You can smell Vianney Hunter’s studio before you see it. The tiny warehouse space in Sydney's inner west has exposed beams, dried flowers and candles burning in every corner. At the front, there’s a long, timber table where Hunter hopes to host workshops and dinners. And just beyond in the workspace, candles are lined up, all prepped for pouring.
While she’s been playing with scents for over a decade, Hunter’s been selling her eponymous candle brand for four. Hunter Candles are hand poured using plant oils and wax made from soybeans, and are biodegradable and free from pesticides, palm oil, petroleum and GMOs. She has 20 candles in her range (from $45), as well as scented tea lights and travel candle tins. She welcomes bespoke candle commissions, too, and delivers across the country.
Hunter considers herself a storyteller as much as a scent maker, and each of her candles is named for its muse. The Deborah, inspired by her mum, has an elegant fig tree scent, while Australia (blue gum, lemon myrtle and wattle) is like a stroll through the Aussie coastal bush. The James is named after her partner (a chef at Sydney’s Totti’s, and previously Chiswick) and is a blend of yuzu and smoke – it reminds her of a special meal he makes for her.
“Smells have an amazing way of triggering memories and making you feel a certain way,” Hunter tells Broadsheet. “Fresh tomatoes and basil remind me of my grandma, and wattle makes me think of growing up on the beaches of Bilgola [in Sydney].”
She also creates bespoke scented candles for restaurants and cafes. One of her best-selling blends is a collaboration she did with modern Australian eatery Chiswick. “It’s a special-occasion sort of place,” Hunter says. “I think people get attached to the candle not only for the scent, but because they have celebrated something special there.”
It smells crisp, with a balance of native bee honey and thyme and is inspired by the gardens on the grounds of the restaurant “They’d just set up a native beehive, and it was this beautiful, deep amber tone,” says Hunter. “The bees had been feeding on the garden and the honey wasn’t so sweet – more herbaceous.”
When collaborating with a venue to make a bespoke scent, Hunter considers the space, the food and the people in it, attaching meaning to scents. “I’ll look at the cutlery and think that might suit amber, or the exposed beams might be cedar.”
It’s how she ended up with a suave and spicy coffee, cedar and saffron blend for 212 Blu cafe, in Sydney.
But one of our favourite collaborations has to be the hand-blown candle dome she created with Sydney glass artist Katie Ann Houghton of KAH. A cool, curving cloche with a playful pinch at the top, it’s as useful as it is beautiful.
While Hunter admits there are a lot of candle brands on the market, she doesn’t really look at what they’re doing. “There’s a story behind each scent, and you’ll always find something really unique here,” she says.