For Elise Pioch Balzac, the French-born, Sydney-based founder of Maison Balzac, the brand began with a set of scented candles. Each recalls her provincial upbringing in the south of France; rows of lavender, pressed orange juice and walks in a cedar forest. By the end of 2017, each candle will be available as an eau du parfum fragrance. And the idea has expanded into olfactory collaborations with local creatives. Also, “homewares was always on the cards”, she says.
Balzac has now developed these homewares and “petite luxuries”. “I’m very meticulous. Everything I add within these four walls of my maison has to obey my criteria and my tastes,” she explains. “For Maison Balzac it goes from the packaging, to the scent and every little detail. Everything has to be harmonious and balanced.”
For this homewares range she’s partnered with intriguing and traditional artisans from around the world. Each item is special and storied − in its development as a product and in its sincere, nostalgic connection to Balzac’s seaside childhood. We asked Balzac to talk us through the conception and making of some of our favourite new products.
A stoneware, lobster-shaped matchbox, made in collaboration with ceramicists at Manufacture de Digoin. The box has been designed to perfectly fit Maison Balzac’s new long-stem, scented matches.
“This is definitely my favourite piece in the new collection,” says Balzac. “It’s so out there, so eccentric. It draws inspiration from Salvador Dali’s lobster telephone. When I convinced Digoin to make this for me, they were immediately engaged with the story.
“It’s also a little piece from my childhood and very personal for me … [it reminds me of] growing up close to nature, in the garden, the Mediterranean bush, in the sea with [my father], catching things with our bare hands. One of the things I loved the most was to go and look at the lobsters at the bottom of the sea.”
Le Savon hand and dish wash
A gentle, all-natural dish-wash that can (amazingly) double as hand wash.
“We were the last house on one side of the village, so on one side of my house was just wild bush land until the next village,” says Balzac. “ In that bush there was juniper berries, thyme, lemon trees, and rosemary – all these natural herbs and shrubs. I didn’t make anything of it at the time, but I do miss the scents. I wanted to bring back that Mediterranean essential oil. I developed the product with a skin specialist laboratory in Melbourne over the last four years. It went through so many tests! I finally feel this is the perfect product.”
Le Peau de Chagrin throws
Baby lama and plaid merino wool throws.
“I’ve been talking about adding throws to my collection for the last four years,” says Balzac. “The manufacturer, Brun de Vian-Tiran, is in a village, maybe 40 minutes from where I grew up, and we would visit him as children. My grandma always had one of their woolen throws. It’s been in existence since 1808.”
Le Silence candle
The 14th candle in the range.
“This is directly inspired by a balm made by the brothers in an abbey in the south of France, near where I grew up,” says Balzac. “In the kitchen we always had the balm floating around – any time we’d burn our skin or have a tiny little bobo or accident, our mother would apply that balm. It’s completely natural, and made with bee’s wax, rosemary and sunflower oils. I gave the balm to my perfumer who translated it into the scent for Le Silence. It’s a familiar, reassuring smell, the smell of my mother looking after us.”
Large- and medium-sized glasses in rose, smoke, teal and emerald green.
“When I started producing the candles four years ago, I thought three things would distinguish me from the very crowded market of candles – the packaging, the perfume, and the glassware,” says Balzac. “Initially, all I could find was machine-made glassware that you see everywhere. I wanted the glassware to be the signature of my brand, to hold it in your hand and recognise it as Maison Balzac.”
“I reached out to so many glassware companies around the world to see who could do a bespoke vessel for me. One of the companies that got back to me was a centuries-old glass-blowing factory in Mongolia, which practices this historically grounded glass-blowing technique with colour. Every unit is done by hand. So we’ve now introduced the pink, the teal, the smoke colours and they suggested the green glass as well. This is just the beginning of the products we plan to make with them.”