New York socialite Dylan Lauren has successfully managed to transform candy into a chic lifestyle product with her Upper East Side landmark treatery, Dylan's Candy Bar. As the daughter of famed fashion designer, Ralph Lauren, Dylan grew up observing her father's flare for fashion and his business savvy, but opted not to go into the family business. She does, however, continue to incorporate style and fashion into the décor of Dylan's Candy Bar. Windows are dressed with the latest colors of the season, creating an ever expanding line of candy-inspired apparel and accessories, with detailing that looks good enough to eat. The Duke University graduate who majored in Art History has combined her love of both candy and pop art, pioneering a brand new concept: the artistically hip and fashion forward candy store. Candy is not just a sugary treat to Dylan, but an abstract concept representing fantasy, joy and irreplaceable childhood memories.
Just about anything sweet you are craving can be found in the aisles of this two story whimsical Candy Land. Custom colored M & Ms, every flavor of licorice and jelly bean, old school favorites (think Bazooka Bubble Gum and Charleston Chews) and the privately labeled line of Dylan's gourmet chocolate bars are just some of the tempting treats that await you when you enter the store. Dylan Lauren also pays homage to her favorite childhood movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, with a store that is visually mesmerizing. Stairs are transparent and embedded with colorful candy, stools are designed to resemble red and white Starlight Mints, and songs like "Sugar Sugar" blare through the sound system. Dylan's Candy Bar currently has four locations including the flagship operation in New York City, Long Island, Houston and Orlando. During our conversation, Dylan informed me that she is currently scouting new locations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Hawaii.
PR.com (Allison Kugel): I'm in Dylan's Candy Bar all the time, because I'm a chocoholic.
Dylan Lauren: (Laughs) That's funny! You live in New York?
PR.com: Yeah, I've been back and forth between Los Angeles and New York, but they don't have one in LA.
Dylan Lauren: Ah, we're looking...
PR.com: Oh, really? :)
Dylan Lauren: Yeah, so we shall see. It's in the process...
PR.com: Very cool. Well, right now I'm living on the Upper East Side, so it's very accessible to me.
Dylan Lauren: I'm glad you like it!
PR.com: How did you come up with the concept of Dylan's Candy Bar?
Dylan Lauren: It's a variety of things. First, I love candy. That being said, I would always take candy and collect it; candy from different countries when I was traveling, whether it was just to taste it or to look at the packaging. If there were sculptures, like chocolate sculptures in Italy or candy wrappers that were cool from Japan. I just started this collection and I was thinking, "Wouldn't it be cool to have this in America?" But we couldn't find it anywhere. I just started becoming obsessed with finding more unusual candy. I was an art history major at Duke [University] and loved pop art and certain artists like Warhol and Claes Oldenburg who worked with candy wrappers and packaging, and I started doing my own candy artwork. I started making mosaics out of gumballs, and used candy wrappers to find the right colors to make chairs and to wrap tabletops. And I was like, "Wow, I could create for a gallery space where not only do I showcase candy that has unequal shapes and colors, but I also showcase my art and other pop artists' work." Then that evolved into, "Why not sell candy in this sort of venue with art and these rare candies, and then decorate the whole place to look like a really whimsical candy land." It just kept evolving. The candy is so beautiful and the shapes and colors... then I start thinking about the architecture looking like real candy. Movies like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory were very inspiring, and going to Disneyland. Seeing ways to make the store really unusual.
PR.com: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is one of your favorite movies, right?
Dylan Lauren: Definitely! That was one of the earliest childhood memories from movies I had seen.
PR.com: You said that your dad (fashion designer, Ralph Lauren), when you were five years old, he got a print of the movie and he set up a movie screen, and you and your friends watched it.
Dylan Lauren: Yeah, for one of my birthdays, it was great.
PR.com: You know how childhood memories and associations often times bring us a lot of joy and comfort? Is [candy] kind of an association or a throw back to positive memories for you?
Dylan Lauren: Yeah, definitely. The film was so unusual and fantastical. When Wonka II (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Johnny Depp) was coming out we did a big launch with that. People really had a strong attachment to the first movie. I think it wasn't just me. I guess I started to take that to another level because I loved candy so much. So I think candy in general, when you taste candy you remember... I ask a lot of people and they remember the first time they had candy or they say that a child's first purchase that they can afford is candy. It's definitely affiliated with that.
