We recently had the opportunity to interview Laura Slatkin, the Founder and CEO of NEST Fragrances, a luxury lifestyle fragrance brand. She is the Co-Founder and Board President of New York Collaborates for Autism (NYCA) and serves on the Board of Directors of Autism Speaks, NYCA Charter School, Columbia University Department of Psychiatry, Hunter College Autism Board, New England Center for Children, and the Henry Street Settlement House. Laura lives in New York City with her husband, Harry, and their twins, David and Alexandra.
How long have you been involved with Autism Speaks? Can you tell us a bit more on why you decided to donate towards the cause?
Over eight years ago I was introduced to Suzanne Wright. We met in a private club in New York for cocktails. She was sitting in the lobby. I approached her and introduced myself. I had a son deeply affected by autism, aged six at the time, and she had a grandson who was newly diagnosed with autism. We were both personally affected by autism and we were determined to make a difference for children with autism and their families. We started chatting and we immediately hit it off – so much so we never did get a table. We just sat in the lobby talking endlessly for hours about autism and how important it was for us to make progress and help families who are challenged by the disorder. We felt like we were soul mates who finally found each other. We had passion and we wanted to change the world for individuals and their families who struggle with autism. Several months later, I was honored to be invited to become a founding member of Autism Speaks.
How is David doing today? Any updates?
Autism is a very important part of my life. For my family, autism has been very, very challenging. As you may already know, autism is a spectrum and for many people living with autism who are mildly affected, autism may not as challenging. But for those individuals who are deeply affected by autism, it is very difficult. My son, David, is now 14-years-old. David has no language; he has never uttered a single word. David has severe aggressive behaviors that require him to have trained staff around him at all times; David is cognitively very weak and, despite the educational programming we have provided since he was 17-months-old, he still is unable to communicate in any form, including such basic human needs that he is hungry or needs to go to the bathroom. It is very difficult for our son to function and it has been very hard for our family to find a way to support David at home, keeping him and those around him safe. David lives outside of Boston in a residential school for children with autism. He comes home once a month and we are always so happy to have him home for the weekend. While we know that he is in a safe place, it is always difficult when I think about what our lives would be like if David was not affected by autism and could live at home with his family.
How did you come up with the idea to start Nest Fragrances?
While autism is my philanthropic focus, my professional career has been in the fragrance industry since 1992. I have been creating luxury fragranced products for more than 22 years, first with Slatkin & Co. until 2005 and now with my company NEST Fragrances. In 2010, I created a scented candle, Blue Garden, to benefit Autism Speaks and to honor David. Blue Garden is an exquisite blend of blue hydrangea, hyacinth and forget-me-nots, with fresh green notes and a dew drop accord. It reminds me of a beautiful, lush floral garden in full bloom. It represents hope and change and every time I smell it, I think of David.
Can you tell us about your in-store campaign this year involving Nest Fragrances and Autism Speaks?
To celebrate Autism Awareness Month in April and leading up to Mother’s Day, I am embarking on a national tour, visiting various Neiman Marcus stores across the country in cities where there are Autism Speaks Walks. We are calling it “The Blue Garden Tour.” Like me, mothers are often faced with so many obstacles as they endeavor to build a family, and you just never know what issues you will face and what challenges you will encounter along the way. This April, I wanted to celebrate all the mothers who dig deep and find the courage to make a difference in their own lives and the lives of others.
I invite all those who walk in the Autism Speaks Walk who are marching to make a difference to come meet me at Neiman Marcus so we can spend a moment to say hello and talk. I would love to meet the moms – the ladies who are doing what they can to raise money for Autism Speaks to help advance the field of autism. If you are able, I hope you will join me at Neiman Marcus (see schedule below) for a light bite and a beverage, to celebrate, enjoy the fragrance of Blue Garden, and stop by and see me so I can tell you how important your efforts are to Autism Speaks!
Want to come out to support the cause? You can find the Blue Garden Tour dates below...
April 12, 1-4 PM: Neiman Marcus, King of Prussia, PA
April 24 1-5 PM: Neiman Marcus, Michigan Avenue, Chicago
April 30 6-8 PM: Neiman Marcus, Atlanta
May 3 2-4 PM: Neiman Marcus, Beverly Hills, CA
May 6 1-4 PM:: Neiman Marcus, Coral Gables, FL