A sugar fanatic all her life,
Dylan Lauren explains why candy is the gift that keeps on giving
Dylan Lauren is living the sweet life. Literally. Her candy empire, Dylan’s Candy Bar, is Willy Wonka’s fantastical dream realized, a three-floor paradise set on New York’s Upper East Side. The store caters to the kid in all of us (not to mention a number of A-List celebs that regularly pop by for a quick sugar fix) and is filled from top to bottom with candy and confections ranging from Whirly Pop lollipops to chocolate-filled cupcakes. But Dylan isn’t stopping there. The daughter of fashion icon Ralph Lauren, she has turned her candy store into a candy brand, complete with a clothing and jewelry line, and a just-released line of beauty products. Too much sugar? Dylan proves there’s no such thing.
New York Resident: How would you describe a day in the life of Dylan?
Dylan Lauren: I definitely have to fit in exercise, whether it’s at 6 o’clock, in the afternoon or midday. I usually get on a stair-climbing machine and use my Blackberry to catch up on my e-mails. A lot of people say, you eat so much candy! But I really believe in being able to exercise. It helps me clear my head and be creative with ideas for the store. Most of my day is spent at the store where I usually work on merchandising. I’m really keen on how things get presented so that’s a huge thing. The goal of the store is to merge art, pop culture and fashion with candy so we try to really follow through on that mission. I really wanted the store to look like the MoMA, sort of an art gallery of candy. The way things are curated is really important.
NYR: The store has so many different “exhibits.” Even the celebrity candy wall of fame…
DL: We just had Blair Underwood in and Christina Aguliera too. When celebrities come in, they’ll sign their mini-bin with their favorite candy and we put it in our candy wall of fame. We call it the “Famous Favorites.”
NYR: What is it like to know that the Dylan’s Candy Bar brand appeals just as much to kids as it does to celebrities?
DL: I’ve always said that candy is for the kid in the adult. It’s really for anyone of any age. You know, a lot of people thought I was crazy when I was opening up. People would ask me, how are you going to do a store with all this candy and it’s just kids and its 25 cents for a piece of gum. But it didn’t matter whether I was 20 years old or 10 years old, I loved candy. It makes you feel young again. And even with the economy, they say candy’s recession-proof. People just feel happy in there so it makes me feel like I’m doing my job. It’s also nostalgic and part of our culture.
NYR: What was it that inspired your initial love of candy?
DL: It’s probably genetic. My mom was a carb addict and she introduced me to candy. My parents never withheld sugar in our house. It was always in moderation, but I loved Swedish fish and licorice and cookies. I just always have loved this stuff.
NYR: How did that love evolve into Dylan’s Candy Bar?
DL: I somehow was always finding candy stores no matter where I traveled. In college, I studied abroad in London and in Rome and I went all over Europe just to find the candy store, even if it was in the middle of nowhere. After college, I traveled to Japan and Israel and I found chocolate artisans that made giant cathedrals out of chocolate with stained glass made from lollipops. It’s just beautiful stuff so I started collecting it and showing it like an art gallery in my house. I also really loved packaging. It was a hobby of mine to make art out of candy. I tasted everything along the way and starting thinking, wow, this would be really cool to sell. None of the penny candy stores in New York had this kind of stuff. It just kept evolving from there.
NYR: And you just celebrated a huge re-launch of the store…
DL: Yes! The renovation took about a year and a half and we expanded from 10,000 to 15,000 square feet. We now have three floors which makes us the world’s largest candy store. We really made it more like a department store. It’s a little more organized and there’s a better flow. We also launched the new candy bar upstairs which serves real cocktails after 6:30 p.m. There’s chocolate martinis, rock candy cosmopolitans — candy themed drinks for both guys and girls. We also launched three party rooms upstairs, great for a bachelorette party or a baby shower. The store is really for adults too,
not just kids.
NYR: How did people first react to your idea to launch a candy store?
