Hailing from a very fashionable family, Dylan Lauren has taken her sweet tooth to a whole new level-providing the ultimate experience for the candy-loving kid in everyone.
By Michael Calderone
Photography by Pascal Perich and Dylan’s Candy
“It just evolved out of me wanting to create a place that didn’t exist-a fantastical, experiential store.”
Both Dylan Lauren, and her father, legendary fashion designer Ralph Lauren, have flagship stores on Manhattan’s tony Upper East Side. But while Polo Ralph Lauren, located in the stately Rhinelander Mansion, exudes Gilded Age opulence, Dylan’s Candy Bar features vibrant window displays with candy art, countless bins of jelly beans, and even a 12-foot-tall chocolate bunny.
Although it may not seem obvious to the casual observer, for Dylan Lauren, the style icon’s youngest child, the two stores have a lot in common.
“What they both offer is a lifestyle brand, and an experience,” she said, while seated at a round table, with multi-colored gumballs under glass. “With the Polo shirts displayed, and all those brilliant colors-the bright pinks, blues, and yellows-it’s kind of like, well, candy!”
Dylan’s Candy Bar, the company she launched in 2001, retains her family’s entrepreneurial spirit and love of fashion. But here, candy takes center stage, not clothing. Located just around the block from the Bloomingdale’s flagship, Lauren’s 10,000-square-foot store is packed with over 5,000 different candies, and various candy-related items, from T-shirts to stuffed animals.
On any given day, the crowd can be quite diverse. Customers might include neighborhood teenagers looking for an after-school sugar fix, a 30-something business woman on a coffee break, tourists snapping photos in front of the lively displays, or grandparents stocking up for their grandkids. Several notable New Yorkers, like comedian Jerry Seinfeld, director Spike Lee, and a former President, have stopped by, too. “Bill Clinton has been in four times,” said Lauren.
“What I envisioned would be a fun place to shop, like something out of Willy Wonka,” she said. “It just evolved out of me wanting to create a place that didn’t exist-a fantastical, experiential store.”
At the two-story flagship, located at East 60th Street and Third Avenue, there is an ice cream cafe (featuring over 100 flavors), a private party room downstairs (for events like birthdays or bar mitzvahs), and a “Candy Hall of Fame.”
Of course, there is an unbeatable selection of candy, including, over twenty different flavors of M&M’s, a wall of Pez dispensers, and Dylan’s own chocolate bars. Televisions display retro candy commercials from the past half century, while the speakers blare tunes like Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy” to The Archies’ classic, “Sugar Sugar.”
Like her famous father, Lauren desired to provide a shopping experience where the interior design and unique brand played off one another. “My dad is very visionary, and he understood that I wanted it to be like the Disneyland of candy,” she said. In addition to the fantastical elements found in Willy Wonka or Disney, Lauren was also influenced by popular shopping destinations like F.A.O. Schwartz and Niketown. But unlike those two, Dylan’s Candy Bar is infused with a “hip, 60’s mod design.”
In business for only five years, Lauren said that her parents are shocked at “how successful the brand has become.”
“They’ll talk to one of their friends-whether they’re a famous, ritzy person or not-and they say, ‘Oh, I love your daughter’s store!'” she said. “You wouldn’t expect this type of person to be a candy fanatic. Of course, it’s not just for kids. It’s for anyone.”
Dylan’s Candy Bar, bursting with a kaleidoscope of bright colors, and jam-packed with sugary sweet goodies, is clearly the product of its idiosyncratic owner.
Lauren, since childhood, has always been an avid collector of knickknacks or well-designed packaging. It’s that sharp eye for kitschy objects, and an academic background in art and design, that’s manifested itself in the Manhattan flagship.
At Duke University, Lauren majored in art history, but often spent free time working on her own art projects that were a far cry from the Renaissance masters found in textbooks. Already fascinated by the iconic designs of candy packaging, Lauren made “giant sculptures out of candy wrappers” and a “table mosaic out of gumballs.”
