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Incu EDITION // Burning Quietly: Elise Pioch of Maison Balzac
May 05, 2016 / Incu Online
Interview by Sophie McComas
Photography By Katie Kaars
Born under the Mediterranean sun in the south of France, Elise Pioch brings all the fragrant memories of her idyllic childhood to life in her candle and lifestyle brand, Maison Balzac.
Inspired by her ancestors and fuelled by a passion for collaboration with only special and like-minded creatives, Elise is elegant and authentic in the way she lives her life and how she runs her brand.
We visit her at the Botany warehouse space she shares with husband Pablo Chappell of Chappelli Cycles, to talk about her inspiration for her range, which has recently expanded into the realm of beauty products.
How do you feel about Maison Balzac falling into the perfectionist category? How do you make your brand the best it can be?
I want to be involved with every product and remain true to my brand, which carries the name of my family, Balzac. My team is very small and I have to have an impact. I have to create and check everything that comes from my warehouse with my brand on it.
Two things have been our values from day one; the first was to remain an artisan brand, where things are really made by hand by real people and take time to make. The second value is that things are concise and restricted. If you dilute your message through more product, it’s almost like you don’t know what you want to say, so you just dump it out in the world. My collection will always be curated and small.
How many scents do you have in your range of candles?
Ten, including five core fragrances. I call them “core” because they were the ones I launched with my brand three years ago. Since then I’ve added four collaborations with [floral designer] Dr. Cooper and [jewellers and accessories label] Lyn & Tony. Just recently we released our fifth collaboration with Marble Basics. It’s a marble candle and it’s huge. It weighs four kilos in a huge marble vessel and burns for 100 hours. The first collaboration I did with Romance was Born was three years ago, and we are actually looking for a new artwork for that packaging, which will come out again this year. So soon we’ll actually have 11 candles! I know exactly why they are all in the range. I know their stories and some people buy them over and over again. I love that tradition, the fidelity customers have for my little world, my solar system.
What’s the process when launching a collaboration? What’s the first step?
Every new scent requires 12 months of work, so we can’t do that many. It has to be limited and slow. I love the fact that we take the time to make sure everything ticks all the boxes. Nothing is rushed and we don’t have deadlines. When it is ready, it is ready.
Really the first step is finding the right people to collaborate with. We have to have an affinity, it’s never just a commercial operation. It’s about the culture and the philosophy of the other brand and what they’re trying to do. If we are aligned then we meet up and discuss their ideal, their dream perfume. It takes about one to four months to approve a fragrance, and then we do a lot of testing with the wax, the wick, the colour of the glass and the packaging. And then four months later it’s ready to go into mar- ket so we start talking about press or talking to buyers, and then a few months later it’s in store, so that’s nearly a whole year’s work.
You have a background in fashion buying. Do some of the skills you learnt then transfer into your business now?
Absolutely. As a fashion buyer you need to have your finger on the pulse of what’s emerging and the brands you believe in. With my brand I couldn’t escape that thrill of finding things, or pushing creative boundaries or offering a refreshed point of view. In that regard I am definitely hunting and gathering things for my audience the way I was as a fashion buyer.
Organisational skill is also similar. As a buyer, once you have your buying purchase for the season, you have to know so much about your best sellers and how much you can afford per item. There’s so much planning and forecast- ing and now I realize that if I want to have my glass, my box and my fragrance all together in the warehouse to be assembled, and how much I need of each, that strength in planning and forecasting is a complete necessity.
Tell us about the candle you released called Le Silence.
That was something I launched two winters ago. My grandfather was a beekeeper and as long as I can remember we always had bees at home and a hive in the garden. I’ve never been scared of bees and I know the cycle of the honey and how you collect it. When I started making perfumed candles I thought it would be very conceptual and interesting to make a candle that smelled like nothing. So I removed the fragrance and changed the nature of the wax to 100% pure Australian beeswax, as I usually use soy. The name, Le Silence, came from the fact that I wanted to offer silence for the senses. The box was black, everything was about resting your senses. But that candle wasn’t a success as I think people expect Maison Balzac to blow them away with perfume, and that one was a bit minimal.
I feel like it was my Comme de Garçons moment, where I created a piece so out of expectation that people didn’t get it, or they did but there weren’t that many. I loved it and I’m sure that one day I’ll make more, but I had to focus on other projects, so that one is not commercialized any more. But I’m most proud of that creation just because of everything it means to me and my family, and my love of nature and my ancestors.
What other candle do you connect with personally?
I come from the Mediterranean coast of France where the sun is a bit like Sydney. Every morning my mum would squeeze orange juice for us and the Le Soleil candle recreates my mornings growing up there. But the other four candles are about a typical Sunday at home with my parents. Le Bois is about walking in the forest with them after lunch... If you smell the core collection you understand my life. It’s a very personal way to translate a happy childhood in five fragrances. I missed France so much I wanted to bring them to Sydney to help me stop being homesick.
We have recently released a collaboration with Melbourne-based artist Miranda Skoczek that includes thyme. Where I come from in the south of France thyme is everywhere. I have been trying to create a thyme candle since day one, even before Le Soleil. But it was really hard because although thyme’s fragrance is beautiful in the wild, when you try to extract it for a candle it doesn’t work, so we had to tweak and transform it. It talks the most about my favourite smell.
What was the thought process behind releasing your hand cream in 2014?
The name of my brand, Maison Balzac, means “house of Balzac”, and in a way anything that can fit in your house is relevant to my brand. I want to create the lifestyle I had growing up. One of my most vivid memories of my grand- mother Balzac was her sitting in the living room, lighting a candle, putting hand cream on her hands and wrapping a beautiful cashmere throw around her shoulders. That was her way to relax on the couch. And so as an extension to my candles I wanted to create a cream that would be identical to the one my grandmother used, but a modern version. Mine is organic and only has 20 natural ingredients. Eventually I’ll do cashmere or mohair throws that are made in France. Anything that revolves around that image will make sense for my brand. The cream is a product that sells so well because it’s a bit like a Chanel lipstick; it’s a way to enter Maison Balzac with an affordable price of $20 and gives you a taste for what we’re all about.
Your grandparents sound like they were big influences on you.
Oh yes, I gave their name to my brand and I feel like they continue to watch over my shoulder. They were so kind and loving. They’ve passed away now but I can feel their presence with me. My guideline is whether or not they would like what we are doing. I’m really looking back into the past to achieve all my dreams in the present and the future. They were people with taste and I follow that.
Has the birth of your daughter Lulu altered your creativity at all?
I started my brand when she was born, so I haven’t had a before and after. But she reminds me of my family ties and that the love you receive or give is the biggest inspiration. I’m trying to build a business that she can be proud of. I’d love for her to take over the values of the brand and bring something of her own. She’s in my mind every second. She’s helping me to stay strong and focused. I am concentrated on my ancestors but she is the balance between the past and the future.
Maison Balzac candles are available in Women's Incu stores and online.