Dinner with Laura Slatkin of Nest Fragrances

Chances are you own a candle created by Laura Slatkin.  Her first collection sold in Bath & Body Works (yes, the ones that matched the fragrance collections) and now, naturally, she's onto bigger and better things.  Her latest venture, Nest Fragrances, includes candles, but the scents are the stars.  Over dinner in her house on the Upper East Side in NYC, we spoke about her favorites, career and scent inspiration and what's next. When asked at dinner what your favorite NEST fragrance was, you had one for all different occasions!  What are they and why can't you name just one?

People always ask me which one of my fragrances is my favorite. As you can imagine, it is like asking a mother which child do they favor more!  I worked so hard on all of these fragrances.  I labored over them, lived with them, shaped them, and tweaked them until they were perfection, in my opinion, so it is very hard to choose a “favorite”! Instead of spending all my time with one fragrance, I divide my time evenly between them all so no one ever feels excluded! I wear Passiflora during the day as it lifts my spirits. Passiflora reminds me of the superb fragrance that emanates from a floral shop filled with fresh flowers and green leaves; I wear my refreshing Amazon Lily on the weekends when I am riding my bike in East Hampton or shopping around town in NYC; I wear Dahlia & Vines when I am out for dinner in the evening with my husband and close friends; I wear White Sandalwood when I am in a more seductive mood and headed for a special evening out; I wear Midnight Fleur when I am dressed in an evening gown. I lather my entire body with Midnight Fleur body cream and combine it with the eau de parfum. I wear Midnight Fleur when I want a rich, sexy, evocative fragrance on my skin.

The NEST Fine Fragrance Collection screams luxury from the packaging to the base notes.  What was your inspiration?

I didn't wake up one morning and decide to launch a fine fragrance collection; I was inspired to create a fine fragrance collection. One day I was sitting in my library reading some art books, flipping through the pages of a book on the 18th C. British artist Mrs. Delany when I came across a botanical that was so beautiful I actually ripped it out of the book – something one should never do – and I wrapped it around a box and said to myself, “Wow, this would make an amazingly beautiful fine fragrance collection.” It is then that I began the journey of marrying fine art to the art of perfumery. I brought the two worlds together and it was perfect. I hired a very talented Russian artist to paint the botanicals using Mrs. Delany’s body of work as inspiration. Then I took the paintings to the perfumers, and we created the fragrances using the artwork as inspiration.

From your career on Wall Street to founding Slatkin & Co, you're such an inspiring business woman.  What's one piece of business advice you'd give to others?

There are so many lessons I have learned along the way. I guess if I had to choose one lesson I have learned over the years is that businesses are like rivers – you need to let them flow. If you come across a barrier, you need to let the water go around that barrier, over that barrier, find a new direction to go in, but you can’t expect that it is always going to flow perfectly in the way you envisioned. If something isn’t working you need to find a new path, you need to switch gears, learn to pull the plug, and remember it isn’t personal, it is business. Building a business is a roller coaster, it is ride, and you should have fun on that ride. When things hit bottom, just remember you can only go up from there. The way to swing back up is to regroup and get to work…work harder. Stay positive and never lose your positive spirit. You have to find that inner strength to march onward and upward.

What's the best piece of advice anyone's ever given you?

When my son was diagnosed with severe autism, my husband and I started a foundation: New York Collaborates for Autism. Our first task was to establish a school for children with autism in NYC. I met Hillary Clinton at a friend’s home, and I shared with her our foundation’s mission. She listened carefully and she said to me, “I am going to give you some very important advice and I want you to remember what I am going to tell you.” She leaned in and said, "The government is your most powerful partner.” I quickly discovered that she couldn’t be more correct. The fastest way to affect change, to scale your efforts, and disseminate information, is through public/private partnerships. Her advice has been our guiding light. We went on to found the first charter school for children with autism in the state of New York. Hillary Clinton wrote a letter to the State of New York on our behalf, supporting and recommending the approval of our charter.

When you have an entrepreneurial spirit, it seems the sky's the limit.  What's next for you?  Or what else do you hope to accomplish one day?

“There is still much to accomplish with NEST Fragrances. It is a terrific company enjoying tremendous growth so I am laser-focused on continuing to drive that growth for the foreseeable future. I suppose one day I will sell NEST Fragrances and retire on a beach somewhere. Yes, I would retire to an island somewhere and you would find me on a beach on a lounge chair, drinking a pina colada; that is my “next.” Of course, as my husband always says, “And then you would open a puka bead shop on the beach and then, before you know it, there would be many, many puka bead shops." But seriously, my dream would be to start another company with several of my closest colleagues. We would dream up an innovative idea—a company based on a single product. Nothing complicated but ingenious! We would own the company together and have a lot of fun. Building businesses is fun; there will always be a next!”