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Simplicity at Core of R. Nichols Candles

Fragrance developer Gary McNatton collaborated with illustrator R. Nichols Hanzlik on the new home fragrance brand.

The R. Nichols Candles holiday line.

Simplicity is eternal.

This story first appeared in the September 6, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

That is the motto of fragrance developer Gary McNatton, who collaborated with illustrator R. Nichols Hanzlik on R. Nichols Candles, a home fragrance brand meant to evoke happiness through uncomplicated product.

“In simplicity there is longevity,” said McNatton, coproprietor of R. Nichols and the force behind the popular line of Gap fragrances in the Nineties, including Grass, Heaven and Dream. “Without bells and whistles, something can have a longer life, designwise.”

McNatton said the idea for his new business, which was launched in 2012 in San Francisco, began in late 2011 when he was feeling the holiday blues and happened upon Hanzlik’s illustrations in a stationery store. “I started smiling, and I said ‘That’s exactly what fragrance should do, it should make you happy,’” said McNatton. “A fragrance should be fun, it should be the best part of your business.”

For Hanzlik, R. Nichols cofounder and coproprietor, who has spent the majority of his 17-year career illustrating stationery and books like “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” teaming with McNatton allowed for a new means of creative expression. “I wanted to do something that is fresh, new and fun,” said Hanzlik, who has also designed for Fresh, Space NK and Target.

R. Nichols made its debut at the New York International Gift Fair in August 2012 with its first range of seven candles, including Mow, the scent of a freshly cut lawn. “My favorite fragrance on the planet is the scent of fresh-cut grass,” said McNatton, whose love for the aroma inspired his Gap Grass fragrance, launched in spring 1995.

McNatton, who is not a fan of the traditional fragrance pyramid structure, said his candles feature a linear scent construction. “I like a fragrance to start and end in the same place,” he said, adding that Givaudan perfumer Stephen Nilsen created many of the scents.

At the 2012 Gift Fair, the line was discovered by Oprah Winfrey’s team, who selected it for her holiday “Favorite Things.” “We had to keep the brand a secret until Christmas,” said Hanzlik. In summer 2013, three new candles were added: Bloom, an interpretation of budding rose; Surf, a blend of salt air, bleached driftwood and sunshine, and Read, the scent of aged paper, ink and leather.

Beginning on Sept. 16, R. Nichols will release its holiday range of three winter-inspired candles, Sparkle, Glisten and Glow, as well as a Holiday Votive Trio set, priced at $68, which includes mini versions of all three. “I have a million ideas, but I want to keep it tightly edited,” said Hanzlik, who plans to add a couple of new candles per year.

Sold in about 130 U.S. doors, primarily at Bloomingdale’s, as well as select U.K. doors, R. Nichols is expanding, according to its founders. With eyes on international distribution, namely Japan and Russia, McNatton said he hopes to grow the business steadily, and expects to be in about 220 doors by the same time next year. Room sprays and body care are also being developed.

For each $45 soy-and-paraffin candle, McNatton and Hanzlik imagine a theme, which is then interpreted into a “paper mosaic” Hanzlik creates from colored construction paper, scissors and a glue stick. The image is then turned into a decal, which is then fused onto the glass flacon. “When the candle burns, they appear to glow from within,” said Hanzlik, adding that the candles feature a more-concentrated 12 to 15 percent fragrance oil.

Although the brand would not comment on financials, industry sources expect the line to generate about $1 million from Sept. 16 to the same time next year.