DAVIES GATE MAKES BATH A FAMILY AFFAIR
Byline: Julie Naughton
NEW YORK — You could say that Ellen Davies has her mother to thank for her bath and body company.
In 1992, Davies — a Rhode Island School of Design-trained artist who had also dabbled in jewelry and furniture design — was casting about for a career change, but wasn’t quite sure in which decision to head.
But for several years, she’d been making and giving custom-made bath and body products as gifts to friends and family.
“Ellen, you have such a passion for this work,” said her mother. “Why not turn it into a career?”
Unlike many daughters, Davies actually took her mother’s wise advice — and a high-end bath firm was born.
In the early days, Davies Gate was a family affair in more ways than one. While the firm now employs a dozen in-office employees and a host of national sales representatives — not to mention the office dog, Paige, a cinnamon Lab mix — the first crew consisted of Davies; her husband, Jack, and Jack’s family, based in Los Angeles.
“Our first product was our Garden Made Vegetable Soap, a thick, triple-milled bar which is still one of our best-sellers,” she remembers. “I spent a year with a chemist, trying to come up with the perfect bar of soap, and then they delivered the first approved batch to the apartment that Jack and I were living in at the time. We had crates of soap everywhere. I was calling my mother-in-law, begging, ‘Can you come and help me wrap soap?’ “
The bath company has come a long way since Davies was tooling around L.A. with soap samples, showing them to interested retailers.
Davies, now the company’s creative director, devotes her time to product development and custom-designing the company’s labels and packaging; Jack, a former corporate lawyer who worked part-time with the company during its early days, now is the company’s president.
And there’s certainly more than one soap on the counter these days. The product lineup includes more than 100 stockkeeping units, and items range in price from $4 for a lip balm to $25 for bath salts. The collections include Garden Made, a natural-inspired range; Perennials, an aromatherapy-based collection with lavender, white clover, sage and rose variations, and Mediterranean, a collection with sensual overtones.
The newest line, AquaChrome, is a modern, high-style collection available in six variations: BlissBloom, scented with jasmine, rose and lily; CloudCake, with cream, fig, plum and vanilla notes; DewDrop, with citrus, amber and red cedar notes; LimeLuster, with lime and lemon notes; MossMist, with floral and spice notes, and SeaSilk, a mix of marine, floral and musk notes.
And while the line was initially launched in a handful of California-based specialty retailers — including Fred Segal Essentials and the gardening chain Smith & Hawken — Davies Gate products are now in more than 1,700 doors, including Restoration Hardware. The newest are department store doors: Bergdorf Goodman added part of the Davies Gate lineup to its new beauty floor last fall, and this month, Davies Gate opened in nine Saks Fifth Avenue doors, six in California and three in Florida.
Unlike the open-sell environment employed in its other doors, in its new Saks doors, the company is using in-store product consultants.
“Our Clay Scrub has wonderful antioxidant acids and fruit oils,” said Jack Davies. “We know that, but the average consumer doesn’t. It’s helpful to have someone that’s trained in that.”
While the consultants won’t be full-time, at least at first — “Give us time,” he said — the company plans to train all of Saks’ cosmetics consultants about the line.
The products aren’t under glass, however. “It varies by each Saks store, but they are either on an etagere or on an open display table in the cosmetics area,” he said.
Ellen Davies believes the complexity of the products’ scents — and their treatment-oriented formulas — have contributed to their popularity. “I firmly believe that a big part of our success is that we’re not about single-note fragrances and bath bubbles in pretty colors,” she said. “We identified a niche, and we focused on developing treatment-oriented bath and body products in beautiful, upscale packaging. And people got it.”
Davies admits celebrity plugs haven’t hurt. When longtime fan Courteney Cox married David Arquette last summer, she reportedly flew in cases of Davies Gate products to give as favors for her guests.
Next on the drawing board is the Sun Tree line, which will include eight products available in three fragrances: Mandarin, Lime and Quince. The collection will include soaps, body balms and body washes, priced from $10 to $18 and will be launched later this spring. The Davies’s highest-priority project, however, arrives in June: fraternal twin boys. And they’re already involved in the family business.
“We’re going to do a baby line this fall, and the boys are going to help us determine what we need to offer,” said Davies.