Boy Smells’ Matthew Herman on throwing old perfume rules out the window
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. Herman and Kien were both 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 lofty aspirations for the brand when we first launched it, because we really wanted it to be a little recreational hustle. It was in years two and three that we got really started to get serious. We quit our jobs. We were running the whole business from the living room, then it was the living room and the kitchen, then the living room, the kitchen and the sunroom. All of a sudden there was a inventory in the hallways,” Herman said on the latest episode of the Glossy Beauty podcast.
While “genre” Boy Smells launched at Sephora this month, it first launched into retail through independent stores like Boy George in Austin and has now closed Barneys New York, positioning the line as for a fashion-savvy person but sold at a more accessible price. The brand’s perspective on collaborations is equally thoughtful. After Boy Smells’ Slowburn candle catwalk success with singer-songwriter Kacey Musgraves, it would have been easy for the team to rinse their mouths out and repeat the mentality with other partnerships. But Herman said whoever Boy Smells works with should represent what Boy Smells is, which led to the brand’s latest work with Grace Jones.
In essence, Hermand said: “[We asked ourselves], ‘If we could choose one person who represents our gender values and who we are as a brand, who would we want to work with?’ And we went after this person, who’s not the person digital people want to know about every decision on…hearing or whatever. [would choose]. We went after the person who we felt truly represented our brand values,” Herman said.
Below are additional highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
Democratizing luxury perfume
“I went to school at Central Saint Martins in London. I worked in London for a bit, worked in New York for more high-end catwalk designers, then moved to Los Angeles to working for Nasty Gal, which was my first job in fast fashion. … Nobody ever asked you to skimp on the design or skimp on the concept. It was like the craziest, craziest stuff you could imagine, but made 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 deliver something that felt elevated but still within one price. … Our main candles, our black and pink candles, are $34. That’s a really competitive price to get in. Most candles from many brands that I like… can cost upwards of $100. For us, being able to bring a modern perfume to a much more accessible price was a real idea nt exciting.
The magic of gender
“We got into all of this with digital agencies that want to scrape conversations and look at their data and their audiences and stuff. While I really appreciate that, I think some things are just meant to work fine. … Kacey Musgraves represents our gender values. Gender wholeness is about expanding the definition of your gender, defying expectations, and exceeding expectations based on the limited perspectives others have of you. … The country music industry is that old boys’ club. Many country music stations don’t even play Kacey Musgraves. I think she was not allowed to be nominated for country music at the Grammy’s this year. So she’s forging her own path, exceeding expectations and redefining what it means to be a woman in country music today and redefining the genre. She was very much in our gender values.
Destination: fine fragrance
“Making fine perfume has always been a goal. Candles were something [we did] not coming from the perfume industry. It was something we felt most comfortable tackling first, but the refined scent is where we knew we always wanted to end. … In those early years, all of our growth was fueled by the candle category. Last year, the brand experienced significant growth in the fine fragrance category which 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, faster than you expected. What’s wonderful about partnering with Sephora is that they’re known as a fine fragrance destination. Our first largest retailer will handle the fine fragrance collection. … We realize that many people are still discovering IRL fine fragrances.