Harry Slatkin: has dominated the smell market for nearly three decades. The New York Times dubbed the entrepreneur the “king” of home perfumes, and he continues to be an industry expert.
Slatkin has created home fragrance collections for over 100 brands, including Ralph Lauren, Tory Burch, Vera Wang, and Christian Dior, to mention a few.
He founded Slatkin & Co in 1992, turning his passion for fragrance into a thriving business that began at Saks Fifth Avenue and then expanded to include Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman.
Harry Slatkin Entrepreneur Of Home Perfumes
Barneys New York, Harrods in London, Villa Moda in Dubai, and Joyce in Hong Kong. Slatkin has designed home fragrance collections for Tory Burch and the Christian Dior organisation, among others, in addition to a bevvy of celebrity fans like Martha Stewart and Ralph Lauren who have collaborated with the scent-master.
Slatkin has been a regular on television since the 1990s, and his HomeWorx candles, another favourite in the home fragrance area, can be found on QVC on a regular basis.
I spoke with Mr. Slatkin about his long career in home fragrance, what makes a nice scent, and how he’s used his entrepreneurial skills to help others.
Roytel Montero VS Roytel Montero, Tell me about how you got started in the fragrance industry. It’s a very romantic profession.
Harry Slatkin, and I’m Actually, it’s extremely romantic
I’m Harry Slatkin, and I’m Actually, it’s extremely romantic. when my wife and I were engaged and both working on Wall Street, we both desired a change but couldn’t figure out what that change would be. My brother, who works as an interior designer, decided to give each of his clients their own home fragrance when he completed a project.
“I’m not in the candle business, I’m in the decoration industry,” he would say at meals and out in public, before turning to my wife and saying, “If you want to take this as an engagement present, take it.”
I’m never going to do another candle.” We agreed, and Rosemary Bravo, the president of Saks Fifth Avenue, went on to become the chairwoman of Burberry, where she became known for the brand’s turnaround.
Denise Hale, a good friend from San Francisco, had told Rosemary that she needed to see the candles, so she drove us from Saks’ home floor to the third floor. The home floor was always scented, and this was a big deal!
We ended ourselves at the cosmetics area just after exiting the elevator, and WWD had written a full page piece about it because no other fragrance had ever been found in the cosmetics department.
Back then, home scent was a new invention in the globe, and you could buy very inexpensive or extremely expensive candles imported from Europe. After reading the WWD storey, everyone wanted to do home fragrance. We were the first to treat candles as if they were a type of house perfume.
We used elegant top, middle, and base notes that you’d like to put on your skin. We were contacted by Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Vera Wang, and Christian Dior, all of whom wanted us to create their house scent. That’s how the home fragrance industry began, and our new marriage began with us working in the fragrance industry.
Montero: You’ve been dubbed the “King” of home fragrance
You’ve been dubbed the “King” of home fragrance and have collaborated with celebrities such as Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey. How do you go about producing smells with such well-known people?
Slatkin: I don’t think about whether it’s Elton John or Princess Diana or anybody we’ve worked with on projects; I simply get to know the individual and their tastes because we’re all fairly basic underneath it all.
When we did Elton John, it was his 50th birthday, and we had been invited to his birthday party in Europe. My wife and I were trying to figure out what we should bring him as a present, so we brainstormed.
We were up against Elizabeth Taylor and all these amazing individuals who could buy him anything in the world, but we couldn’t, so we came up with the idea of getting him 12 or 24 candles that he could design and produce himself.
Elton John was buying our candles the first time we saw him, and he bought $28,000 worth of them. That’s how we became friends; anyone who spends $28,000 on candles becomes one of my friends.
So we gave him candles to manufacture himself, and he called and said, “If you did this to benefit my foundation, it would be the best present I could possibly wish for, again.” We raised millions of dollars for the foundation with Elton to develop the candle, and we were at his villa outside of London, where we went into the garden— he had an all-white garden.
We gathered all of the flowers and he replied, “These are my favourite flowers,” referring to the first candle we ever made for him. It’s extremely personal, and it all boils down to how we create it, as well as the individual and their love and passion. After that, you just have to hope that everyone else enjoys it.
Montero: Created the smells for major brands
You’ve created the smells for major brands such as Ralph Lauren and Christian Dior. What is the best way to turn a brand into a characteristic scent?
Slatkin: I’ll never forget the initial meeting when we were asked to handle Ralph Lauren. We proceeded to a meeting in the design room, where the head of design was there, as were many others.
They brought in a large 10 foot tall birch tree and said this is what Ralph wants for his Potpourri, to which I said, “How do you want us to put that in a box?” I believe the point is that you must understand the brand’s mindset, and Ralph Lauren has its own country, vision, and reality.