PR.com: Did you like the new version of the movie with Johnny Depp (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)?
Dylan Lauren: Yeah! I thought it was cool. I definitely was very inspired by the first one. And we have our candy cane columns and starlight mint stools and a lot of things related to that film. But the second one was cool because of having our store celebrate Wonka, and helping launch that film with Warner Bros was just awesome. It was a great way to tie in the two.
PR.com: Are you always on the lookout for anything in entertainment that is candy or sweets related, that you can do a cross promotion with?
Dylan Lauren: Yeah, we are. Wonka couldn't be more perfect because sometimes films use candy in a private label with their team, but there is the Wonka oversized chocolate bar which we carried exclusively. We had the ten pound bar, and then we had the Wonka Golden Ticket Bars and people would freak out when they found them. We had this whole exclusive shop and a bunch of things, so it was great to tie into that. Then Harry Potter also has candy in that film, so we did a great partnership with them. It's great because our store is really about celebrating launches of candy and company launches, and going forward. Superman is coming out so we've been approached to do a whole Superman tie-in with candy.
PR.com: So how does that work? Does the studio contact you or you contact them?
Dylan Lauren: Well, it's both ways. With Wonka, I think a lot of people had heard of our store as the Wonka candy venue, so it was sort of a back and forth. They knew about us, but also I pursued that because I was like, "I have to be involved with this since that was the original inspiration." And then, our marketing head had built a great reputation with Warner Bros. But now, it turns out that a lot of the movies that involve candy are looking to us to help launch them. They're buying our windows to showcase the exclusive shop and the products. So, it's great! Also, when we open in L.A. we'll tie it into big parties and things.
PR.com: And as far as parties, I know that children rent the back room of Dylan's Candy Bar and they do great parties, but now adults are having parties at Dylan's too?
Dylan Lauren: Oh yeah! Like you said earlier, candy really brings out the inner child in anyone at any age, and that kind of spreads to our customer and our candy. [Our customers] average, like, 20 years old and up. We just had a birthday for someone who was 70.
Dylan Lauren: (Laughs) Yeah, it was cool, and we have a lot of nostalgic candy so we get an older demographic in there. But we have all different ages doing the parties and doing the activities in the party room. We have licorice limbo and bubble gum blowing contests. Sometimes we do candy martinis. It's a little more unique than just going to a club, because we involve activities. Our goal is sort of to unite that inner child and creativity.
PR.com: That's very cool. And, tell me about the association that you seem to have developed between candy and fashion.
Dylan Lauren: A few different ways. I think growing up, the colors of my dad's collection of the polo shirts (Polo by Ralph Lauren), and the cable knit sweaters or even just swatch [watches] to me, seemed like candy because they had these color Swatches in a candy jar to choose from. It seemed edible. Even today when I see the line of all the shades of pink and the gradients of red...they even call some of the shades, like, "Raspberry Red." So I think that the color sensitivity that I got was from that. There are so many fashion items that we carry beyond candy that sell really well, because there are people who just love the medium of candy, whether it's the shape, the candy, the color or the graphics. So, we sell tank tops that say "Sugar Baby," or pajama pants for guys that say, "Sugar Daddy" or "Blow Pop." (Hey now!) We're now selling so many different bags with a candy pattern on them that we've designed. [We sell] ribbon belts, like the ribbon candy. So it's a lot of clothing, and even umbrellas we're coming out with that have candy raining on them. They're very hip and stylish designs.
PR.com: I've been going to Dylan's Candy Bar forever. And I noticed that at the beginning you had a few t-shirts with the Dylan's logo on them. Now, I think I was just in there about two weeks ago, and you have literally an entire department of apparel and accessories. At first I thought they were ancillary products, but now they seem every bit as prominent as the candy.
Dylan Lauren: Yeah, you're talking about Dylan's Candy Bar or just the branded...
PR.com: Everything. All the ancillary products; everything that's not food: pajamas, shirts, bags, pillows... everything. It seems like it's become every bit as prominent as the candy itself.
