I’ve been so honored to get to meet so many interesting people through running this site. Today I’m excited to kick off a new series of features over here… getting to know some of the people who inspire me most… entrepreneurs, designers, some small business owners, some big business owners, and people who just have really cool jobs and/or are changing the world and doing big things. Get ready – I have a really exciting lineup planned for you!
First up? Ron Robinson, president/founder of Ron Robinson Inc. You might be more than a little familiar with his store if you live in Los Angeles… Be sure to read the whole interview. I learned so much from Ron – from his (really interesting) background + how he started his company to how a fragrance is created to several new beauty products that I think we are all going to be obsesssed with.
GA: Tell me a little bit about how you got your start in the industry. What was your first job?
RR: Like many young people I started with a variety of jobs until I felt I was into something that had potential and that I cared about. Since my father was an district manager of a chain of men’s clothing stores I began working some weekends for him. When I first moved to Los Angeles in the late 60’s I got a sales job at Mattsons sportswear on Hollywood Blvd, then finally a starting sales position at Fred Segal’s original mens store on Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood. After working there and at the Melrose location for a few years I started my own apparel manufacturing company – which didn’t prove to be very successful. I was rehired at Fred Segal and worked for him a total of 9 years before leasing a space and opening my own store at the Melrose center.
GA: You first opened up shop in 1978 at Fred Segal on Melrose Avenue. What was that like?
RR: It was grand and exciting, very hard work, challenging and stressful all together. As a self-funded entrepreneur (with little funding) I worked each of the jobs that needed to be done. I started in the morning with unpacking the merchandise, then displaying it, then selling during the day, cleaning at night, and going home to write checks to pay vendors and prepare orders for the items needed to be replaced. That sequence of events continued each day for many years until I was able to grow in scale and employees.
It was an amazing time to be in the fashion business as there was so much expressiveness in fashion, coming off of the 60’s and 70’s and beginning the trends of the 80’s. Our business grew from mens clothing through my addition of gifts items, Cosmetics/Beauty and Kids apparel within a few years thereafter.
GA: You named your beauty boutique Apothia after the words “Apothecary” and “Utopia.” What products from the line are you most proud of?
RR: I actually first named my department of cosmetics, beauty and personal care items APOTHIA (a combination of Apothecary + Utopia) well before I had produced a line of products that I sold there and then to others.
The concept of the store was to provide a venue that would be as comfortable for both a male and female customer to shop in and offer a presentation that mimicked the environment and energy of our fashion areas. It was intrinsically important to provide an edited assortment of the very coolest items within category to our discerning customers. At the time I opened APOTHIA, as a shop within my shop, there were no other boutique offerings of this category in Los Angeles or in most cities. At that time a customer had the option to shop at main floor department store, beauty supply store or drug store to try to find items in the category, none of which were as unique as what I was able to assort.
The development of the APOTHIA line of fine fragrance, first in 2001 and now comprised of three eau de parfum scents named IF, Velvet Rope and Pearl along with their ancillary components, and a range of multiple fragrances that I produced into a candle and home fragrance products was done initially to have a unique and special item for our stores. After putting them on our shelves I received interest from a few very high end stores and made them available to those retailers. Today we are carried in about 80 of the finest specialty stores, great hotels and even a lux movie theatre in the US. Distribution overseas has been wonderful in Japan, Australia, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Scandanavia. We are looking at opening locations in South America and Eastern Europe soon.
Having won several very elite awards (Interior Scent of the Year – Fragrance Foundation, AIGA –American Institute of Graphic Arts, CA Design Annual – Communication Arts) for both fragrance and packaging has been a great source of pride to me. I love the fact that our IF fragrance has become a huge favorite of so many people since the onset, but I have a connection to each of the fragrances. Each one was developed from a memory and/or a reflection of a very special time or place through and with the fashionable environments, people and locations around the Los Angeles lifestyle.
GA: Describe your typical day.
RR: AHHH! These days I am building out what will be our most stunning accomplishment of the year. That’s a big statement as we just remodeled our Melrose location, finished in March to terrific reviews and our customers response has been terrific. I am currently installing the interior design to open a freestanding location to house the RON ROBINSON flagship, epicenter concept store. This will house all of our categories- Mens, Womens, Cosmetics/ Apothia, Kids fashion, and our home accessories and design items store. We will include other Fashion Art providers in the floral and food/refreshment categories. There will be visual fashion art as well integrated into the design.
