Women with GRITT
March 17, 2021
by Danielle Gay

Women With Gritt: Nicole Eckels On Fragrance Myths, Building A Beauty Empire And Never Taking No For An Answer

by Danielle Gay

“Beauty is driven by passion. It’s driven by what you love and what you want to create for yourself. That helps me navigate through whatever challenge. If there's uncertainty, I go back to that place.”

Welcome to Women With GRITT: a series where we interview the resilient, hardworking women who have kicked in the glass ceiling and inspire us to do the same.

You might not know her name but we guarantee you have one of her products in your home. Nicole Eckels is the powerhouse beauty brand founder behind Glasshouse Fragrances, the home fragrance and personal scent line that skyrocketed to success after launching in 2006. At the time, there were no other premium candle brands in the Australian market, which is exactly how Eckels stumbled across her big idea. Soon after she made the move to Australia, a fateful shopping trip where she couldn’t find a luxury candle led her to start her own brand from scratch.

As the New York-native tells Gritty Pretty, having the idea was one thing—executing it was another.

“The reality is, I had just arrived from New York and New York is one of the biggest beauty markets in the world. And so I had a vision for what the brand needed to be,” Eckels explains.“What made it particularly challenging for me was … let’s say you wanted to start a skincare company, there are contract manufacturers that make those products and you can go to them and work with a chemist and that business will worry about the problems, like manufacturing. But there were no contract manufacturers at the time to go to and say, “Oh, can you make the world’s best candle.” Instead, Nicole leveraged her contacts in New York and convinced them to work with her. Now in its 15th year, Glasshouse is still lighting up our homes and the brand has evolved into offering a curated line of personal fragrance too.

In this interview, Eckels speaks to Gritty Pretty about her life-changing move to Australia, overcoming boundaries to get a physical product onto shelves and busting fragrance myths—including whether or not smelling coffee beans can help you pick a new perfume.

 

Nicole, I think our audience would be interested to know that you grew up in New York but then moved to Australia. You have spent quite a long time living here. What actually motivated you to fly to the other side of the world and relocate?

I was sort of at a point in my life where I needed a change. And I was looking for a place to move where it was an English speaking country, because I was an executive and I needed to work and I didn’t speak any other languages. So I couldn’t move to Paris! I interviewed for a role in Sydney… I was offered the role and I moved to Australia.

Prior to launching Glasshouse Fragrances, you studied international business at the State University of New York and you also worked the Saks Fifth Avenue beauty floor! How did those two experiences lend themselves to you eventually starting your own beauty business?

I’ve always been interested in other cultures and other countries and so it was natural for me to take that line of study when I was at university. But when I graduated … I found even though I had an education, that I wanted to be in beauty and I wanted to be in retail, so that’s why I made the choice to go work in Saks. That’s what I was passionate about. That’s what I enjoyed doing. I’m so glad I was in retail, because I got to touch and talk to and spend time with hundreds and hundreds of women and learn about them and what mattered to them and what was important. That foundation of understanding women and what they wanted was foundational, I think.

Once you had the idea to create Glasshouse Fragrances, which is a brand that’s synonymous for candles and fragrances, how did you turn it into a viable business?

It was a lot of hard work, a lot of trial and error. The hardest part was it’s not just creating the magic of brand and emotion and fragrance and all of that. It’s also the logistics, the function of making the products from scratch. I meet with so many founders and one of the biggest challenges starting out in a consumer goods business is the MQs [minimum quantities]—if you don’t want 20,000 pieces…well when you’re starting out, no one wants 20,000 pieces!

When you were launching Glasshouse Fragrances, 15 odd years ago now, you launched with 15 fragrances. What was your inspiration behind each scent?

The reality is the first 15 were very quick. There was nothing in the range at all and I worked with this particular fragrance house and they had lots of lovely things that I would adjust. It was easier in the beginning. Now, fragrance creation is harder, because you’re looking for gaps. It’s wonderful because you’re always looking for something really different and cool and first to market. Whereas when you set up the range, it’s like, ‘Okay, we need all the basics.’