Once you’ve begun to imagine that world and truly comprehend its sympathies, you can begin to create it. For fragrance, you’ll need to work directly with Ralph and his wife, Ricky, because they use the perfume in their own homes. If it’s not something they enjoy, they’re not going to put it on the market. It’s really just a matter of getting into the brand’s psyche and comprehending it.
Montero: Your favourite scents that you’ve created over time
Slatkin: When people ask me what my favourite perfume is, I always say the same thing: I adore all of my children; each one is like giving birth to a child. No one realises that making a candle takes 6-9 months merely to bring it to life.
Starting with the perfumers, have a discussion about the atmosphere, style, lifestyle, and ambiance you want to create. The next step is to have them make samples and send the oil to me so I can smell the different oils.
I’ll probably start with 6-8, like a few, and send them back to have them made into small candles that I can smell and burn, then that candle gets put into a large candle as a sample, which I then burn to see if I like it.
If that’s okay, it’s tweaked with wicks and oil levels, and if I colour the wax, it’s tweaked with wax colour because it affects the burn, and then it’s delivered back to me. I burn it for 4 hours at a time till it reaches the bottom of the candle. Each wick is firmly attached to the candle, and if I don’t like how it’s burning, I redo it. Having said that, I don’t have a favourite among my children and adore them all.
Montero: Smell is a visceral sense
Smell is a visceral sense that has a lot of power in people’s lives. Are there any scents that bring you back to this moment?
Slatkin: All scents are extremely potent, and the olfactory system is closely linked to the brain. Before we accomplish anything, we smell. Scents, for me, are linked to memories and the past. If someone in an elavator is wearing the same perfume as my mother, I will immediately recall memories with her while inhaling that scent and visualising those experiences. I see what I smell. When I smell anything, it comes to life in front of my eyes.
Slatkin: Montero: Have you worked with personal scents before? What makes this technique different from making household fragrances?
Slatkin: The first personal perfume I produced was for myself. Christophe Laudamiel, a French perfumer, made a smell for me 12-15 years ago, and it was black fig and absinthe. When you’re developing a personal perfume, you get very specific and sometimes indecisive, which drove him insane. I tried it so many times and had such a good time with it.
I put it to the test when I awoke in the morning, during the day, at night, after a bath, in the summer, and in the winter. For all these years, that has been the only smell I’ve worn, both at night and during the day.
When I was in Claridge’s in London, my friend Linda Wells, who was previously editor and chief of allure, called and said she smelled my scent in the foyer and knew I was there. It’s become a signature perfume for me. Your handshake and hello are your signature scents.
Montero: Long and illustrious career
You’ve had a long and illustrious career; are there any highlights or important lessons you’ve learned?
Slatkin: I always tell people who are just starting out in life that they should focus on their passion rather than their fame and money, because if they are passionate, they will succeed.
Every time I start a business, there are delays or financial problems, and it seems like everything is going wrong; the only thing that will get you through is passion; love, caring, and creativity are all about your enthusiasm.
“I’m thinking of moving into the decorative arts sector and leaving banking,” a banker recently messaged me on Instagram. My advice to him was to do what you love and go for it if you think it will make you happier than banking.
Montero: What are some of the most important aspects to consider while creating a long-lasting house fragrance?
Slatkin: The scientific and personal notes are two of the most significant aspects of creating a home aroma.
The Perfumers Association has recognised my nose. To be credible for what a customer wants, I rely on my nose. It has been successful in that I am able to predict which scents people will prefer to employ in their homes, whether they are fruity, floral, or exotic.
What I despise about a scent is when you buy a candle and it’s just that one scent, like vanilla sugar or tuberose; I’ve always regarded house fragrance as if it were a great fragrance perfume, with top, middle, and bottom notes that combine to create diverse moods.
When we did Ralph Lauren, he handled everything like it was a movie, and everything told a storey, just like I do when I make a candle. It must have a start, a beautiful middle that excites you, and a nice ending. That is how I view the ingenuity that goes into each and every home aroma candle. Every test and approval on any candle I’ve ever made is done by me.
Montero: You’re also dedicated to some fantastic charitable projects
Slatkin My wife and I met while co-chairing a charity event, and we’ve been highly involved in charitable work ever since. My son was diagnosed with autism at the age of eighteen months; he is now twenty years old, and it was a frightening thing to hear at the time, and we didn’t know where to turn for support.
We wanted to use charity to aid not only our baby, but the community and the world as well. We co-founded the New York Center for Autism, a non-profit dedicated to improving education and biomedical research in the field of autism.
We then provided funding for a programme at Hunter College to educate public school teachers about Autism. My wife and I serve on a number of boards, including Autism Speaks, and we recently inked a deal with New York Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University, and Weill Cornell Medical College to develop a medical facility in Westchester dedicated to autism research and brain research.