alive. It made me realize how important it is to me to make our ancestors part of our lives now. We are here because of them and hold little bits of each of them inside us. So, I like the idea of keeping their heirlooms around, lighting incense, and thinking of them while I look at their photos. 

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You also live part of the year in Kauai. Having an escape or somewhere to regularly return to as a creative feels like the ultimate dream. Why do you think creatives crave a sense of physical movement, a change in pace, or environment?
I think as a creative you are constantly looking for inspiration, and usually that involves shaking things up and seeing different kinds of beauty and ways of being. When I travel I always seem to need a moment to ground in and grasp where I am. Once that happens I want to know everything. The world is so big and there are so many different places to explore; I need to experience as much as I can to keep moving forward.
Amid so much current cultural and political unease and unrest there's become an impulse to band together — what is your perspective on this? Yes, I have definitely felt the shift in my own community as well as the greater collective consciousness. After the initial post-election shock set in there were so many questions on my mind and a real need to understand the situation we were in. While grasping to understand why and how, I started to see how with all things in life we have the shadow as well as the light. Everything is cyclical. It brings you to a point of critical choice: You can keep moving in the same direction that caused this outcome or you can completely alter your path from the ground up. Post-election, it felt like a shadow had suddenly been revealed in a very open way. It is not pretty or comfortable, but in a sense it is a necessary step to expose this thing that was always here...now it just has a big, identifiable face on it.
It's actually given me more hope because I've felt a new sense of transparency that's been remarkable to witness. When things do get bad is when humans really do band together and stand up, which has been so inspiring to see, not only in the US but all across the world. 

Malia Apiece Apart Woman

As a designer, and given the current status of the environment and government, have your priorities changed over the years in terms of sourcing materials or in developing your concepts? 
As a maker of jewelry I have always really appreciated the process of making something by hand. It is a slow process but it is so rewarding to complete something that you started from scratch. I have moments when I think that we in general do not need any more products out in the world to consume but then I think about something that was created out of love that has this intrinsic quality of beauty to it and I change my mind. We give meaning to the art that we create — if someone else can feel that, I think that's a good thing. 
What are some of the ideas you would like to explore this year?
One of my main purposes this year is to find a balance between work, my important relationships that I cherish, and taking care of myself. I just started a new jewelry collection that I'm very excited about, and my sister and I are in the early stages of starting a homewares brand. I have a lot of creative energy around me right now. And, since we just bought a house in Topanga my goal is to make it my sanctuary. I have learned I need quiet and space in order to feel like myself so I am really excited and grateful just to ground in. 

Malia Apiece Apart Woman