Dylan Lauren: Yeah, definitely. I don't know if it's after we opened, but it seemed like graphics with the candy companies have become a really popular, trendy thing on t-shirts; distressed or vintage shirts with the more nostalgic candies. I don't know if it's just because of us, (laughs) but it's become a really popular thing. I think at one point it was like cereal characters and then soda, icons, beer... so it's very cool that we've been able to have on some level, some exclusive and popular, trendy thing. In our store it's popular all the time. I think people just really relate to that, it strikes a chord in them.
PR.com: Is that stuff selling as much as the candy?
Dylan Lauren: Yes. We sell the Dylan's Candy Bar branded t-shirts and tank tops and now we have these striped scarves. That flies out of the store. We're having a tank top sale for summer and people are buying them by the threes. It's the candy colors; they lay over the red with a pink tank top under it. So yeah, it started out as a sort of fun...I wanted there to be a sort of sexy baby doll tee to say that anyone can be a "Candy Girl" no matter what their age. It's not just like a footlocker type of shirt that's oversized. It has a stylish feel to it. I think that the popularity of the brand is growing, and people just want a piece of that.
PR.com: You said that your father, when he was giving you advice towards the beginning, you guys didn't really agree on the look of the clothing that Dylan's Candy Bar would carry. He thought it looked kind of "souvenir shop" and you said, "No, it looks sexy!" And he didn't get it.
Dylan Lauren: Well, it was more that he didn't understand why we were even selling these Dylan's Candy Bar t-shirts in our store at all. He thought we were a candy store and really thought, "Why are you putting your t-shirts on the main floor? You have two levels." He was like, "You should move that rack of t-shirts downstairs. It seems souvenir shop." I was saying "No, this is the whole part of the brand. It's about the candy girl and the sexy sort of baby doll thing." I think he didn't really understand the whole candy world anyway. I think as we've grown, he's seeing that we're coming out with pajamas with the patterns, and kids wear. He's seeing that people really want to license our products and they really like what we have. There are whole different age groups who like it. He's starting to understand it, but most people who are candy lovers, like it. We're not just about candy. We're about gifts and holidays and we have occasions. If someone's on a diet and they don't want to eat candy but they still like candy, they can get a shirt or they can have other alternatives. We also have candy spa products with a million scents in candy. There's cotton candy and caramel and chocolate. So we carry an extensive line of spa products.
PR.com: Is that new, the line of spa products?
Dylan Lauren: No, we started off with candles and some lip glosses. But we have four stores now. With the stores' distribution, we were able to carry more diverse products. So it's been great for us. We're still continuing to grow and to have more stores which will enable us to have a lot of these bigger companies. Maybe, hopefully, make our own candy spa products.
PR.com: So right now, all of the candy and the spa products are purchased elsewhere and then it's private labeled and packaged by you?
Dylan Lauren: We carry so many different companies. Some of it we private label. We develop it from scratch, and we develop the ingredients and the packaging. Some of it we source from over 5,000 different vendors. So, it comes into our stores as their company, but that's what's so funny. We really change our product mix every season and every holiday. It's not just like fashion, where it's the four seasons; it's like Mother's Day and then graduation and then camp. The colors change for the fall and back to school and the products change, so it allows us to have so many different vendors in there.
PR.com: Do you brainstorm for each new holiday and each new occasion on how you're going to put together your gifts and what kind of themes you're going to go with?
Dylan Lauren: Yeah totally. Now it's Mother's Day and it's also spring, and it was also just Easter. So the palette of color is a lot of pastel candies. We have a big gift basket industry for mothers, so we do gift baskets that have the spa products and the gift basket itself might look like a bathtub. We're also celebrating flowers because it's spring, so we have flower lollipops and flower chocolate tulips. You can make a bouquet out of chocolate tulips or chocolate roses. Then we're going into summer, so it's going to be a whole slew of products celebrating America and 4th of July. That's when we'll bring in all red, white, and blue candies and things with chocolate stars. Then nostalgic candies from the good old days, and then boardwalk stuff like funnel cake and cotton candy and fudge and candied apples. Then it's going to change again for Halloween. So we always change it and we change a lot of the colors and the baskets. It's a fun industry.
