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Subtle Bodies

Creative People

Subtle Bodies is an incense project born out of a share house in Carlton North.

Creators Courtney Gibbs and Tommy Ashby, an architectural designer and an industrial designer respectively, were unsatisfied by the artificial, chemical options they found prevalent on the market, and began their own research into the history and traditions of incense, in the hopes of finding more natural, gentle scents.

This interest turned into an obsession, taking them on trips around the world, and ultimately resulting in Subtle Bodies:  their own brand of natural and sustainably-sourced incense.

22nd March, 2018

Subtle Bodies incense was a project started out of a Carlton share house by Courtney Gibbs and Tommy Ashby. Photo – Tomas Friml.

‘One of the most challenging aspects has been trying to communicate a particular sense through alternative mediums – it has definitely been hard to express a scent through words and pictures!’ says Courtney. Photo – Tomas Friml.

‘Subtle Bodies has been an amazing opportunity for us to work with our friends, Jia Jia Chen (Melbourne) and Saša Štucin and Nicholas Gardner from Soft Baroque (London), who have each designed wonderful and unique incense holders for us based on their own preferred materials to work with,’ Courtney says. Photo – Tomas Friml.

Courtney and Tommy took research trips to high-end incense stores Tokyo and Tawain to take inspiration from the culture and traditions of incense. Photo – Tomas Friml.

Subtle Bodies incense is not made with any generic base wood, perfume, oil, added colour, or bamboo sticks. Photo – Tomas Friml.

We have put a lot of consideration into how we define our approach to this very old tradition, we are not doing anything new as incense has been around for thousands of years, but this is our interpretation and Subtle Bodies is the outcome.’ Photo – Tomas Friml.

Subtle Bodies incense uses only two ingredients: the raw wood and a natural binding agent. Photo – Tomas Friml.

Sally Tabart
Thursday 22nd March 2018

Courtney Gibbs and Tommy Ashby of Subtle Bodies were living with creative friends Qianyi Lim of Sibling Architecture and graphic designer Ross Paxman when they first started taking real steps to turn their idea for a new incense brand into reality. ‘We really started to make progress when we worked with Ross in the upstairs study of our Canning street house’, Courtney explains, ‘he really helped by bringing professional structure as well as his strategy, branding and graphic design skills to the project.’

Research trips to Tokyo and Taiwan followed, where Courtney and Tommy visited a number of high-end incense shops, providing plenty of fodder for inspiration. ‘The incredible attention to detail, relentless devotion to the industry and long history directly inspired our project,’ says Courtney. It reached a point where the couple had gathered so many various products, woods, resins and all manner of esoteric incense supplies, that it was time to start something of their own.

Subtle Bodies’ Japanese-style incense sticks only have two ingredients: the fragrant wood, and a natural binding agent, and each incense stick uses a different raw wood. Careful not to use any generic wood, perfume or oil, this is very much a case of what you see (or smell) is what you get!

Courtney and Tommy got in touch with their preferred supplier and took a trip to Vietnam to visit their Agarwood plantation in the jungle. ‘We met the family and community running it, and learned more about the industry,’ Courtney says. ‘Agarwood is often harvested illegally so we wanted to make sure we were sourcing responsibly!’

Subtle Bodies continues to evolve as Courtney and Tommy learn more about incense and its values and culture. ‘Learning about the smells, the effects and developing the brand direction has been really satisfying, and is the basis for everything that we have created,’ says Courtney, ‘incense has been around for thousands of years, but this is our interpretation, and Subtle Bodies is the outcome.’

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net