By Olivia Munn
Photography by Carter Berg | May 5, 2015 | People
With Dylan's Candy Bar, entrepreneur Dylan Lauren has crafted a veritable sweets empire—and now she's putting her technicolor touch on the Magnificent Mile with the brand's first Chicago storefront...
Like Willy Wonka before her, Dylan Lauren believes the world should taste good—and look fabulous, to boot. The daughter of Ralph Lauren, the iconic American designer, Lauren merged her lifetime love for color and confections to create Dylan’s Candy Bar, the whimsical sweets emporium that debuted in 2001 on New York’s Upper East Side and now welcomes more than 2.5 million visitors annually. In the years since, Lauren has expanded her Pop Art-inspired brand to locales like Los Angeles, Miami, East Hampton—and, in May, Chicago (445 N. Michigan Ave., 312-702-2247). As Lauren prepares to celebrate the bi-level boutique’s grand opening, she recently spoke with friend and actress Olivia Munn about the importance of having a clear vision, how the Chicago store will be a standout, and why pure imagination is always in style.
Olivia Munn: Hi, Dylan!
Dylan Lauren: Hey! How are you?
OM: I’m good. You know, it’s funny because I’ve talked to you about Dylan’s Candy Bar before and gone into your New York offices and helped you organize—I was like, “I brought the label maker.” I was really excited.
DL: Those labels are so helpful. Thank you—I remember very well.
OM: There are so many questions I wanted to ask you. It’s fascinating that you’ve been able to turn Dylan’s Candy Bar into such an iconic place, and it really does feel like Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. I know that was your initial inspiration, but what did you love most about that film?
DL: I loved the idea of living in a candy land. When he first opens the gates, and you see big gum balls, the chocolate river, the gummy bear trees, big marshmallows infused in the mushrooms, lemonade flowers.... Everything’s edible and fantastical—this was wild for me to imagine. As a kid, I always loved candy, but to think someone’s behind the scenes inventing all of this interesting stuff, I just loved that.
OM: We all have different tastes, but candy is something that makes everybody around the world really happy and excited. What do you think makes it universally appealing?
DL: When kids get their first allowance, they buy candy with it; that’s the most affordable treat. The colors of candy are primary colors that kids first see when they’re young, but I also think that sugar has a serotonin rush that makes you feel like a kid again, and the smells and taste of candy make people nostalgic and remind them of happy times. It really ignites all the senses; for me, it’s the colors, the shapes, the textures…. There are so many shapes in candy that they’re like little art objects—they’re fun to play with.
OM: You talk about kids using their first allowance to buy candy—did you get an allowance growing up?
DL: [Laughs] I had the tooth fairy!
OM: Did you use that money to buy candy?
DL: Yeah! I used to save up for Bazooka. It was five cents, and I collected all the comics and used to send away for the prizes.... I must have chewed so much gum as a kid. [Laughs]
OM: And you are always chewing gum still!
DL: Yes, you’re right! [Laughs] I’m really into little red gum balls now.
OM: You have said that your goal was to merge fashion, art, and pop culture. How would you describe Dylan’s Candy Bar’s aesthetic?
DL: We merged all three into a curated museum of candy. When we buy for the store, we’re curating so that each piece really shows the packaging. I want things that are unique and not just like what you’d see in the deli or at Duane Reade. We buy things that look like art, or they’re stylish, and then we also keep up with pop culture, whether it’s a holiday or Fashion Week. We’ve had dresses made out of candy, we’ve had artists make mosaics using candy, and we also sell candy lifestyle products like pajamas, scented perfumes, and jewelry.
Dress, Ralph Lauren (price on request). Earrings (price on request) and shoes ($1,750), Ralph Lauren Collection. Rose-gold equestrian bracelet with diamonds ($8,000) and rose-gold woven bracelet ($15,000), Ralph Lauren Fine Jewelry. 750 N. Michigan Ave., 312-280-1655
OM: Growing up in your family, where fashion’s so important, did that influence you and your business?
DL: I think the key thing was watching my dad turn a tie into a lifestyle brand with different offshoots from fragrance to home furnishings and clothing. I wanted to eat the clothing I would watch my dad design. Just loving color and coming from a family where everyone’s more in the arts, it allowed me to say, “It’s OK to be an entrepreneur and be in the arts,” versus some families where there’s the doctor and the lawyer.
OM: It basically gave you wings, not feeling like you have to go this one way.
DL: Totally, and my dad really got the idea of having a retail-entertainment store that he filled with his brands, versus a generic candy store, so he understood the vision.
OM: You and I first met at the flagship store in New York City that you opened in 2001, and you expanded into East Hampton, LA, Miami, and now Chicago. Was that always your goal, or was it like, “I thought it would be fun to have a store in New York”?
DL: When it first opened, I was thinking New York and LA were the big hubs to capture, and definitely Chicago because it was the heart of the country. I was like, “One day I’ll get to Chicago.” Miami and East Hampton opened before because it was hard to find a great and affordable location [in Chicago]. I had been there in the most freezing weather trying to find real estate for years, and then the Tribune building was just amazing because it has all the different variables that I need in terms of candy retail. It happened a little bit later than I would have liked, but it’s worth the wait.
