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Elise Pioch Balzac — Founder, Maison Balzac
Friends & Partners
August 27, 2020

Maison Balzac is the brainchild of French-born, Sydney-based founder, Elise Pioch Balzac. Beginning with a simple set of candles inspired by the scents of Pioch Balzac’s provincial upbringing in the south of France, what started as a small idea in Sydney quickly grew into an internationally-acclaimed homewares brand known for their playful hand made objects built for everyday life. The Maison Balzac journey began after Pioch Balzac left fashion house, Hermès, in 2003. The following year, she booked a flight to Australia on an impulse, and two months later she'd fallen in love with this country. Seventeen years later and Maison Balzac has grown into a mainstay in the international homewares industry.

As a long-time partner of Incu, we caught up with Elise recently to discuss the origins of Maison Balzac, the process behind the beautiful products she creates and how important storytelling is in the candle industry.

Let’s start with your story. How did you end up in Australia, Elise?
I was working at Hermes and living in Paris for 4 years when I decided that I needed a big change. I come from a small village in the south of France and life in a big city didn't feel right. I wanted to go as far away from Paris as possible and realised that Australia was exactly that. So I booked a return flight to Melbourne and at the end of my 2-month trip I decided not to board the plane back to France. That was in 2004, I was 28 and fell in love with this country!

And then your decision to stay… what was it about Australia that charmed you?
On my first day in Australia, I clearly remember walking down Collins Street in Melbourne and feeling this overwhelming sense of freedom, enthusiasm and space. Everything was new, everybody was welcoming and genuine, it was a proper Eldorado, a marvellous place, unknown yet familiar.

Where does the name Maison Balzac originate from?
Maison means "home" in French and Balzac is the family name of my mother. I knew I wanted to create objects for the home as homage to my mother and grandmother's taste so the name had to be MAISON BALZAC!

Can you elaborate on the different processes you use in producing Maison Balzac glassware?
First we have a dream, an idea or an object I used to see at home when I was little; I make a drawing and suggest colours to produce the first samples. Our glass master creates a prototype, sends it to us and we live with it in the studio for a while before we decide if it can become part of the collection. Once it's validated by us, we place an order for a small quantity (it can go from 48 units to 500 pieces) hand blown over a period of three months. Et voila!

On my first day in Australia, I clearly remember walking down Collins Street in Melbourne and feeling this overwhelming sense of freedom, enthusiasm and space. Everything was new, everybody was welcoming and genuine, it was a proper Eldorado, a marvellous place, unknown yet familiar.

How about your various ‘parfums d'idees’ products? Can you give us an insight into what it takes in formulating your scents?
As I started the brand, I was told countless of times that the candle industry was overcrowded and it would be hard to stand out. What they didn't understand is that my concept was to develop perfumes based on emotions and abstract ideas rather than places or ingredients. To reinforce this, I called our candle range PARFUMS D'IDEES which translates into "perfumes of ideas". We have made scents that smell like Strangeness, Obscurity, Morning, other smells like A dream, like Silence or like the 17th century (1642). This is not the usual vocabulary for candles! Our perfumer loves listening to our initial concept because it is always a bit strange. Then she takes a month to create one blend that matches our words exactly. It is very rare when it needs a re-work. From there we make a first candle sample and see how the scent throws in the air of a big room and a small room. We aim to fill a space without being overwhelming. Once this is perfect we place an order for the fragrance, which then takes up to two months to be blended, here in Sydney. Each formulation is made for us exclusively, so every single candle is unique to Maison Balzac.

Storytelling is a big part of fragrances, how does the environment around you inform your product development?
You are so right: storytelling is at the heart of every candle brand. The original narrative and values we set at the beginning, dictate the image and ideas for newness. By maintaining consistency with the messages and inspirations, we keep a clear voice that is unique to each of the brand. In our case, my happy childhood in the south of France is the source of pretty much everything we create. The memories of my surrounding as a child still influence me today. By living in Australia as an adult and meeting incredible artists from around the world, it also becomes part of the story. So yes, my environment informs all our product developments.

What’s currently on your ‘to-do’ list?
I have to design new pieces for July 2021, chase our new glassware samples, buy food for dinner tonight, purchase a new home in Sydney and find a present for my brother whose birthday is on the 23rd of August!

How do you measure the brands’ success?
My parents are the hardest ones to convince. They are so proud of Maison Balzac today which makes me think that we are doing something right!

My happy childhood in the south of France is the source of pretty much everything we create. The memories of my surrounding as a child still influence me today.

Okay, this may be like choosing a favourite child, but what is your all-time-favourite Maison Balzac scent?
Without hesitation, my two favourites are L'Obscurite and Sainte T. Both created with amazing artists (Lyn & Tony and Doctor Cooper) and both transporting my heart into a special place every time I smell them.

What excites you most about the future?
We have grown exponentially in the last year and I can only imagine where we will be in one year time. I am most excited by welcoming new team members with their wealth of personality and experience and I also look forward to adding new categories to the range, to express our sensibility further!

 

Shop the collection here

@maisonbalzac

WORDS BY PETER BAIN
STUDIO IMAGERY BY JACUI TURK
PRODUCT IMAGERY BY DAVE WHEELER & SANDY DAO
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