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from italy with love

A story of two sisters living in Italy, their return to their Southern Minnesota roots and the creation of a luxury home fragrance brand.

Alora Ambiance is the result of sisters Annie and Therese Gibbons' 15-year adventure living in Lake Como, Italy. After discovering the age-old Italian wicking method, they decided to design their own "diffuser", as it would come to be known, develop a trio of signature scents and introduce America to the concept they loved so much. Since launching Alora Ambiance in 2000, Annie and Therese have created a cottage industry of competitors yet still remain the category's beloved innovator.

ANNIE: I had been living in the Lake Como region of Italy for 15 years, working in the textile industry, when my sister Therese came to stay with me to study Italian. We lived in an eccentric 150-year old house, spent long afternoons cooking and adopted two stray dogs. While shopping one afternoon, we saw a room fragrance in a tiny local shop similar to what would become our signature diffuser. Its scent didn't impress us but the ease of design did. We fell in love with the product and the fact that it was so simple and effective and knew others would too.

Therese: We returned to the family farm, where our grandfather and mother were born and where I was planning to be married, in hopes of turning our little family project into a viable business. Though neither of us had spent more than a holiday vacation on the farm in many years, we both knew it was the only place to develop Alora Ambiance. In those early days, we recruited family and friends to help us with virtually every element of the business and with their help assembled the first 8,000 diffusers by hand.

More than anyone else, our dad was an essential part of the assembly line and every other element of the company's development. His Midwestern practicality kept us grounded while his unyielding support kept us going. I've received voicemail messages from him saying, "I was on your website and you don't have any stores in Phoenix. You girls need to head out there and look for a store." His enthusiasm is limitless but his advice has always been simple: "Just watch out for each other." And we do.

Annie: These days, Therese and I work from different sides of the country - she lives in Minneapolis and I'm in Honolulu but we still run the company as a partnership. Alora Ambiance benefits from our different lifestyles allowing new and varied elements to influence the products. The lush, naturally environment of Hawaii, unsurprisingly, found its way into our fourth fragrance, isola - a blend of tropical tuberose, gardenia, and Italian fig. Working from home, where my office looks out to a jungle and birds fly in during the day, I can't help but include those stimuli. Conversely, their headquarters in Minneapolis where Therese works is a huge converted warehouse. That we could create a collection of fragrances that seemed perfect in two environments as different as ours really assured us that they're suited for any living space.

Therese: One of our abiding commitments is our relationship with our customers. From the beginning, road trips were an essential part of our business development and we continue to value personal contact. We're extremely selective about distribution because we want our products to be in stores where salespeople understand and love them. We even ask each other, "Would we want to go have coffee with these people?" Because ultimately, those are the people who will put our products in the right hands.

I think our Midwestern values affect the ambition of the company - to create products that make people feel good but that are also practical. Our customers should always feel they're getting their money's worth from an Alora Ambiance purchase. Across the country, we've met so many people who have told us that they open their front door and it immediately smells like home. For us that's the greatest measure of success.

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