There’s a little bit of voodoo going on with this. At first I thought, it’s a perfume — just calm down, everybody.
It was 1990 when SUSAN OWENS strolled into the Apothia at Fred Segal, L.A.’s beauty mecca on Melrose, and owner Ron Robinson demanded to know what scent she was wearing. When she told him she made it herself, he replied: “Susan, if you ever put it in a bottle, I really want to carry it.” She sold him six bottles that year, naming the jasmine-infused perfume Child. A decade later, when former Beverly Hills 90210 star Jennie Garth mentioned Owens’ perfume in an InStyle interview — “Guys will be all over you if you wear it, so just be prepared,” the celebrity cautioned — sales exploded. Now Owens concocts roughly 50,000 bottles of Child perfume and lotion annually, still hand pouring and packaging each vial in her Casa Linda garage studio.
How did this all begin?
I did this when I was 40 years old and a washed up model, and in our country, let me tell you — when you’re a washed up model, you’re a washed up model, so I was desperate.
So what did you do before this?
I was a nurse in Oklahoma City, and my life was just boring. One day, I just ripped loose and went to Dallas. Dallas was my big dream. I was 27 and ended up at the Million Dollar Saloon on Greenville right when it opened. It was the new thing, and I was one of the first high-end strippers. We were prima donnas. I learned to dress up, I learned to put makeup on, I learned to walk — it was my charm school. There weren’t stalkers then, there weren’t table dances, and you’d have $300 in your hand before you got to the dressing room. But I also knew to move out of it. I became a Playmate when I was 31, but I didn’t want to be an aging Playmate, and I didn’t want to hang out at the mansion. That was never my desire. So one day I tired of it and went to work for Dr. Bernard Bloom, the boob man in Dallas. It was the best thing that ever happened to me because I learned how to work again. Then four years later, Child hit, and he said: “You’ve gotta go.”
This was propelled by the Jennie Garth mention?
After that, Ron called me up and said, “What are we going to do about inventory?” and I said, “I’m just going to keep working,” and he said, “I’ve never seen this happen with a product in my 30 years in the industry.” Everyone was screaming at me for perfume. I didn’t listen and just kept on shipping. In the business, that’s the big deal. I didn’t realize that I was building my reputation. I did it out of fear. If I hadn’t had the resources and the people that I did, I wouldn’t have made it. I got an intellectual property lawyer, I got an accountant (the Dr. Phil of accounting — this guy will rip you a new one on your finances), and I got the register on Child. Anybody can start a business, but the trick is keeping it going. I can’t deal with “slam, bam, thank you ma’am” business.
Why did you make Child in the first place?
I made it because I’m just handsy. I’m a nurse — that’s what we do. I was playing around.
What made it such a hit?
I think that I didn’t know better — I didn’t know how to dilute perfume oil. Most perfume you go buy at the department store looks like water. Perfumes are diluted because they want to make money off you. I found the most incredible perfume oils in this business for $8 a pound, and I bought the oil and didn’t dilute it. People put it on and it was so intense, but the aroma was one that they liked. I also did something that wasn’t being done in perfumes — a roll-on bottle. The roll-on drives the oil into your skin; it doesn’t fall on the floor like a spray.
Why did you name it Child?
I just thought that was a great name. Who’s going to forget that? And fragrances always take you back.
So your perfume is flying off the shelves at Henri Bendel?
It used to be my dream five years ago just to have my perfume in New York, and now it’s one of Henri Bendel’s top five sellers. The fragrance department is on the second floor, and it looks like the Taj Majal, so to go there and see my perfume sitting there with these perfumes that are niche brands, and there’s my brand sitting right with them and selling as much as they are, it’s amazing. One great thing about my product that’s very strange is I don’t have to do shows. Child gets up and works for me every day because people put it on their skin. It got on a roll with the beauty editors back in 2000 — I’ve had millions of dollars in advertising, and I have no PR firm. There’s a little bit of voodoo going on with this. At first I thought, it’s a perfume — just calm down everybody. I couldn’t get into the hoopla for a while.
You have quite a few famous people wearing your perfume, don’t you?
After Ron ordered it, all the stars started wearing it, and they told me not to tell — Patti Labelle, Sigourney Weaver and Madonna wore it, and Jennifer Aniston is a big fan. She always buys the limited edition. But you’ve got to realize if stars were the only ones who bought Child, I wouldn’t be sitting here. Fifteen or 20 stars buying Child, Jennifer Aniston buying 10 limited editions — that’s not going to pay my mortgage.
Child perfume is carried at neighborhood shops Talulah Belle, 2013 Abrams, and HD’s Clothing, 3014 Greenville. For information, visit childperfume.com.
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