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Welcome to Better Know a Store Owner, a weekly Racked feature focusing on the people who run our favorite boutiques around the city.Photos by Driely S.
Eric Weiser has been in the fragrance world his whole life, joining his family's import-export business early on, but he had never ventured into the retail world. "And then when e-commerce came out, and our products were sitting on the shelves in the warehouse, we decided to start a website," he said. But he realized that only those with a knowledge of perfume would shop there, since olfactory newbies would be hesitant to spend money on something they hadn't smelled.
So he opened the brick-and-mortar incarnation of Twisted Lily, along with Stamatis Birsimijoglou, in October of this year. "When we started to get passionate about niche fragrance, we parlayed into the retail scene" so customers could explore these scents, Weiser explained. Read on to find out how they settled in what's quickly becoming a "fragrance district" in Boerum Hill and what else they plan to carry in store.
Why did you want to open your own store?
Eric: We wanted a more intimate experience with our customers. We strive for customer service with our online website, but we wanted to take that further, and that next step was street level. People know commercial lines—they smell them in scent strips in magazines, but they don't know a lot of the niche or artisan fragrances. It's a good place to come and learn and explore that experience of scent.
Were you always planning on going brick-and-mortar when you started the website?
Stamatis: It was a dream.
Eric: It's one of those things where you know it's going to happen, but you're not sure how you're going to get there. At one point, we did have to take a leap. There's no perfect time to do it.
Stamatis: At that point we had been looking at spaces for over a year, casually, and I think when we found this one, it was just perfect and we jumped on it.
Eric: We actually looked at the store next door, but when I called, it had already been taken. So about a month and a half went by and we got a call from the same broker—it was a Sunday morning at 8am and she was like, "Hi, do you remember me?" And I was like "No…" She's like, "Well, you saw a store on Atlantic Avenue, and the sister store is available." So literally we ran over there, met the landlord and the broker, and a couple days later, we signed.
Were you looking for spaces in Boerum Hill particularly?
Eric: We felt that Brooklyn would be a good venue for us. We didn't want to go the way of Manhattan or Queens.
Stamatis: And also, I feel like the people here appreciate niche perfumes and indie brands. I think the same goes for jewelry, clothing, and food around here.
Eric: That was an afterthought for us—after we opened the store, we realized what a wonderful neighborhood Boerum Hill is. We were looking for something authentic, that really had flavor to it. I really like the fact that its gentrified here but it still has its roots intact. A lot of the Middle Eastern groceries and meat shops—there's truly a mix of people that live around here.
Do you have any concern about being across the street from Atelier Cologne? [Ed note: the two fragrance stores opened within a week of each other]
Stamatis: No, actually, since they're a specific brand. I think it makes this more of a fragrance district, when you have that going on.
Who is your store customer, and how do they differ from your online customer?
Stamatis: Our online customer comes from all over the world. A lot of our web customers really know their perfume and are obsessed with fragrance. People that come into the store aren't necessarily obsessed, but they see that the store looks great. That's the big difference—they come in and you get to show them the art behind perfumery and get them really excited.
Eric: When you're shopping online, you're usually shopping for something that you know already. People come into the store for the curiosity of it—I get people who come in and say, "I've been wearing the same perfume for the past 10 years and I want something new, and I've been waiting for a place that I can come into and do that."
What was the design aesthetic you had in mind for your store?
Stamatis: We used a Brooklyn design team called Plant. It's kind of modern, but also has refined, recycled, reclaimed stuff. Like the wood cabinets and the entire area in the back are all reclaimed from a Brooklyn factory, but it's finished and polished. We wanted it to feel relaxed and modern without being stuffy.
It already has the bones of an old Brooklyn store, with the tin ceilings, the brick wall, and the original floors. The stuff we brought in is modern, clean-lined, white, and we definitely wanted to bring in the industrial stuff like the cinder blocks and the wood.