GA: Tell me a little bit about what goes into developing a new fragrance. Where do you find your inspiration for creating a new scent?
RR: Each of the fragrances in our line have a reflection to and an inspiration from the beauty, energy, cool lifestyle and progressive fashion of Los Angeles. For example, Bronzed reminded me of a day on the beach or by the pool on a fresh day, with the sun shining and the ocean breeze blowing softly. Just next to you is lounging a hot girl or hot guy who just applied the best suntan lotion (perhaps the French Bain de Soliel) full of orange flower… we went a step beyond and mixed it with petitgrain and ocean air…that’s how to inspire a fragrance. Or have a fragrance be inspired!
GA: What Fall trends are you most excited about?
RR: Our recent shopping has brought us some exciting products in every category.
For women’s fashion we began an area that is dedicated to active lifestyle sportswear… terrific designers from all over the world that are producing the beautiful fitting pieces with incredible technical fabrics. Each can be used to work out in…or not, in fact you will look stunning at the dinner party. Lines like Lucas Hugh of London (exclusive in LA), Nesh, Cotton Citizen, VPL, R & R Surplus have all come up with wonderful items. Rabens Saloner from Stockholm has been a hit and has amazing new pieces for fall in their women’s collection.
We are excited to be adding a new release of skincare, first in the United States… Retrouvé from Jami Morse Heideger. Her father and grandfather founded Kiehls. Jami was the Owner/ Director for many years and ultimately sold it to L’Oreal. This will be a high end, high efficacy skincare product.
GA: What are your personal favorite grooming products? S&S readers are primarily female… tell us what we should be getting for the men in our lives!?
RR: I am really enjoying using a new product that we are exclusive with from Japan. Its called DaAll.. it’s a scrub, moisturizing cream, cleanser, mask all in one, (I use it as a shave cream and cannot be without it. ) The formula is completely made of natural items, black lava, pure essential oils, but the rich foam and application is amazing. After rubbing a small amount from a round cake of product on the included sponge it produces the most fluffy, spongy foaming cream. The results are wonderful.
I also use and love the new haircare, shampoo and conditioner we have from Gloss Moderne, the girls are raving about it, the luster that it adds to their hair- I do too.
The fragrances from Byredo are exquisite, both women and men are enthralled by them, you can really tell the quality of the fragrance oil used.
GA: Tell me about your personal style. What are your essentials?
RR: My style has included the essential basics, a great fitting, fine cotton t shirt, currently I love Cotton Citizen (a crisp white shirt is my favorite), it always works with a great fitting pair of jeans. I like the understated style and design ethos and how simple details and good fabrics can carry the day. The fit and the feel of the fabric against the skin has to have a sensual quality….
GA: Your candles are heaven. (I’m currently burning Bronzed.) What makes them so special?
RR: When we make our oils, (the basis for most fragrance), we ask for and use the finest level of quality oils within the class. That makes the difference along with the perfumers that we use. We don’t do a single note fragrance, there are combinations that help to enhance the imagery and inspiration of the destination we are working to reach. You know there is a difference in the quality and level of the fragrance you are smelling, you don’t have to be a professional “nose” you can just tell! (Note from Grace… you really can tell!!!)
We then combine these special oils used for candles, each which we produce with the same care and quality used when we make a perfume fragrance, with our exclusive base… we have named it “illuminating cream”. I wanted to have something that burned beautifully and had a luxurious feel to it. You can rub the oil on the surface and into your skin. Its like a balm or a solid fragrance, it doesn’t form a wax on your skin, its emollient. We have removed as much of the environmental impurities from the “illuminating cream” and it allows a cleaner burn in the air.
GA: What are your favorite up & coming brands right now?
New electronics from Ultimate Ears… custom fitted earpiece listening. They’re used by the top musicians and now being made available custom through our stores.
GA: Who are your style icons?
RR: Armani for classic, well made tailoring and fabrics, the simplicity of Jil Sander and Helmet Lang -the colors and patterns of Missoni and Versace. In product design Philipe Stark continues to nail it. The architecture of Frank Gehry continues to blow me away- I just visited Bilbao and was so moved. Lastly, Apple design has been the forerunner of design in computing.
A huge, huge thank you to Ron for participating in this series (and helping me kick it off!)