PR.com: As you were talking, I'm like, "You know what, there's always a holiday!"
Dylan Lauren: What's great about candy is that people give flowers and they die, but there's always a holiday and there's always an occasion. Like a get well basket is a chocolate aspirin and a Campbell's Soup can of chocolate. Or a get well basket bouquet of yellow roses that are chocolate; yellow foil chocolate roses.
PR.com: So let's say a holiday is coming up. Does everyone in your office sit and toss around ideas and come up with what you're going to do? And who actually designs everything that we see displayed when we walk into Dylan's Candy Bar?
Dylan Lauren: We have a team and I'm involved in every step of that. We go to the trade shows and look at all the brochures. We have a team of buyers who coordinate the high end specialty products, and then the lower end more kid novelty products, and then the every day products. Then we have a graphic design team who actually create what the store is going to feel like and look like; the feel of the season. Everything sort of goes with the season. And then we market it with our marketing and PR. So it's cool, it's a whole process.
PR.com: And do you think that you're changing the image of sweets? Because a lot of women and girls are so deathly afraid of carbs and sugar...
Dylan Lauren: You know, I don't know about that. We get people in the store from models to candy addicts to people who are diabetic and just love candy. Everything in moderation. I think as long as you exercise and eat your protein, you won't have such a sugar rush. It's funny because the majority of my customers are totally fit. They walk in the door and guys go in there to meet them! (Laughs)
PR.com: Right, that's what I'm saying. I walk in and I see very attractive women in there, and I thought all these Upper East Side women were totally afraid to eat candy!
Dylan Lauren: We do sell the ice cream sundaes and the chocolate cupcakes and all that. But I think that candy, the actual just sugar... this is my theory on it: it isn't as bad as the cake with the flour and the fat, you know? That's where it starts to get dangerous. (Laughs) A little handful of M&M's or Gummy Bears isn't going to kill you. That's my take on it.
PR.com: Right, of course. And what advice did your dad give you throughout your first year in business?
Dylan Lauren: He definitely said "Do what you love and keep doing it, and enjoy what you're doing because this is your passion. Don't get too crazy with the business side of it and the sort of ... people wanting to buy the business, or expanding..." We were approached by Target right away and I turned it down because I was like, you know what, I'm developing my own thing. It wasn't really about the money as much as developing a creative concept. So he kind of said to stick to your guns basically, to your vision and your gut, which is very important...
PR.com: And your gut told you not to create a mass distribution deal with one of these big stores...
Dylan Lauren: Yeah, to slowly develop [my] own image, because we're all about the experience when you walk in the store...
PR.com: You were approached by Target and by Harrods's Department Store in London when you were partnered with Jeff Ruben. Did you part company with Jeff because he wanted to do mass distribution deals and you wanted to keep the brand private?
Dylan Lauren: Pretty much. That's part of the picture, and I think we had different visions. I was more about boutique-ing it.
PR.com: So now you're by yourself, no partner?
Dylan Lauren: Right.
PR.com: Do you want to continue to keep Dylan's private? In other words, every time you open each new location is it just going to be handled by you and your company?
Dylan Lauren: Right, that's correct. I'm definitely going to do that and I'm looking to expand to more stores. A lot of people ask if they can invest or franchise or bring it to Australia or Japan, but we sort of try to control it because the company's not even four years old. I think that's really important at the beginning stages.
PR.com: I think that's very wise.
Dylan Lauren: Yeah, definitely. I think it's because I've seen some things that can bastardize a brand pretty quickly. I didn't want to sell out that fast.
PR.com: I'm sure it's tempting to get all that attention and have people interested...
Dylan Lauren: Yeah, it's good. I just think that...we'll get there and probably stay there longer. (Laughs) Because I've watched a lot of companies do that (referring to companies who sell their brand too soon)
PR.com: How many locations do you currently have?