Eric: And also, we decided to go with predominantly white with the backdrops of the walls, because we want the perfume to be the artwork. We wanted it to be a place where people can come and comfortably shop. The product itself can be intimidating, and we wanted to contradict that. It's very important for us that people know it's a place to explore and learn about perfume, and do it in comfort and style.
You have a really great light fixture made of perfume bottles in your seating area.
Stamatis: The same guy who designed the store does lighting as well and made these fixtures.
Eric: We were lucky enough to get these bottles shipped to us from Paris, just the empty bottles with no enclosure or spray mechanism, and [they] managed to put it together as a chandelier.
You carry local and international fragrances—how do you pick what to carry?
Stamatis: Honestly, perfumers usually find us.
Eric: In the beginning, we started with our initial curation, but we get sample droppers pretty much every day. I've been in the perfume business for 30 years, so you just know of someone or you know them through someone else, or you know the U.S. distributor. It's just making the contact and deciding if it's going to be right for your location, and then just taking a chance with it.
It's also about the art of perfume, so we try to focus on anything that tells a story and uses quality ingredients. We wanted to introduce certain lines that aren't readily available. We wanted to expose people to the wonderful world of artisan fragrances. Perfumery is really coming back—people are tired of smelling like anybody else. I mean no harm to anybody, but commercial companies pump out these flankers, one after the next, and it just waters down any intrigue. It becomes generic.
So how do you manage all these different brands and stick to a price point?
Stamatis: I think the range is really important, because not everyone wants to drop $200 on a bottle of fragrance, or not even $100 sometimes, and that's why we carry bottles that are between $40 and $50. And then there are people who will drop $400 on a bottle.
Eric: When you first open, you don't really know what people are willing to pay. We're finding that, on the high end, the range is $200 to $250.
Stamatis: I think the average price is going to be around $150, which is the price of many commercial brands, too.
What are some of your favorite brands in store right now?
Stamatis: All of them!
Eric: One of my favorite lines is from Ramón Monegal, a fourth generation perfumer from Barcelona. Also, Maria Candida Gentile, an Italian perfumer—she uses mostly naturals.
Stamatis: A new one we got is Atelier de Geste. She's a dancer, and she also has legwear. She created three fragrances for a choreographed show and it has three acts, so each one has a fragrance.
Eric: My favorites rotate weekly. I fall in love with something almost every day and I become passionate about it. It shows in the sell of my product when I'm passionate, so the more I learn about something, the better.
What else do you carry to round out your offerings?
Stamatis: We have a lot of candles and diffusers. And then other than fragrance, we do nail polishes—we have two lines, Just We and RGB. We also do bath and body stuff, like soaps and body lotions and bath bombs, organic skincare, and a lot of men's grooming, which is very popular. And we're also bringing in some cosmetics lines.
Eric: We're feeling it out, going with the demands of the neighborhood. We want to keep it changing, we want to keep it fresh, and we want to keep interesting stuff here all the time.
So what's up next for Twisted Lily?
Eric: Getting through this holiday season! This will be our first foray into the retail holidays. We're nervous, I have to say.
Stamatis: But once that's over, I definitely want to build up our non-fragrance offerings. I mean, everything is fragrance-related, even our soaps and men's grooming lines. There's also people that aren't obsessed with fragrance, but they do love bath and body stuff, and candles, so I think that's one thing we want to focus on.
Eric: Yeah, and maybe if the store does well, we'll open up a second one—but no plans yet.
Okay, time for the lightning round: 8am or 8pm?
Beer or wine?
Whiskey or tequila?
Beach or mountains?
Stamatis: Mountains looking at a beach.
Cats or dogs?
Stamatis: Dogs, but cats are nice.
Favorite vacation spot?
Stamatis: Cappadocia, in Turkey.
Favorite neighborhood lunchtime spot?
Eric: Mile End deli.
Favorite happy hour spot?
Eric: Twisted Lily!
Homeland or Scandal?