Elise Pioch Balzac is obsessed with scent. “I love how scents instantly take your imagination to places, people, emotions or moments in time,” she says. “It’s like reading a book or listening to a great tale and you only have to smell it again to trigger the escape.”
It’s one of the reasons Pioch Balzac founded Maison Balzac, a range of exquisitely perfumed handmade candles. Each candle is an ode to memories from her childhood in France before she moved to Sydney and a particularly strong bout of homesickness encouraged her to try to capture the olfactory experiences of her upbringing in beeswax.
“They are like Proust’s madeleine for me,” she says of her candles before laughing.
The range includes a candle, (Le Soleil, made with orange and neroli essential oil), that evokes the orange juice her mother poured her when she was young. Another conjures strolling in a pine forest (Le Bois), and another captures the rosemary, gold and beeswax-infused atmosphere of the En Calcat abbaye in the South of France (Le Silence). Creating a new range of incense sticks, incense holders, essential-oil burners and oil blends was a natural extension for Pioch Balzac.
“Over the past six years I’ve created 16 candles and now I find it fascinating to explore different mediums using these same fragrances,” she says.
For her incense debut, Pioch Balzac looked to the remote Japanese island of Awaji, where it’s said incense was introduced to Japan in 595 during the reign of Empress Suiko. When a trunk of Agar wood washed up there, locals burned it and offered its singular aroma to the Empress, who was smitten.
Today, the island’s cooperative, established in 1850, also creates sticks for French luxury brand Astier de Villatte, the ne plus ultra of incense. In January Pioch Balzac secured a meeting with its representatives in Paris, sealing the deal over yuzu sake via a translator. “Despite the language barrier I instantly felt we were speaking the same language when it came to quality and beauty,” she says.
The result is two Maison Balzac incense scents produced by the cooperative: La Chapelle (sandalwood and cedar wood) and Le Soleil (as above). Bonne Nuit (lavender) will be released closer to Christmas. Each box contains 50 sticks.
To complement the incense Pioch Balzac took inspiration from Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film La Belle et La Bete (Beauty and the Beast), in which hands emerge from walls holding candlesticks, and created a hand-shaped incense holder with its index finger extended to the sky. There's also a glass pebble holder.
The holders have been made by artists in the south of France who create marble pieces by collecting marble dust: white marble recycled from Carrara in Italy and grey and black marble from the Pyrenees in France. “As a business we continuously look at ways to minimise the impact of our manufacturing processes,” Pioch Balzac says.
Maison Balzac has also just launched an elegant glass oil burner, and two essential-oil blends will be released in August as part of Pioch Balzac’s vision to colonise the home one scent at a time. “The expansion of Maison Balzac is following a simple, humble plan: everything that can fit in a home to make it better is a legitimate new object or category for us.”
Maison Balzac’s glass oil burner ($59), incense range ($39), marble hand-shaped incense holder ($129) and glass pebble holder ($29) are avaiable now. Two essential oil blends will be available in August.