Dylan Lauren, daughter of Ralph Lauren and a sunnier, hipper incarnation of Willy Wonka, comes to the door of her bayfront suite at the Standard Hotel wearing a red camp dress and no shoes. She has just gotten off a plane, so she doesn’t have her usual stash of gummies and gumballs and cookies to share.
Instead, you check out the room service menu together. It’s a little after 5 p.m., but she’ll risk tossing and turning all night to join you in a cup of coffee. She also orders a cayenne pepper-spiked lemonade that’s such a trip on the palate she offers you a sip so that you can see for yourself.
“I’m sorry I don’t have any candy right now. I always have something in my purse,” says Lauren, 38, founder and CEO of Dylan’s Candy Bar, a growing chain of candy stores that takes the joy of rainbow-hued, sugar-coated excess to arty, fashionista heights.
In early December, she’ll open a Lincoln Road outpost in the former Ghirardelli space. Expect ample opportunities to gawk at celebs. The flagship store in Manhattan has lured Michelle Obama with her girls, Oprah, Madonna, Janet Jackson, the Olsens, the Beckhams, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes with daughter Suri and endless others.
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Because Lauren is fresh out of goodies today, she offers fruit from the bowl that greeted her at check-in. Nah. Not the same.
“I know. I always at least have the white half of a black-and-white cookie,” she says.
Because she eats the black part first?
“Because I only like the white part. Really, just the frosting. I’m not such a chocolate person. I’m more into anything red. Red licorice, red gumballs, red Swedish Fish.”
Lauren, 38, knew early on that she wouldn’t follow her dad into the fashion world, but she nevertheless treats candy as couture. Can’t decide what confections to buy from a collection of more than 7,000 brands and styles from all over the world? Dylan’s Candy Bars offer by-appointment personal shoppers who can help you come up with show-stopping arrangements and gift baskets.
“I majored in art history at Duke, and when I was bored, I’d go to the supermarket at night with my friends to cruise the candy aisle. I started collecting candy for the packaging and design and started using wrappers to do collage art. I’d make mosaics with candy. I thought I wanted to be an artist who worked with candy. And I wanted to showcase other artists who worked with candy. That evolved into the candy stores that to me are more like galleries of candy that merge art, fashion and pop culture,” she says.
The first store, which opened in Manhattan in 2001, offers 15,000 square feet of carbolicious fun, complete with a café serving floats, sundaes, an endless variety of Belgian hot chocolates and more. There are also stores in East Hampton, Houston and Los Angeles.
Dylan’s Candy Bar products are carried by some Bloomingdales, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Sephora, Alice + Olivia, Urban Outfitters and Juicy Couture stores.
“We’re growing,” Lauren says. We’re looking at expanding to some hotels, to airports. Candy never gets old. I do see candy as fashion: the colors, the textures, the designs. And we’re branching out to other products like clothes, stationery, iPad cases, bags.”
Lauren, who in June 2011 married hedge fund founder Paul Arrouet at her parents’ estate in Bedford, N.Y. (Ralph reported that he toiled and toiled to design the perfect wedding dress for his only daughter,) has been obsessed with candy and its power to make people happy since her father used his Hollywood connections to score an at-home screening of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for her 6th birthday party.
“After that I saw the movie 20,000 times. I really loved the fantasy of living in this candy land where lollipops grow out of the ground and the rivers are made of chocolate.”
Lauren’s candy emporiums obviously thrill the little ones — but she always knew grownups would make up a huge part of her customer base.
“Candy is a rush for everybody. It brings out the inner child. At my wedding, we set up this big candy bar so that people could fill bags with whatever kind of candy they wanted. You should have seen the amount of candy people took home. They would say, ‘Oh, it’s for my kids.’ ”
The Lincoln Road store, boasting 3,500 square feet of lollipops, M&Ms, candy necklaces, sour worms, gummy snakes, jelly beans, wax lips, bacon-flavored this and chocolate-covered that — plus an exclusive Miami mix of gummy alligators, sunglasses and palm trees — includes a café with outdoor seating and a full-service liquor bar for the big kids. The top-selling cocktail at the Manhattan store is the Pop Rock Explosion, made with vodka, Midori, orange juice and Pop Rocks, a fun chemistry experiment for the tongue.
But Lauren says she’s looking to come up with something a tad edgier for South Beach’s 21-and-over set. You tell her you’ve heard of home confectioners infusing gummy bears with vodka. And there are medical marijuana dispensaries, not in Florida, of course, that sell a THC-laced version of gummy bears.
Lauren wants to know more. The, um, more medicinal version of the bears she won’t be able to carry. But the boozy kind she wants to look into.
“We carry edible underwear and stuff like that for Valentine’s Day. And we have vodka ice cream. But I like the idea of more adult gummy bears. I might have to visit some factories and see what they can make for me.”
Is there a certain type of candy that hasn’t been created yet? Anything she’d like to get credit for inventing herself?
“An Everlasting Gobstopper, like from the Willy Wonka movie. But a real one that magically tastes like several different meals in one and lasts forever.”
For now she’ll settle for the new ice cream flavor she’s developing with her team.
“Marshmallow fluff, Nilla Wafers, waffle cone pieces, animal crackers and a birthday cake ice cream base. It’s really good. But some of the pieces we have to work on so they don’t get soggy.”
Earlier this year, Forbes put Ralph Lauren’s net worth at $7.5 billion. Certainly, his daughter could have opted not to work at all. Doesn’t growing a chain of candy stores with endless branding and marketing components cut into Dylan’s playtime?
“College was fun. But it was also kind of boring because I wanted to hurry up and get to work and start my own business. I always knew I would do my own thing. I never wanted to just follow my dad. But he did give me the encouragement to believe in myself, no matter what I chose to do.
“And yeah, sometimes running the business can be stressful. Sometimes you have staffing issues and things like that. But right now I’m thinking about everything you can do with gummy bears and what some of the new retailing trends are and what it would look like to be in a few airports — and none of that feels like a job at all.”