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Elise Pioch Balzac of Maison Balzac

Studio Visit

11th July, 2014
Lucy Feagins
Friday 11th July 2014

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Maison Balzac candles, locally poured with scents inspired by Elise's life in France. Photo - Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

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Elise and her assistant Ellie at her Melbourne Candle Making class at The School in the Homework studio. Photo - Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

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A three-wicked candle being created in Elise's Candle Making class at The School. Photo - Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

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Props and ingredients from Elise's Candle Making class at The School where students are taught Elise's tricks of the trade. Photo - Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

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Elise Pioch Balzac. Photo - Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

It may not be entirely relevant to this story, but first up I do feel the need to acknowledge that fashion buyer turned candlemaker Elise Pioch Balzac is the most stylish and effortlessly chic lady I believe I have ever encountered.  It is basically the first thing anyone ever says about her. She is French, of course, so that's a head start.

I first met Elise when we recently photographed the beautiful country home she shares with her partner Pablo Chappell and baby Lou Lou on the banks of the Hawkesbury River in rural NSW.  The way she carries herself really is the first thing you notice - distinct and confident, but supremely relaxed and un-selfconscious.  Nothing is a problem, everything is effortless and kind of refreshingly 'matter of fact'.  This is a woman with a certain magic about her that is rather hard to articulate.

Elise was born in the South of France, where she grew up until she was 18 years old.  In her early career she moved to Paris and spent time working with luxury fashion brands (Hermes!), before moving to Australia 'by accident' 10 years ago. 'Initially, I came to Australia for a three month holiday...' explains Elise, 'I only had summer clothes and no intention to stay, but you live in a very attractive country and it was impossible to go back to France!'

Though she originally started in Melbourne, a city she instantly fell in love with, by 2008 Elise had relocated to Sydney to take up a buying position at respected Sydney fashion boutiques Belinda & The Corner Shop.

Fast forward to July 2012, and it was time for another reinvention.  Elise founded her candlemaking business, Maison Balzac, spurred by a passion to capture and share the scents which reminded her of her formative years in France. Working with a perfumer in Sydney, she developed a range of gentle and beautiful scents which have become the core of her range.  Her simple offering of just 7 perfectly scented candles hit the ground running - they were picked up by famed international stores Colette in Paris and Bergdorf Goodman in NYC right from the beginning (!!), and since then a host of other amazing stockists, such as 10 Corso Como in Milan and The Webster in Miami have followed.  The range currently has 80 stockists worldwide (40% international, 60% in Australia).  'Every month we receive requestes from absolutely everywhere in the world, I have no idea how they hear about us but they do!' says Elise!

Elise is always chasing new challenges.  Her latest project has been the addition of a luxurious moisturising cream named 'La Crème de la Crème' to her complement her candle range, which launched this year after 9 months of product development. Next up for Maison Balzac is a handwash currently in development, new scented hand creams and two new candle varieties.

I really admire Elise's outlook on life.  She often speaks of following her 'gut instinct' on things, she is endlessly optimistic and never afraid to reinvent herself. As she says, after first landing in Melbourne back in 2004, 'I could feel that something great was going to happen to me in this optimistic, welcoming and happy city. My gut feeling was right! I started from scratch and made my own reality'.

Elise's candles and new 'Creme de la Creme' moisturising cream can be purchased online, or from over 80 stockists listed here. Elise's next class with The School is scheduled for 27th November in Sydney!

Tell us a little about your background – where did you grow up, what did you study and what was life like before you made the big move to Australia in 2004?

I come from a very small village stuck in the middle of vineyards and the sea near Montpellier, near the border of Spain in the South of France. My parents love nature, so every spare moment we had was spent barefoot in the mediterranean bush, foraging, picking herbs, mushrooms, fruits, flowers, or whatever was in season, edible or pretty. We would also go fishing and hunting, only for our own meals (we would never catch more than what we needed). This is what I call a very happy childhood, and this inspired my brand Maison Balzac.

My mother is a very elegant woman who used to run a perfumery boutique (one of the first to carry Chanel fragrances in the region in the '70s), so I was also exposed to her sensibility and taste. I think all this had an immense influence on the choices I made in my life: like studying fashion in Paris, then working in the communication department of Hermes Head Office (where I organised fashion shows for Martin Margiela from 2001 to 2004).

Being exposed to this world of perfection, serenity and craftmanship from the very beginning of my career was a blessing and set me up in a way that I will never forget!

From fashion you transitioned into candlemaking, and launched Maison Balzac in 2012. How did this hobby turned business come about, and how were you first introduced to candlemaking? Did you ever think your business would grow to include 80 stockists including Colette in Paris and Bergdorf Goodman in NYC?

