'I arrive to a table laid out with all of my fragrances and all of my candles and I saw little squares of Missoni designs shaped like my boxes. I got goose bumps. I thought I'm not really going to have to pitch here. That's when I first realised that before me was an opportunity of a lifetime. Rosita Missoni came in.'
Los Angeles is an intriguing city. To me it’s a modern day version of the ‘wild west’. Anything is possible. People arrive to follow their dreams and make their fortune - movie stars, business people, executives. It’s a remarkable juxtaposition of the established and the potential.
The first time I arrived I was told that you can’t go to LA without spending a morning at Fred Segal on Melrose Avenue - the very hip clothing and fashion retail department store, made of individually owned boutiques each offering their own unique selection of clothing from all over the world, under the Fred Segal umbrella. A maze of captivating rooms. A celebrity darling. I spent a couple of hours exploring everything Fred Segal had to offer - from Apothia fragrances to YSL one-of-its-kind shirts before settling into an LA style salad at the Melrose Cafe to watch the stream of chauffeured cars arrive with the fashionable ready to shop.
6 years later I spend a fascinating morning talking to Ron Robinson, the very likeable character behind the store Ron Robinson at Fred Segal; a walking embodiment of established and potential.
Ron grew up in El Paso, Texas. He remembers sitting at home as a young boy, watching visions of Los Angeles on the television - beautiful blondes on the beach listening to great music. He looked out his own window at rocks and heat and decided that one day he needed to move to this place called LA.
On finishing school, Ron spent two years studying veterinarian science in Texas, however once the chemistry classes got into full swing he knew he wasn’t going to continue down that path and transferred to business studies. In 1968 Ron moved to LA. He had to work. His parents didn’t have any money so whatever he did he had to do it on his own. So each day after work he would get on a bus down to U.C.L.A, take a couple of classes and exhausted he would often fall asleep on the bus on the way home and wake up in Santa Monica. It was tough but he was driven. He knew he was achieving something.
Ron: “When I first moved to Los Angeles I had a tremendous time. If you can imagine how wonderful the mid 60s and 70s were in fashion and culture in Los Angeles. It was a major fashion centre. I felt alive.”
Ron eventually landed a job with Fred Segal and worked for him for nine years. He started as a salesman on the floor and worked his way up to manager, to a buyer, to a V.P, and then in1978 he found himself at a crossroads.
Ron: “I got to a point where I started questioning where I was going. What was I going to do? Where was the next step for me? And Fred actually came up with a great idea to preserve me and a couple of the other guys who had grown up together in the business. In modesty we were pretty good at what we did and he was smart enough to know that if he could hold on to these guys in some way, that would be a good business decision. So he proposed a concept where he would lease the store to us, he would become the landlord and each of us would become the retailer of a particular product line. There just happened to be three Ron’s working for him, all buyers of different categories. I was the buyer of the jeans sports division, Ron Herman was the buyer of the womenswear and Ron Ross was the buyer of the menswear. We did it, we traded under the Fred Segal umbrella name of royalty and it worked beautifully.”
Since the 1960s Fred Segal has been a fashion institution. Young rock stars and actresses would come in. There was such a fun, friendly and energetic atmosphere. The place had a pulse. Ron remembers that they would get the customer to lie on the floor, attach a hook to the zip of a pair of super tight fitting jeans, and squeeze them in that way. That was the fashion at the time! Those young rock stars and actresses ended up being big rock stars and actresses, and continue to shop with them, along with their children and grandchildren.
Ron: “Our customers didn’t want to dress their kids in embroidered teddy bears and balloons, but a black motorcycle jacket with a pair of Levis, so they kept coming to us. Fred Segal is an icon and a neighbourhood. I have so many customers who come into the store who have just landed, and this is their first stop. Now that’s pretty cool.”
Ron tells me that his customers look for more esoteric brands, the truly unique and artisan. Ron has a knack for uncovering something very special, that is his great skill. He has had huge success with a fragrance called ‘IF’ that he helped develop. He saw its potential and negotiated an exclusive deal on the fragrance. It was underground, it was sexy, it was cultish, and then the actress, Jenny Garth, happened to mention in a magazine that every time she wears the fragrance IF from Ron Robinson, her boyfriend goes wild. The phones rang off the hook. Within 6 months he had sold the fragrance to 42 states across America.