Dylan Lauren: Currently we have four stores. The flagship is in New York. The others are in Houston, Orlando, and Long Island. The plan is to open other flagships like New York in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco. Then, hopefully London and Japan. We're also looking to do wholesaling, selling our brand to brands with a similar image. Like in the W Hotels, we had a product in their mini-bar, or Delta's Song Airlines, or just other companies where we think we can kind of co-promote the product. And there's just a lot of business spin-off within the actual store. We have a cafe, a party room, gifting, and holiday and corporate gifting and product in general.
PR.com: How involved are you in each different location?
Dylan Lauren: It all stems from New York, the flagship [store]. We develop the products in New York and then they go to the other stores. Each location has a sort of different audience. There's "Rodeo Week" in Texas and then Disneyworld in Florida. So right now in Orlando we're doing a tie-in with Shamu and Sea World. Whether I go down there or someone from my store does a tie-in with that. I'm very involved; I'm definitely excited to open more stores in more key markets.
PR.com: Are the next locations on your mind L.A. and Las Vegas?
Dylan Lauren: Definitely, and even in Hawaii we've been looking.
PR.com: Would you say that the candy will always remain the primary product at Dylan's Candy Bar?
Dylan Lauren: Yes, definitely! I mean, that's like... the source of all evil. (Laughs) Definitely!
PR.com: (Laughs) Tell me about growing up with a famous fashion designer for a father and with a famous last name. How was that for you, and did you feel pressure to make a name for yourself?
Dylan Lauren: I think that growing up with my dad (Ralph Lauren), obviously people recognize him and in a lot of ways it has a lot of benefits in that, people kind of respect him as a high end fashion designer. He's been in business for over 40 years now, so he's maintained a vision and stuck to it. Being around him and learning from him just by dinner conversations or seeing how people react to him, it's been very educational and a kind of free education in many ways. I think the last name has been very helpful in terms of the association with class, and sort of expensive but quality...and fashion, because the store is about candy and fashion, fashion and candy and colors. Everyone in my family is very entrepreneurial and doing something on their own, and I think my dad's been very supportive of starting your own thing, which has been great. I can't think of any negatives. It's been pretty positive.
PR.com: I know that at one point he wanted to name a perfume after you and you said, "No, no, no. I want to wait to use my name until it's something that I own."
Dylan Lauren: You read The [New York Times] Sunday Styles! (Laughs)
Dylan Lauren: Yeah, that's true. I guess I liked my name. I liked the originality of it and I just felt like, I kind of knew I'd do something. I wasn't totally interested in the fashion industry, but I was into something in the arts and creativity. I kind of just wanted that name.
PR.com: Good move!
Dylan Lauren: (Laughs) Thank you. Yeah, it's funny.
PR.com: What's your take on the whole celeb-utante, trust fund baby thing that everyone always talks about, especially with the Hilton Sisters and all this stuff that you're seeing on TV now. Do you consider yourself to be part of that or on the outside of that?
Dylan Lauren: I think that anyone who has a last name can do many things with the name. They can sit around and sort of live off the name and their parent's money, or they can actually use it for charity or for business. So, I don't know, everyone has a different take. I think that when the parents are sort of promoting themselves through their kids, that's a little disgusting to me. I think that I'm very serious about what I do and I think my parents just sort of brought me up that way. So I don't think I was necessarily part of that.
PR.com: You stayed away from that whole scene?
Dylan Lauren: Yeah, I mean I have my own social life and I go out and I go to events and stuff, but I'm definitely not just sitting around and living off a trust fund.
PR.com: The last thing I have to ask you is probably the most obvious question. What's your favorite type of candy?
Dylan Lauren: Ah-ha. Well, Easter just passed and they have
Eggs which I really, really like. And then, I like a lot of red gummy things like Swedish Fish or Swedish Berries. And I like anything marshmallow-y. There's this thing called Divinity in the south that I really like, or just plain marshmallows.
PR.com: The next time I go into your store, what's the number one thing that you recommend out of the bulk candy to try?
Dylan Lauren: Red Australian licorice.
PR.com: I'm usually a creature of habit, but I'll try something new.
Dylan's Candy Bar currently has store locations in
New York City; Long Island, NY; Orlando, FL; and Houston, TX. For more
information about Dylan's Candy Bar and Dylan Lauren, visit www.dylanscandybar.com.