Candle making for me is a way to create perfumes linked to memories, and share them with an audience. I am not passionate about candles, I am passionate about the olfactive memories that they allow me to fabricate! I was missing home so much that I found this solution to remind me of France.

What started as a philanthropic adventure turned into a successful business... life is full of surprises! Now the list of products and stockists are ever growing, organically and very nicely.

We recently caught up with you at your candle making class at Megan Morton’s The School. How does your craft translate to the classroom, and what do you enjoy about sharing your process (and some of your secrets!?) with others in this way?

At first when Megan Morton offered to share my humble skills with students I wasn't sure anyone would turn up, but we sold out the Sydney class and after I did it I felt so energised and enthusiastic that I thought I should do it again!

It took me a couple of years to get things right with candle making, so the idea to share some of my tips links back to my initial philanthropic adventure. Of course I keep some elements like my perfumes a mystery (!), but each student is given the tools, basics and understanding to recreate some candle magic at home. Inspiring people to MAKE things is very enjoyable.

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A student at Elise's Candle Making class pouring wax in her customised vessel she made especially for the class! Photo - Eve Wilson for The Design Files.
Maison Balzac is known for its amazing bespoke fragrances that you develop especially for your candles and skincare in consultation with your perfumer. What inspires the signature scents of Maison Balzac, and what is your all time favourite scent?

The core of my business is about these bespoke fragrances that my Sydney perfumer develops exclusively for me. Telling a story through perfumes is what interests me. They are all inspired by the nature that I know so well, for example my LE SUD candle is based on the bath infused with fresh lavender that my grandmother used to pour me every week. LE BOIS is about the walk we would have in the nearby woods every Sunday with my family, the smells of earth, moss, pine needles and the sun. One of my favourite smells is actually burnt feather so one day I will try to catch this in a candle!

How is your business structured – where are you based, how many people do you employ, and do you outsource any significant tasks?

We are growing as we go, organically. We are based in Botany, NSW and there are only two of us, however we outsource the manufacturing of the candles now as there are simply too many to make daily. We are working with the kindest most experienced artisan who provides the same level of quality as if we were making them ourselves. We are so very lucky!

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

Far too many emails... most of my communication is based on the internet, very few phone calls and even less appointments. Thank god for the internet! When I meet people in flesh it feels very special which is silly, I should go out there a bit more, but running a small business involves being all over every aspect of it and to leave no room for error. I love it!

Can you list for us 5 resources across any media you tune in to regularly?

I download French Elle, French Vogue and French Numero magazine weekly/monthly, I live stream Nova Planet and FIP radios daily. I never turn the TV on, and I love Instagram, my favourite account of all time is @curated_by, check it out if you don't know it yet!

Which other local event stylists / designers / creative people do you admire?

I think fashion in Australia is unlike any other: Christopher Esber, Romance Was Born, Karla Spetic are a few examples of designers I admire, season after season. There are some outrageously talented other creatives: Daniel and Jordan Askill, Miranda Skoczek, Doctor Lisa Cooper, Saskia Havekes, Aesop, the Barton brothers (Barrie, Chris and Bob) are all so unique and genius that the world feels like a better place with them in it.

What would be your dream creative project or collaboration?

Oh I dream of a candle with Marni (Milan based fashion house) or El Bulli (spanish Chef). When two worlds collide it creates something crazy and interesting! It's a bit like the concept of synaesthesia where senses suddenly mix with one another and takes sensations to another level...

What are you looking forward to?

I look forward to welcoming different categories of products under the Maison Balzac umbrella, all dedicated to making homes feel different, happy and stylish.

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More assorted vessels that students of Elise's class BYO-ed ready to fill their creations. Photo - Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

SYDNEY QUESTIONS

Your favourite Sydney neighbourhood and why?

Bronte because of the ocean, the swimming pool, Iggy's bread (I am french so I need to know there is good bread nearby) and there is a home on the beach that we know we will buy once we have sold a billion candles!

What and where was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?

We recently went to Oscillate Wildly in Newtown and the meal was so delicious that I was saying 'mmmhhh' for every mouthful, my husband was a bit embarrassed! The other delicious meal was at home, I cooked a pear and chocolate tart and shared it with friends, that's proper happiness.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

In the garden of our country house (a church on the banks of the Hawlkesbury River), gardening, pruning and picking fresh eggs. We spend every weekend there and wouldn't miss it for anything in the world.

Sydney’s best kept secret?

Bronte ocean swimming pool is the best swimming spot ever. The colours of the bottom of the pool, the rocks around it and the infinity views are priceless.

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Elise's range of beautifully scented candles Maison Balzac, including a special collaboration and signature scent she made in conjunction with Romance was Born. Photo - Eve Wilson for The Design Files.

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