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When co-founders and partners Matthew Herman and David Kien started developing Boy Smells, they weren’t exactly sure they had a brand. In fact, Herman said the process of making candles in their living room in 2016 was a side hustle. Both Herman and Kien were working in fashion at the time; Herman was a designer at Nasty Gal and Kien worked in production at The Elder Statesman.
“We didn’t have a ton of high aspirations for the brand when we first started it because we really wanted it to be a recreational little side hustle. It was in years two and three that we really started to get serious. We left our jobs. We were running the entire business out of the living room, then it was the living room and kitchen, and then the living room, kitchen and sunroom. All of a sudden, there was inventory in the hallways,” said Herman on the latest episode of the Glossy Beauty Podcast.
While “genderful” Boy Smells launched at Sephora this month, it first launched into retail via independent stores like Boy George in Austin and now closed Barneys New York, positioning the line as for a fashion savvy person but sold at a more accessible price. Equally thoughtful is the brand’s perspective on collaborations. After the runway success of Boy Smells’ Slowburn candle with singer-songwriter Kacey Musgraves, it would have been easy for the team to take a rinse and repeat mentality to other partnerships. But Herman said whoever Boy Smells works with has to represent what Boy Smells is all about, which led the brand to its latest work with Grace Jones.
In essence, Hermand said, “[We asked ourselves], ‘If we could choose one person that represents our genderful values and who we are as a brand, who would we want to work with?’ And we went after that person, who is not the person that the digital people who want to inform every decision about … audience reach or whatever [would choose]. We went after the person that we really felt represented our brand values,” said Herman.
Below are additional highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
Democratizing luxury fragrance
“I went to school at Central Saint Martins in London. I worked in London for a little bit, I worked in New York some for more high-end runway designers, and then I moved out to L.A. to work for Nasty Gal, which was my first fast fashion job. … No one ever asked you to skimp on design or skimp on concept. It was just like the whole-hog, craziest stuff that you can imagine, but done for a mass audience. I fell in love with this idea of being able to not skimp on concept, not skimp on design, but still offer something that felt elevated but keeping within a price point. … Our main candles, our black and pink candles, cost $34. It’s a really competitive price point to enter. Most candles from a lot of brands that I love … can cost above $100. For us, being able to bring modern fragrance at a much more accessible price point was a really exciting idea.”
The magic of ‘genderfulness’
“We’ve gotten into this whole thing with digital agencies who want to scrape conversations and look at their data and their audience and all this stuff. While I really appreciate that, I think that some things are just meant to work out the right way. … Kacey Musgraves represents our genderful values. Gender fullness is about expanding the definition of your gender, defying expectations and exceeding expectations based on other people’s limited perspectives of you. … The country music industry is this old boys’ club. A lot of country music radio won’t even play Kacey Musgraves. I think she wasn’t allowed to be nominated for country music at the Grammy’s this year. So she is paving her own way, exceeding expectations and redefining what it means to be a woman in country music today and redefining the genre. She was very much within our gender values.”
Destination: fine fragrance
“Doing fine fragrance was always a goal. Candles were something [we did] having not come from the fragrance industry. It was something that we felt more comfortable tackling first, but fine fragrance is where we knew that we wanted to always end up. … In those early years, all of our growth was fueled by the candle category. This past year, the brand has seen significant growth in the fine fragrance category that was just launched last year. It’s such an exciting thing to want to do something and then, when you finally do it, it’s more successful, more quickly than you’d have anticipated. What’s wonderful about the partnership with Sephora is that they’re known as a fine fragrance destination. It’s our first bigger retailer that will be getting behind the fine fragrance collection. … We realize that a lot of people still discover fine fragrance IRL.”