OM: I actually did not know that Chicago is a major candy capital with Tootsie Roll Industries and Ferrara Candy Company. That’s pretty exciting that Dylan’s Candy Bar is going to be joining the ranks here in the Windy City.
DL: I know—I’m very excited. It’s funny because we’re right across from the Wrigley Building, and it’s fun to have the support of the candy industry because they attend all the trade shows. It’s very cool.
OM: Each of your locations has such individuality with its city. Are you doing something specific with Chicago?
DL: We’re trying to do two different things: We’re trying to have the stores have some consistent icons like the lollipop tree, the candy cane columns, and the chocolate-filled bunny. What’s cool about Chicago is that we have a bunny museum, which is different—
OM: A bunny museum?
DL: I don’t know if you know that I collect rabbits—
OM: I do know that because I remember when I was going into your office that you had this folder of bunny pictures.
DL: [Laughs] Yeah, our mascot, Chocolate the Bunny, is in all the stores, but I’m showcasing maybe about 700 of my rabbits in Chicago because the store’s a museum-looking space, so Chicago will be the only store that has that; Chicago also has the largest lollipop tree. Chicago will have a few special things in the recipes. We’re highlighting chocolate bark called Ballpark Bark; it has popcorn in it because popcorn’s big in Chicago, and we’re doing drinks like Lemonhead Mojito because Lemonhead’s from Ferrara.
OM: And Chicago’s going to have a full-service café and bar. Do you have those in any of your other stores?
DL: We do have that in New York and Miami, but in Chicago, we’re going to make it different in that we hired a company to help us reinvigorate the menu because Chicago’s such a foodie town. We’re going to have a mixologist help with candy cocktails, so it’s our testing ground to then roll [the cocktails] out to other stores.
Dress (price on request), Ralph Lauren. Rose-gold chunky chain necklace ($27,600) and rose-gold equestrian bracelet with diamonds ($8,000), Ralph Lauren Fine Jewelry. 750 N. Michigan Ave., 312-280-1655
OM: Do you have a favorite concoction that you’ve tested?
DL: I love what we call Dylan’s Chillins, which is a frozen hot chocolate made with chocolate flakes that we make. Peanut Butter Explosion is also delicious.
OM: Now that you’re opening a store in Chicago, are you going to be spending more time here? Do you feel pretty familiar with the city?
DL: I will visit you in Green Bay! [Laughs]
OM: [Laughs] Candy delivery to Green Bay, please.
DL: I have to get there. Yeah, I plan to definitely go to Chicago more now that we’ve opened. One of my closest friends lives in Chicago, so that gave me a good feel [for the city]. I love running along Lake Michigan; I’ve seen all of the famous pizza places because I love deep-dish; my dad has a restaurant there, which is one of my favorites; I’ve been to Navy Pier for conventions.
OM: Your father’s very successful in what he does, and you’ve learned things from him, but this is your idea. You’re the one who hires the people—this is your name. As a friend, it’s exciting to see somebody do so well with something. What do you credit for your brand’s success?
DL: Thank you. I think it’s that I truly am the customer of the products I sell. I love candy, and I feel like I’ve filled the niche for other people who love candy and couldn’t find certain things, or couldn’t find a store that felt fun to shop in. When you love what you do, it makes it fun to keep doing it and to push for it. The entrepreneurial part definitely comes from watching my dad.
OM: What’s your proudest accomplishment?
DL: That I’m opening stores in the key cities I’ve always wanted—New York, LA, and now Chicago. I don’t know if it’s one thing, but more the idea that I can check them off the wish list. I joke that I’m conquering the globe with candy—taking over the candy empire! [Laughs]
OM: What’s the hardest part of what you’ve been doing?
DL: Managing people.
OM: Why is that the hardest part?
DL: With any company, it’s growing the team, then having stores in different places and bringing in more people with more complexity who then have to manage and make sure everyone’s on board. That’s a lot of work.
OM: I always say that business is more personal than personal.
OM: OK, I have a few more questions—these are a little more fun. Do you have any causes or charities that you’re passionate about? I know we both are passionate about rescuing dogs and animals.
DL: I wanted to tell you this, actually: I’m starting a charity called Dylan’s Candy Barn [to] raise awareness about [adopting] rescue animals, rather than going to a pet store or breeder for a pet, and making sure people spay or neuter their animals—all of the things that help animals.
OM: That’s going to be amazing. Back to candy, what is your all-time, number-one candy?
DL: [Laughs] I don’t know because it keeps changing as the seasons go. It’s tough because I love marshmallow-y and vanilla-y things, but I also like red Swedish fish, red gum balls, and red licorice…
OM: It’s basically an impossible question for you to answer.
DL: [Laughs] It is impossible, but I’m pretty consistent in that I like all red chewy things and white marshmallow-y things. A lot of candies fall under that umbrella.
OM: I went into the store in LA with my niece, and her eyes just lit up. There’s such a great feeling when you walk into your stores, and it’s not an overwhelming feeling—they just feel alive, and there’s a lot of energy. What feeling do you want people to have when they walk into the store in Chicago?
DL: The feeling I got when I watched Willy Wonka: Our mission is to ignite the inner child and creative spirit in people, to make them feel like kids again, and to make people happy—to make people feel like they can escape whatever they’re doing into a real candy land.
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January 22, 2019
January 22, 2019