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A Sweets Success Story

Ralph Lauren's daughter makes a fashionable candy statement

October 03, 2002|BOOTH MOORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — With sugary pop songs on the stereo, a party room for rent, gummy bear-shaped backpacks and jellybean-print dresses for sale, Dylan's Candy Bar is more than a candy store; it's on the way to becoming a candy lifestyle.

Founder Dylan Lauren should know a thing or two about lifestyle marketing. Her father is Ralph Lauren, the Brooklyn-born designer who's outfitted the world in prep wear and homes with bedspreads, bath towels and table accessories to match.

Dylan could easily have gone into fashion, but her passion is candy, which she approaches with the same artistic sensibility as her father would a beaded gown.

"I look at candy graphically and for the packaging," she says, kicking her platform slides under a table at the store's ice cream and coffee bar. Open nearly a year, the business has been so successful, renovations were just completed to double the floor space. Popular with adults and children alike, it has also become a hot spot for Manhattan's private school kids to host birthday parties.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday October 04, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 5 inches; 192 words Type of Material: Correction
Dylan's Candy Bar: Fashion designer Ralph Lauren was born in the Bronx, not Brooklyn as reported in a story about his daughter Dylan Lauren in Thursday's Southern California Living.

"Our goal is to take the best candies in the world and merchandise them differently," says Dylan, who has collected interesting confections since she was a kid (some of her favorite packaging is from Japan).

Located near Bloomingdale's on East 60th Street, the store is Candy Land come to life, with fixtures that evoke the Pop Art aesthetic of the sweet medium. Floor-to-ceiling columns are shaped like peppermint sticks. The stairs leading down to the lower level are translucent and filled with gumballs, gummy bears and other treats.

The centerpiece of the store's bulk candy-bin area is a giant glass "candy" tree that projects colorful disks onto the ceiling that look like lollipops. The tree is modeled after the work of artist Dale Chihuly, says Dylan, who majored in art history at Duke University.

Then there's the edible stuff--bins of gummy bears in unusual flavors such as passion fruit and pineapple, chocolate-covered cookie dough nuggets, 5-pound lollipops, truffles packed in purse-shaped boxes, mini-candy bars sculpturally arranged to look like birthday cakes, solid chocolate baby shoes, tutti-frutti- and A&W root beer-flavored jelly beans, spin pops and Pez dispensers shaped like Piglet, Mickey Mouse, Snoopy and Garfield.

Though she's partial to divinity and Red Vines, it's impossible for Dylan to pin down her favorite treat. There are just too many, and every few months when she attends candy trade shows, she finds more. Despite her insatiable sweet tooth, she manages to stay skinny enough to fit into her dad's sveltest of denim skirts. "I work out a lot," she says, running a hand through her long, brown curly hair.

Before this venture, Dylan owned an event-planning company where she often used candy for party centerpieces and on invitations. "It was always my dream to do a Candy Land-themed party," she says.

Through a mutual friend, she met Jeff Rubin, a veteran of the candy business who in 1995 developed FAO Schweetz, the candy departments inside FAO Schwartz toy stores. When the two discovered they had the same idea of creating a sophisticated candy shop, they decided to team up in a 50-50 partnership.

"It's my job to go to every vendor and convince them that they should do something special for Dylan's Candy Bar," Rubin says. So far, he's persuaded Mars Inc. to make 16 original colors of M&Ms and Hershey Foods Corp. to produce 12 new hues of foil-wrapped Kisses, and he's nudging Double Bubble to produce a shampoo that smells like bubble gum. The store also features such non-edible merchandise as chocolate-scented soap, "milkshake" bubble bath, Hawaiian shirts with candy-wrap prints, plus an array of baby tees and totes decorated with the store's colorful logo, which Dylan designed.

Plans to expand to other cities, including San Francisco, Las Vegas and L.A., are in the works. "I want to make this the Disneyland of candy," Dylan says. Entrepreneurship runs in the family. Her brother David started the now-defunct Swing magazine right out of college, and Andrew, the oldest sibling, owns a film production company.

Even so, Dylan says her dad, who's not a candy person, was wary when she first told him her idea. "He did test me. He said, 'Only kids eat candy. How are you going to make money with this?' " she remembers.

No sooner has she finished talking about her famous father than a black SUV pulls up outside the store. Out jumps Ralph, dressed in a T-shirt and jeans. As he dashes inside, Dylan jumps up to greet him with a bear hug. He has stopped by to pick up a gift from his daughter--a fishbowl-size candy dish full of custom-made, navy blue and white M&Ms.

What are the candies emblazoned with? Polo ponies, of course.

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