Nowadays, where do you seek inspiration for a new scent?

It either comes from an idea, which is conceptual, and it has no fragrance attached to it. It could be a place or a feeling or a particular moment, and from there I’ll build a fragrance around it. Or sometimes it starts with a fragrance. So there might be a note that’s trending, for example with Midnight in Milan, that saffron note. And then I build the concept around that.

When you’re working and you are testing lots of different scents, does your nose get overwhelmed? And is the coffee bean trick real?

Great question. I don’t get overwhelmed, but I have to stop. As you get to 15 [scents], you’re losing it then. You won’t give it the attention it deserves and you can miss things. Coffee beans? It’s not a myth at all but I don’t use it. I have another technique that I use, which involves blowing air in and out of my elbow. You breathe back and forth into your elbow, it’s cleaning your nose in a way. The coffee works in so much as when you’re smelling fragrances, or anything, you’re smelling for differences. You’re smelling for changes …. and nothing smells like coffee except coffee. So that’s why people use coffee beans because they’re very effective for you to go back to neutral.

You’re now in your 15th year, what is the biggest piece of advice you would give to other women who want to start their own beauty business?

I think that you have to do something that you really believe in at a gut level. Beauty is driven by passion. It’s driven by what you love and what you want to create for yourself. The DNA of Glasshouse and me are so connected. You can’t take them apart. They coexist in a way that’s unique and that has been very important in the success of the brand. That helps me navigate through whatever challenge. If there’s uncertainty, I go back to that place.

We couldn’t chat to you without talking about your beauty routine. So what role does beauty play in your life and when selecting products, do you still focus on scent?

Well, it’s so funny you say that because there is one product that I use because I love the smell. It’s also a very, very, good product. It’s Chanel Hydra Beauty Camellia Water Cream. I used to use it all the time as a makeup artist because you’d pat it on the skin before you start a service. Everything would just melt and it is beautiful on the skin.

To wrap up, Nicole, Glasshouse is so well known for their home fragrances. What is your top tip for finding a signature home scent?

It has to speak to you. If you love the way that it makes you feel, that is all it needs to do. Pick what you love. If you choose something that is unique to you or something that you haven’t smelled before that can become your signature.

You might not know her name but we guarantee you have one of her products in your home. Nicole Eckels is the powerhouse beauty brand founder behind Glasshouse Fragrances, the home fragrance and personal scent line that skyrocketed to success after launching in 2006. At the time, there were no other premium candle brands in the Australian market, which is exactly how Eckels stumbled across her big idea. Soon after she made the move to Australia, a fateful shopping trip where she couldn’t find a luxury candle led her to start her own brand from scratch.

As the New York-native tells Gritty Pretty, having the idea was one thing—executing it was another.

“The reality is, I had just arrived from New York and New York is one of the biggest beauty markets in the world. And so I had a vision for what the brand needed to be,” Eckels explains.“What made it particularly challenging for me was … let’s say you wanted to start a skincare company, there are contract manufacturers that make those products and you can go to them and work with a chemist and that business will worry about the problems, like manufacturing. But there were no contract manufacturers at the time to go to and say, “Oh, can you make the world’s best candle.” Instead, Nicole leveraged her contacts in New York and convinced them to work with her. Now in its 15th year, Glasshouse is still lighting up our homes and the brand has evolved into offering a curated line of personal fragrance too.

In this interview, Eckels speaks to Gritty Pretty about her life-changing move to Australia, overcoming boundaries to get a physical product onto shelves and busting fragrance myths—including whether or not smelling coffee beans can help you pick a new perfume.

 

Nicole, I think our audience would be interested to know that you grew up in New York but then moved to Australia. You have spent quite a long time living here. What actually motivated you to fly to the other side of the world and relocate?

I was sort of at a point in my life where I needed a change. And I was looking for a place to move where it was an English speaking country, because I was an executive and I needed to work and I didn’t speak any other languages. So I couldn’t move to Paris! I interviewed for a role in Sydney… I was offered the role and I moved to Australia.

