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Home Fragrance: Q&A with Harry Slatkin

Harry Slatkin: Photo by Julie Skarratt

Harry Slatkin, Founder and President, Slatkin & Co.; President, Home Design, Limited Brands

Harry Slatkin manages a half-billion dollar home fragrance business. He recently spoke with GCI magazine about his products, career and personal life...

What was the process involved in formulating your product line, from concept to the shelf?

Slatkin: I create and design product that I believe in, which helps me remain true to my vision. I feel lucky and honored that customers at Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman and Barney’s share my sense of smell. Since selling my company to Limited Brands, I manage a half billion dollar home fragrance business. The process starts with an inspiration—which can come from anything such as art, nature or old movies—[from] a scent and a memory. Once I have a scent, I start to build a collection and design around that scent and consider what the collection is trying to accomplish. In every scent and product I make, I am completely involved in the process from start to finish. Every product is my favorite; I won’t make a candle unless I like the scent and fully believe in it.

How do your products fill a need in the industry?

Slatkin: When I started in the home fragrance [industry] around 15 years ago, I felt home fragrance was only used by a select group of people. Since I believed that scent is for everyone, I wanted to transform home fragrance to become a product for everyday use across all socio-economic levels. Today, scent is as essential to a house as toothpaste; everyone has it and most bathrooms and many rooms have fragrance. Scent can incite emotion, whether it be relaxation, excitement or nostalgia, and [it] can transform an ordinary day or moment to extraordinary. It is the staple of any entertaining moment and makes people happy, which is a huge reward for me.

How do you believe the industry is changing or has changed, and what news or trends do you think will be important for professionals to pay attention to this year?

Slatkin: The beauty industry has changed the past several years to become more luxury focused. This applies to every level of spending; people want to experience luxury no matter what their budget. I came to Limited Brands to bring a mark of luxury to home fragrance, in particular, to Bath & Body Works, and in the past years I have experienced double digit growth since I arrived. I believe it’s because everyone wants an elevated luxe experience.

What have been the milestones thus far in your career?

Slatkin: Of course my biggest milestone is selling my brand to Les Wexner’s Limited Brands, which feels like a dream that I live everyday because I work for him and have the amazing task of building a home fragrance empire under him. I am from Montclair, N.J. and never dreamed that I would have a chance to meet so many inspiring role models. Collaborating with Elton John to make his candles has been a great honor. Meeting inspiring and talented people like Martha Stewart, Lenny Kravitz, Tommy Hilfiger and even royalty like the late Princess Diana, for whom I made a memorial candle for, I consider career milestones. My family is my biggest achievement; they ground me and make everything I do worthwhile. I have an 8-year-old autistic child who has helped make my wife and I examine what is important in life. We started the first charter school for mental health in the state of New York, NYCA (New York Center for Autism), and great strides are being made in Autism, which is now the number one child disease.

Who are your business role models?

Slatkin: Martha Stewart, Vera Wang and Ralph Lauren. All three are brilliant at what they do and never waiver from their identity. No matter what obstacles they encountered, they overcame them.

If you could ask your role model one question, what would it be?

Slatkin: “Does your mind ever rest?,” because I know that mine never stops!

What is the key to balancing your business and personal life?

Slatkin: I am firm about reserving weekends for family. I only allow one weekend a year for work, which is when I travel the world to see how other countries celebrate holidays. Otherwise, I use my weekends to relax and have fun with my family. We do ordinary things like bowling or ice skating in Central Park with the occasional shopping fix.

Editor's note: For more information, see GCI magazine's February 2008 issue, both in print and online.

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