by RONA MANN / photos by Stephanie Sittnick

Actually, it’s all very black and white. And stunningly beautiful.

It’s a gemstone, a boutique, and a philosophy of doing business all wrapped into one neat little package. It’s Onyx, with a name derived from the gemstone, a past based on  ethical behavior, and a present dedicated to continuing to make women feel beautiful while treating them well.

Chris Kuzyk has led an interesting life to say the least.  An Army brat, she grew up in Germany and is to this day fully fluent in the language. But it was in the United
States that she became firmly rooted in retail and fell in love with it for life.

Chris highlighted her corporate career working for the now defunct Waldenbooks and later on, Victoria’s Secret.  She eventually left that world to raise her two children, but retail never really left her. In 1999 Kuzyk’s husband was offered a business opportunity in Australia, resulting in a move that brought the family half a world away to Melbourne.

Once relocated, Chris made friends easily, forging a special relationship with one of the other mothers at her son’s new school. Finding a love of retail in common, the two agreed to open a shop; and the first Onyx, a home decor shop with jewelry and accessories, was born. Kuzyk chose the name “Onyx” because of her love of the beautiful gemstone.  Not to be confused with onyx marble, onyx is a black and white  agate with banding that is both parallel and consistent.

It was a fortuitous time to open a business.”For one thing,” said Chris, “there isn’t as much red tape in Australia as there is here when opening a business. And those years were ones of pre-internet shopping, so we did very, very well.”

After three years, however, Kuzyk’s husband’s project was complete, and it was time to move back to the States. So Chris, her husband, and son moved to Connecticut, leaving their daughter behind as she was just finishing her high school education and looking to be admitted to a very exclusive college in Australia. Fortunately her grades were top notch in this more academically challenged educational system, and she was accepted. “I hated to move back and leave her there, but she really had her heart set on that school.  Plus, a university education in Australia at the time was $18,000 a year compared to $50,000 here, so it was kind of a no-brainer,” she laughed.

Once back in Connecticut “the retail bug bit me again. I like Mom and Pop retail, not corporate, so I opened a store in Guilford and called it Onyx as well.” About this time, the Kuzyk’s son, who had wanted a career in culinary arts since he was a little boy helping Mom in the kitchen, was now ready for his university education. Eschewing the required math and English courses demanded by American curricula, the family once again looked to Australia where a culinary education is solely that without other required unrelated courses. Before long, Chris’ son joined his sister in Melbourne, and the house was empty.

The Guilford store opened “at the height of the business recession,” but Kuzyk used the same business model that had been so successful for her in the Melbourne shop, and Onyx flourished.  After three and a half years her lease was up for renewal; and although she had enjoyed popularity with the local customers, Chris decided not to renew. For the next year few years she kept her hand in the business, working in boutiques and helping friends, but the idea of another Onyx kept gnawing away at her.

In early 2014, Chris and her husband were walking in downtown Madison on a Sunday  afternoon and saw a “For Rent” sign in the window of a small shop that she knew would perfectly house a woman’s boutique. “That sign did me in,” laughed Kuzyk. “The owner was retiring, and in a very short time I transformed her space into Onyx yet again.”

But this was not to be just another clothing boutique. Utilizing her considerable retail background, coupled with her love of Australia, Chris has filled Onyx with one-of-a- kind clothes, the majority of which are imported four times a year from Australia. “I’m a true boutique because none of my labels can be found in department stores, not even in New York.” And although her overseas shipping costs are steep, “The Australian dollar has dropped, so I can sell these one of a kind clothes cheaper than I used to.”

And what exquisite clothes they are!  Displayed under state of the art LED lighting which makes the colors fairly pop, accenting the skillful cutting and construction of each piece, sizes range in extra small to extra large and feature loose fitting, yet artistically styled knits and tops, pants and skirts with natural waists, and comfortable apparel that is very forgiving, yet stylish. Much of the merchandise reflects the black and white of true onyx with those characteristic consistent and parallel lines.

Chris points with pride to one of her most popular labels, The Ark Clothing Company, a company upon which the Australian government has conferred the title of “ethically credited” for its socially responsible practices and policies of sourcing their fabrics from ethical companies and paying their people well to design and construct the clothing.  No sweatshops here. The Ark clothing line brands itself as a culture and a community, specifically designed around various body types. This makes them a favorite with Kuzyk’s customers who hit a broad demographic of 35-75 years of age…women who go from the living room to the board room, who love easy clothes for travel, and who just want to look and feel good in what they wear. The Ark, although Melbourne based, produces simple, well made clothes for women around the world…and in this little corner of the world, Onyx is the only place they’re found.

Nikel + Sole, a brand of The Ark, represents cutting age clothes steeped in fine craftsmanship. Utilizing beautiful Vietnamese silks, leather, metal, yarn, and cloth, the line, while designed in Melbourne, is manufactured in China…but once again done so in an ethical manner with workers who are well treated and well paid for their talents.

Although the square footage of Onyx is not massive, the carefully chosen one-of-a-kind styles are impressive and beckon the discerning woman who wants something beautiful, yet well made. Popular dress toppers in every color may be worn nearly every month of the year, serving as a deterrent against air conditioning in summer, or looped into an attractive scarf accessory for colder months. Laser cut evening purses adorn displays of earrings, bracelets, and rings, as jewelry runs the gamut from local artists to pieces from Australian, Spain, and Israel…whose Meditation Rings are a customer favorite. “I buy the jewelry with the clothing in mind,” Chris intones.  And for favorite customers she buys clothing knowing who will like what and who looks best in this or that.

What’s next?  For now, Chris Kuzyk is content to enjoy Onyx and the customers she has grown to know and please with her one-of-a-kind, not found anywhere else beautiful things.  But she does not rule out returning to Australia. “I think we’ll probably retire there.”

And who knows?  There just may be another Onyx Down Under, waiting for her special touch…black and white, parallel and consistent, and stunningly beautiful.

Onyx is found at 685 Boston Post Road in the heart of downtown Madison

(203) 421-6977  www.onyxofmadison.com

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