Boy Smells: From candles to perfumes, a success story
Founded in 2016, Boy Smells is the brainchild of Los Angeles-based duo Matthew Herman and David Kien; the former a former designer for several fashion labels including Giles Deacon, Proenza Schouler and Nasty Gal, the latter a fashion production specialist in the Los Angeles Fashion District.
Originally a candle brand with a genderful positioning, Boy Smells has made a place for itself in the world of scents, with not only candles that have already sold more than 100,000 copies, but also a line of fragrances and body lotions, and prestigious collaborations. Sold in more than 750 retail locations (300 in the U.S. alone), across 35 countries, the brand, which is experiencing a prodigious acceleration of its sales, has just been distributed by Sephora. FashionNetwork.com met the founders of Boy Smells to understand everything about their success story.
FashionNetwork.com: Boy Smells is the partnership of two profiles coming from the fashion industry. What are your backgrounds ?
David Kien: I worked for a long time in fashion production in the Los Angeles Fashion District. And Matthew studied at Central Saint Martins School in London, then started his career at Giles Deacon, Proenza Schouler, Zac Posen in New York and Nasty Gal in Los Angeles.
FNW: How did you come up with the idea of creating a candle brand ?
Matthew Herman : When we first started dating, we conceptualized this business idea for people like us, who are design-oriented with a touch of queerness. David was looking for some relaxing and calm hobby on the side of fashion production. On my side, I was intensely designing 70 dresses a month at Nasty Gal, but nothing compared to the scent of a candle, which you can make last forever. David was very good at figuring out how to make things and I always loved fragrances. So we started like this. We never thought it would become something big and it really took off fast.
FNW: And the Boy Smells brand was born with a new positioning on the market...
MH: The idea of naming the brand Boy Smells, to wrap candles in a pink packaging, offering rose or jasmine scents that were supposedly not for boys, could allow, we as queers, to spread our message. We didn’t sit around a table with marketing specialists, everything was instinctive. People also like to feel they can be disrupted and with our brand, there was a perfect space to cross the binary model.
DK: Also, the candles brands we admired offered too much luxury pricing. The democratic pricing of candles was dominated by heritage brands very much positioned as craft or decorative. We wanted to offer an affordable brand, combined with a minimalist and clean esthetic, that has a hip and right price.
FNW: Boy Smells promotes 'genderful', what exactly is it about ?
MH: Our trademark is genderful and not genderless. We don’t believe in binary gender but we do believe in the spectrum of masculinity and femininity which exists in everybody. We talk about the fullness of our identity by embracing the whole vision of yourself. Growing up as a queer kid in Texas, my feminine side was never encouraged, and so being an adult, I had to nurture my feminine side and that’s the fullness of who I am. Genderful is an universal feeling: you want be loved for who you are. It’s a very millennial value and why our brand resonates to many people.
FNW: Which distribution strategy have you chosen?
MH: We started with a specialty boutiques strategy as ByGeorge in Austin or Forty Five Ten and Lisa Says Gah stores. Then quickly came names as Kith, Fred Segal, Barneys when it was still alive. We also did a lot of trade shows. We were very digital savvy when we started the brand and we used our experience and network in high fashion and wholesale to continue to develop the brand.
FNW: Then your arrival at Nordstrom has taken you to a new level…
MH: A few years ago, Nordstrom launched its 'Space' concept, a special in-store designer boutique offered in a few locations only, and featuring cross-category collections of apparel, accessories, home goods and fragrances including Christopher Kane, Acne, J.W Anderson. They brought us and we did very very well. We went from 10 doors to all doors at Nordstrom, like overnight. Along the way, we picked up Selfridges, Liberty, Farfetch, and now Sephora.
FNW: Which markets are you targeting today?
MH: Outside of the United States, London and the UK are our number one market. The British really did get the sense of humor around our brand. They also love candles. Asia and Southeast Asia are markets we also targeting but we are not ready yet.
FNW: You have recently launched fragrances and hand lotions, in which direction do you want go?
MH: With our combination of scent and genderful values, there is plenty of opportunities in home and bathroom, for fun inventions. There is a lot which excite us but we want focus on fragrances now. Fragrances are doing very well. It’s the main part of our business at Sephora. Scent is very important to the brand and collaborations in the home space or hospitality spaces could be very interesting.
FNW: You have launched a prestigious collaboration with Kacey Musgraves and Grace Jones, how did you chose them?
MH: Kacey Musgraves spreads a liberal message as a country music singer but seems like not enough “country” for the old-school boys club that is Nashville. She totally expands what it means to be a woman in country music and she will always be a big support for LGBTQ+ community. We also dreamt about a collaboration with Grace Jones. She’s the originator of genderful. In general, we make collabs with people we like.
FNW: When will the first Boy Smells store open?
DK: It’s a goal and we are looking for a location. We started with a pop-up at Platform, in Culver City with a 30% conversion rate. 50% of our customers hadn't heard of Boy Smells before and it was the best opportunity to meet them and understand their needs. For the future, Silver Lake could be a great location but the arrival of global brands as Shake Shack or Madewell make us doubtful. We are also thinking about Arts District or even Melrose and unusual areas such as West Adams (close to Culver City) but we want take our time to find the right spot.
FNW: You recently hired David Duplantis as CEO. How is your company adapting to your success?
HM: David Duplantis has a great background. He worked for J. Crew, Gap, and Coach. He has a real sense of brand building and helps us to navigate to a larger environment. We are open to outside capital investments but it takes time to find the right partner.
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