Ron has achieved great success, he has an extraordinary client base and it’s fair to say that he is a purveyor of great style. But as a true entrepreneur, he is always on the look out for the next incredible product to uncover. And despite the calibre of people he was met over the years he tells me most openly that the highlight of his life was having the opportunity to spend three and a half hours with Rosita Missoni, creative director of Missoni Home.
Ron has stocked Missoni Home in his store for about seven years. One day he was sitting down talking to the director of Missoni Home, North America and he said to him “It would be great to have a Missoni Home candle.” Ron was told that Rosita Missoni has a fear of fragrance in candles. He thought this was odd.
Before too long he had Wanda Jelmini of Missoni Home in his store experiencing his range of fragrances and candles, 8 of 11 of which he had won interior scent of the year for. Ron is known for his commitment to the beautiful layering of scents.
Ron: “Wanda and I chatted about the time and process needed to develop a perfume, about the experience and little nuances in creation. Wanda understood, she speaks the same language with fabrics. Unbeknownst to me, she went back to Milan and says to Rosita, ‘if you are going to think about making a fragrant candle I have found the craftsman, I have found the person to work with; he gets it, he’s on our wavelength.”
Ron was invited to Milan.
Ron: “I arrive to a table laid out with all of my fragrances and all of my candles and I saw little squares of Missoni designs shaped like my boxes. I got goose bumps. I thought I am not really going to have to pitch here. That’s when I first realised that before me was an opportunity of a lifetime. Rosita Missoni came in.”
Wanda: “Rosita has been described as fearful of fragrance but it has been used in the wrong context. She is fearful of fragrance because she respects it so much.”
Ron: “I was intrigued to understand exactly what that meant. I found out that Rosita knows as much about every flower and every plant as anybody I have ever met before – as any botanist, as any nose. She starts to call out certain notes to me on florals. She mentions a flower called Helichrysum, and I said ‘well I don’t know that, what does it look like?’ We looked it up on the internet and she said, (like I’m supposed to know it), ‘it grows wild on the hills of Genoa, when you land in the airport you can smell it.’
When Ron arrived back in Los Angeles, Rosita and Ron continued to talk for hours about the direction to take with the candles. They discussed about how the Missoni patterns are an abstract reflection of the four elements of nature; fire, water, air, earth. We felt the fragrances should be comparative to the four earthly elements. Rosita also wanted a fifth scent, an icon, a signature scent. He received a FedEx package on arrival home and when he opened it up there was a brown paper sack, crumpled with some Helichrysum flowers inside and a note on the outside.
Ron: “I love the translation of the note. It read ‘You’ve got to stick your whole head in it’. What Rosita meant was you need to smell it in its entirety, the whole thing, because the scent of the Helichrysum doesn’t actually come from the head of the flower, it comes from the stalk. I had to crush the stalk to understand what she wanted.”
The whole process in creating the Missoni Candles took two years and was extremely challenging for Ron. Missoni Home have very little tolerance for anything they don’t believe is up to the quality on detail and process that they believe in. There wasn’t to be any conversation about almost OK, you had to hit it or go home. Ron believes the process allowed him to find out who he really was, it was an intense time of personal growth.
Ron: “When Rosita received the final product I nervously waited her response, and there it was. ‘She was enchanted.’ I thought to myself... well I know that I can meet a challenge that is beyond, I can rise to the occasion and I can hit that level of excellence that I never thought was possible. Rosita Missoni changed my world.”
Ron Robinson: 8118 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046, United States
p: +1 323-651-1800 www.ronrobinson.com
Missoni Home, Milan: T&J Vestor Spa, Via Roma 71/B Golasecca, Varese, Italy
p: +39 0331 950311 f: +39 0331 959200 www.missonihome.it
Missoni Home, Australia: Spence & Lyda, 184 Chalmers St, Surry Hills NSW 2010
p: +61 2 9212 6747 www.spenceandlyda.com.au