DL: My dad always encouraged me to do what I loved. He always says, that’s what you are going to do best. My parents were very supportive. I think there was a period of time when they were like, well, what are you going to be doing working in a candy shop? They didn’t understand the scope of what it was going to be. In their day, it was a penny candy shop, but I explained to them, no, this is going to be larger — more of a Willy Wonka thing. My parents both understood it after that. The idea was to make it more of a department store of candy and a lifestyle brand, which my dad really gets.
NYR: Who would you say inspired you to do what you do?
DL: My parents. My dad really built a lifestyle brand out of a tie. Then he moved into home furnishings and beauty products and clothing. My mom was there, always backing him with her creative ideas too. I love Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart. Each of these people built a brand. You know its Oprah Winfrey, you know its Martha Stewart, you know its Ralph Lauren. You know their style.
NYR: Who in your family has the biggest sweet tooth?
DL: My mom I would say. My dad likes more sophisticated candy, like chocolate and butter crunch. My mom loves chocolate M&Ms, and, you know, just candy.
NYR: Did your dad offer you any advice when you first started out?
DL: Yeah, he encouraged me to stick with my gut. A lot of people kept asking me, why are you going to do a candy store? You’re not going to make any money. It’s cute, but it’s limiting. But I was really driven and stuck with what I wanted to do.
NYR: Was there ever a time when you thought you might go into fashion?
DL: Before I did this, right after college, I wanted to help my dad. I came up with this idea to do the Ralph Lauren Museum where it shows anyone how his clothing is made, what it’s made from, how they are inspired to design a line and a theme — all the steps along the way. It needed a big budget to do a big museum, but my dad may still do it someday.
NYR: Tell me about your new beauty line, Re-Treat.
DL: It took us two years to really get it right and we didn’t want to launch it without that perfect scent. I always love Lush and Philosophy and all these brands that really are fun in terms of their packaging and their smells. We picked four of our most popular flavors to launch with — Birthday Cake Batter, Chocolate Cupcake, Strawberry Licorice and Coconut Bonbon. We also tried hundreds of others, which we will soon be coming out with, like Blueberry Jellybean, Peach Gummy Bear, Gumball — there are tons of flavors that we want to launch. We went through rounds of just making sure each scent smelled like the actual product. It’s almost all natural. The products have no parabins, no sodium sulfate — it’s really good for your skin.
NYR: How do you resist indulging in all that sugar around you?
DL: I don’t. Every day I try something out. I love marshmallow fluff. I love vanilla frosting. Some days, I try one thing, other days, I am craving something else. I think having protein and exercising also helps balance out your cravings.
NYR: Is there a candy that you always have on hand?
DL: I love Cadbury Cream Eggs. They also came out with something called Twisted, which they only sell in Europe, but I bought loads of it to bring back. I go through phases — I like red cherry dots and string licorice and Swedish fish.
NYR: What do you have planned next for the brand?
DL: I’m really focusing on growing the party business and the favors business. I’m actually working on a candy book, which shows people how to celebrate every occasion with candy. It’s a coffee table book. I’m also working on our personal shopping because Christmas really starts that for us. We’ve been approached to do a TV show. There are a lot of things that come our way, and it’s fun to pick and choose. But LA and Vegas and London and Japan are on the horizon for new stores — we just need to find the perfect locations.
NYR: The good thing is, there’s always an occasion for candy…
DL: It’s true. When people are in the hospital, it makes them feel good. With the election, people were buying for their campaign parties. We had democratic and republican mints and chocolates and donkey and elephant shaped candy and cookies. For Fashion Week in New York, different designers work with candy to make dresses, so right now we have the candy-inspired designs from Project Runway. When the Grammys come around, they find music themed candies that we put out. There’s always a connection with what’s going on in New York, or in America in general. You add to that holidays like Halloween, Christmas and Hanukkah. It’s just fun for everybody.