Prior to launching Glasshouse Fragrances, you studied international business at the State University of New York and you also worked the Saks Fifth Avenue beauty floor! How did those two experiences lend themselves to you eventually starting your own beauty business?

I’ve always been interested in other cultures and other countries and so it was natural for me to take that line of study when I was at university. But when I graduated … I found even though I had an education, that I wanted to be in beauty and I wanted to be in retail, so that’s why I made the choice to go work in Saks. That’s what I was passionate about. That’s what I enjoyed doing. I’m so glad I was in retail, because I got to touch and talk to and spend time with hundreds and hundreds of women and learn about them and what mattered to them and what was important. That foundation of understanding women and what they wanted was foundational, I think.

Once you had the idea to create Glasshouse Fragrances, which is a brand that’s synonymous for candles and fragrances, how did you turn it into a viable business?

It was a lot of hard work, a lot of trial and error. The hardest part was it’s not just creating the magic of brand and emotion and fragrance and all of that. It’s also the logistics, the function of making the products from scratch. I meet with so many founders and one of the biggest challenges starting out in a consumer goods business is the MQs [minimum quantities]—if you don’t want 20,000 pieces…well when you’re starting out, no one wants 20,000 pieces!

When you were launching Glasshouse Fragrances, 15 odd years ago now, you launched with 15 fragrances. What was your inspiration behind each scent?

The reality is the first 15 were very quick. There was nothing in the range at all and I worked with this particular fragrance house and they had lots of lovely things that I would adjust. It was easier in the beginning. Now, fragrance creation is harder, because you’re looking for gaps. It’s wonderful because you’re always looking for something really different and cool and first to market. Whereas when you set up the range, it’s like, ‘Okay, we need all the basics.’

Nowadays, where do you seek inspiration for a new scent?

It either comes from an idea, which is conceptual, and it has no fragrance attached to it. It could be a place or a feeling or a particular moment, and from there I’ll build a fragrance around it. Or sometimes it starts with a fragrance. So there might be a note that’s trending, for example with Midnight in Milan, that saffron note. And then I build the concept around that.

When you’re working and you are testing lots of different scents, does your nose get overwhelmed? And is the coffee bean trick real?

Great question. I don’t get overwhelmed, but I have to stop. As you get to 15 [scents], you’re losing it then. You won’t give it the attention it deserves and you can miss things. Coffee beans? It’s not a myth at all but I don’t use it. I have another technique that I use, which involves blowing air in and out of my elbow. You breathe back and forth into your elbow, it’s cleaning your nose in a way. The coffee works in so much as when you’re smelling fragrances, or anything, you’re smelling for differences. You’re smelling for changes …. and nothing smells like coffee except coffee. So that’s why people use coffee beans because they’re very effective for you to go back to neutral.

You’re now in your 15th year, what is the biggest piece of advice you would give to other women who want to start their own beauty business?

I think that you have to do something that you really believe in at a gut level. Beauty is driven by passion. It’s driven by what you love and what you want to create for yourself. The DNA of Glasshouse and me are so connected. You can’t take them apart. They coexist in a way that’s unique and that has been very important in the success of the brand. That helps me navigate through whatever challenge. If there’s uncertainty, I go back to that place.

We couldn’t chat to you without talking about your beauty routine. So what role does beauty play in your life and when selecting products, do you still focus on scent?

Well, it’s so funny you say that because there is one product that I use because I love the smell. It’s also a very, very, good product. It’s Chanel Hydra Beauty Camellia Water Cream. I used to use it all the time as a makeup artist because you’d pat it on the skin before you start a service. Everything would just melt and it is beautiful on the skin.

To wrap up, Nicole, Glasshouse is so well known for their home fragrances. What is your top tip for finding a signature home scent?

It has to speak to you. If you love the way that it makes you feel, that is all it needs to do. Pick what you love. If you choose something that is unique to you or something that you haven’t smelled before that can become your signature.

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