Of course, Lauren could have probably joined her father’s company after college, and once proposed the idea of a Polo museum, but instead charted another course. These days, she’s content to work “more as a free consultant” for Ralph Lauren. “I tell him to make his jeans sexy, and his clothes more colorful,” she joked.
But Lauren wanted to follow a more entrepreneurial path, and often read books about “people who started their own companies.” Friends and family often instructed her to find a niche that hadn’t yet been filled.
“I was traveling a lot and finding candy stores that I thought were amazing,” she said. “And then I’d come to New York and not find all the stuff I found elsewhere.”
Indeed, the wheels began turning. However, Lauren still considered putting her art history degree to a more traditional use. “I wanted to open a gallery for emerging artists, but it kept evolving into more of a food angle,” she said. “So why don’t I open a store that looks like a gallery of candy, with crazy candy architecture?”
For a young woman that spent her early 20’s carefully constructing gumball mosaics, things began to fall into place. So Lauren brought her Pop Art sensibility into designing a store that would become a prime destination for candy lovers. “Everything is bright colors,” she said. “There are candy cane columns. Everything is like oversized candy-very Pop.”
Unfortunately, her playful boutique opened at one of the darkest moments in New York City’s history, just a month after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Nevertheless, Lauren believes that the store served as a “place where people came to be happy, and feel like a kid again.”
In subsequent years, the store’s following has only grown, and Lauren works diligently to keep updating the displays for holidays or events. There are chocolate guitars displayed during Grammy season, and dresses made out of candy wrappers for Fashion Week.
While keeping up with the latest trends in music and fashion is important for curating window displays, nostalgia cannot be discounted either. “I wanted the store to be like a candy museum,” she said. “We have the largest collection of rare and hard to find items. People collect these, and want to be in touch with their childhood memories.”
Unlike some company owners, Lauren is far from an absentee boss: her corporate office is just two blocks away. “I’m back and forth, back and forth,” she said. “I design all the products with my team.”
And it’s that hands on approach that should prove valuable in assessing what customers are looking for, what large companies look to partner with, and where and when to expand.
“There are a lot of companies that want to ally with other companies that they think are youthful and fun,” said Lauren. “I’m very careful about making those decisions. We were approached by Target. They wanted us to be in thousands of their stores, but I have to keep it special. I want to keep it boutique. Otherwise everyone has it.”
Indeed, if a Dylan’s Candy Bar could be found at any shopping mall or corner store, it would lose its cachet. At the flagship, the company’s own chocolate bar is the biggest seller, primarily because tourists who flock to the store want to take something away that they cannot get anywhere else.
However, Lauren is always willing to work with top candy companies, like M&M, Hershey, and Pez, in the creation of unique products. To Lauren, her store represents “a world of these brands, and our spin on those worlds.” She said: “We have a lot of things that other stores don’t.”
“I think a lot of brands have been around for so long that they get stale,” Lauren said. So Dylan’s Candy Bar often provides a venue for classic brands special products that cannot be found in the supermarket-whether that means an abundance of distinctive flavors, or assembled as high-end gift packages. “We’re like the artists that help these companies do short runs of fun things that are exclusive to us.”
These days, Lauren also has to contend with the newest fad diets, as well as, religious and health restrictions. And she’s not especially worried that organic food-loving, cardio-crazed New Yorkers will ever live without candy altogether.
“Everyone goes on a diet, and then bounces back,” said Lauren. “It’s all about sugar in moderation; as long as you’re balancing it. People that come in are the slimmest people I see. We started putting in sugar free, but most people don’t want it. They want a treat.”
Besides the sprawling, Manhattan confectionary, which is soon expanding to about 15,000 square feet, there are now stores in Houston, Orlando, and Long Island (not to mention the growing online business). And Lauren has her eye on various cosmopolitan cities; including, Las Vegas, Miami, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
But why stop at the United States?
“I love going to Tokyo and London for inspiration-the way they package food, the way the stores are designed with so much attention to detail.” Currently, Lauren is scouting locations in both of these style-conscious cities. “I want to conquer the world with candy,” she said.