Why This Cult-Classic Fragrance Brand Waited 20 Years to Debut Its Second Scent

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Perfume gives Gaye Straza a headache; a rather paradoxical problem, considering she’s the CEO and founder of kai, a fragrance that has a long, long list of celebrity devotees (Charlize Theron, Naomi Watts, Mila Kunis, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Garner and Julia Roberts, for starters) and has rightfully made a name for itself as one of the cult-classics.

“I couldn’t wear regular perfume. It didn’t agree with me; it gave me really bad headaches,” she says.

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That disagreement sparked Straza to create something that would work for her. Experimenting with the white florals she knew she loved from vacationing to Hawaii when she was younger, she worked for months with a small fragrance house out of her Malibu fashion boutique to develop what we know now as kai, an intoxicating blend of gardenia and white exotics.

As the story goes, women in her shop started asking for it; Straza would share it with them, but didn’t have anything “official” to sell. It wasn’t until she was in New York when a beauty editor stopped her on the street to ask her where she could buy whatever she was wearing—that “aha” moment led her to sell the boutique and officially launch kai as its own company. It has since grown to include a multiproduct home fragrance, hair care and bath/body care line that boasts of being paraben-free, cruelty-free and vegan.

That was 20 years ago. Now, Straza is ready to share her second scent: kai rose, which revolves around a note that she admits doesn’t always have the best reputation.

“I wanted to bring something familiar, like rose, to the market in a completely unexpected way. I wanted it to be non-powdery, simple and clean, yet still stay true to the original. I didn’t want it to be mistaken for ‘your mom’s rose.’ I think the ‘green’ notes help give it that ‘fresh’ surprise.”

If you think 20 years is a long time, Straza says she’s a bit of a perfectionist, although she does have plans, like with the original scent, to expand the new rose line soon. “It took me three years to create a spray eau de parfum. I had to figure out a way to make it with the highest-grade of alcohol that would evaporate instantly. I also wanted to include the actual oil in it—all of the products have it—and that’s not easy with a spray. It has to be right.”

The new scent ($48 for a roll-on) launches exclusively at kaifragrance.com and various kai retailers today. (It’s already sold out on barneys.com!)

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