Not many entrepreneurs can cite Willy Wonka as an influential figure in their careers, but Dylan Lauren can. She may have been only 5 years old when she first saw Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but Wonka’s world of sweets clearly made an impression. Lauren has built a veritable candy empire with Dylan’s Candy Bar stores in New York, East Hampton and Houston, and locations in Los Angeles and Miami are soon to follow. After a recent renovation, the New York flagship store is the largest candy store in the world at 1,500 square feet. There are three floors of sweet temptation, including a café and bar that serves candy-inspired cocktails like a Nerds mojito and a root beer floatini. In addition to the stores, there is a flourishing online business, airport concessions, candy-themed apparel and a Dylan’s Candy Bar Barbie doll. There is even a MacLaren stroller—the Dylan’s Candy Bar Buggy—decked out with the candy emporium’s bright colors.
The youngest child and only daughter of fashion icon Ralph Lauren and his wife of 48 years, Ricky, Dylan grew up with a shining example of a successful entrepreneur right in front of her. Family gatherings at their homes in Bedford, NY and on the East End often turned into brainstorming sessions. Growing up with brothers Andrew and David honed her competitive spirit. She loved beating them at tennis and used her leadership skills and athletic gifts at the Dalton School in Manhattan. Lauren was captain of both the tennis and volleyball teams and was elected class president. After Dalton, Lauren went on to study art history at Duke, enjoying a year in Europe.
Next, she studied acting, auditioned to be an MTV veejay, became a certified aerobics instructor and tried her hand at her own special events company. Nothing seemed like a perfect fit until she returned to the idea of candy—she was, after all, the girl who had titled her college essay “How I’m Like an Everlasting Gobstopper.” She began to envision a Wonka-esque wonderland of a store that would stock a huge variety of candy in a colorful environment that would bring out the kid in everyone.
Lauren remembers opening the New York Dylan’s Candy Bar in October 2001 feeling nervous about launching her new business while the city was still reeling from the all-too-recent events of September 11th. But New Yorkers entered the store, greeted by the sight of a 10-foot chocolate bunny, and felt they had entered a world that was a haven from a harsh reality.
Lauren wanted to make sure that Dylan’s Candy Bar could give everyone that “kid in a candy store” thrill. There are nostalgic candies like Fruit Stripe gum, Pop-Rocks, Razzles and a ‘50’s favorite Nik-L-Nips. Chocoholics can find chocolate-covered cookies, pretzels, fruit, nuts, and yes, chocolate covered gummy bears. With 7,000 different varieties from all over the world, not only is there an enormous selection of candies, but Dylan’s Candy Bar has become synonymous with beautifully designed gifts. The selection includes a transparent acrylic briefcase filled with goodies, a chocolate assortment in a brilliant color wheel, tubes filled with chocolate covered Oreos, a gummy assortment and, for people who want to forgo the calories, candy-colored shot glasses. The wide assortment of gifts and apparel includes covers for laptops and cell phones, stationary and more delectable finds. There has even been a book, Dylan’s Candy Bar: Unwrap Your Sweet Life. “Candy is childhood,” Lauren wrote, “ the best and bright moments you wish could have lasted forever.”
Dylan’s Candy Bar has become a must-see destination for New Yorkers and tourists alike. Her customers have included such notables as Oprah, Michelle Obama, Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and Tori Spelling.
Last June, Lauren embarked on a new adventure. At her parents’ 300 acre estate in Westchester, she walked down the aisle and married hedge-fund founder/partner Paul Arrouet. Naturally, her dress was designed by her father, who confessed in an interview with Oprah that “I want(ed) to just give her something that she’d really treasure and give her something that would be really amazing. I want(ed) her to feel fantastic.” The result was a handmade duchesse satin, silk tulle and georgette embroidered dress with a tiered train that the bride loved so much she remarked to Oprah that “I may not take off the dress after the wedding!”
Despite the rainy weather, the wedding proceeded without incident, if with a few umbrellas held aloft to shelter guests. In the processional, the bride’s brother Andrew chose to walk down the aisle accompanied by his blue heeler Australian shepherd dog, Cinch. With over 300 guests in attendance, including neighbor Martha Stewart, Dylan Lauren walked down the aisle on her mother and father’s arms. She and Paul said their vows under a chuppah decked with hydrangeas, lilies and roses.
Married life hasn’t slowed Dylan Lauren down. She is busily preparing to open the Los Angeles Dylan’s Candy Bar in the Original Farmer’s Market this summer. The Miami store is slated to open the following winter. Just this past Memorial Day weekend, she hosted a charity spin ride at Flywheel spin studio to benefit the Monmouth County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a New Jersey shelter where she got her own dog, Jersey.
“I got a collie-lab mutt that is black, fuzzy and cute,” said Lauren in an interview with Dan’s prior to the event. “She is from Puerto Rico. We named her Jersey because that’s where the MCSPCA is located, and also because she is very fashionable. I bring her to work sometimes, and everybody just loves her. People are totally shocked when they learn that she is a shelter dog.”
Dylan is a constant presence at Flywheel, and she worked closely with fellow animal-lover Ruth Zuckerman of Flywheel Sports to organize the East Hampton event and raise money for the MCSPCA.
“Most of my customers at Dylan’s Candy Bar also love to spin. Basically, where the candy comes in is that I had been talking to Flywheel that everyone should exercise, but also eat candy in moderation, and when we decided that we wanted to do a charity ride, we joined forces.”
True to her word, Lauren had plenty of 100 calorie chocolate bars on hand to encourage spinners to enjoy their candy without fearing the consequences.