Anyone who ever gazed upon the Grand Canyon’s curving, sedimentary walls up close can marvel at the power water has. Artisan candle company Le Feu de L’eau understands the substance well, harnessing its energy to contour and sculpt some of the most stunning, mold-less candles we’ve ever encountered. These biomorphic sculptures are the artistic byproduct of an age-old natural process, and striations and color variations are as unique to every jar as a naturally formed canyon. Co-founders Wendy Polish, an illustrator, and Jo Strettell, a makeup artist, are infatuated with the whole artistic and sensory process these the line brings. Everything from the hand-mixed, hand-dyed pigments to the inspiring, accompanying mood boards are considered by the design duo, who also have backgrounds in textile design, art, and photography. Lest not forget about scent—fragrance equally tells the story for each of the six candles currently in the line. Le Feu de Gris celebrates the '50s Hollywood leading man with smoke and musk, Le Feu Bleu Phthalo is drunk with love, fragranced with an intoxicating blooming jasmine, and Le Feu Chartreuse, the newest addition to the line, captures the deep sexiness of frankincense blended with the warmth of cedar. You get the picture. Maybe we can’t all make the trip southwest, but these luminaries put nature’s best practices right on our nightstand. Below, find our conversation with the creators behind the candles.
B: With backgrounds in makeup, design, and illustration, why did you both decide to start a candle company?
Wendy: I grew up watching my dad make candles in water—a process he invented. He would fill up plastic trash cans full of water and pour hot wax down a wick that led into the water. When the wax hit the water it would spiral, fan out, and make the most incredible shapes. He called them ‘fantasy candles’. During my first year at Art Center College of Design, I took an art and theory class where I was first introduced to the Abstract Expressionists—that was the moment I felt inspired and compelled to create work with energy and spontaneity. I wasn't interested in rendering an oil painting. I wanted to create uncontrived work that celebrated process. My dad and I refined the candle making process, and its been quite the journey as we continue to improve it. I knew there was a market because they were so unique and didn't exist anywhere else. But I knew I wouldn't be able to do this on my own. So I asked Jo if she would be my business partner and take this venture on with me. She has a sophisticated eye and is well respected in the beauty and fashion world.
Jo: My passions have always been art and photography—the study of color, light and skin. Wendy proposed the idea to work with her and it was perfect. The timing couldn't have been better.
B: Tell us about the name, Le Feu de L'eau.
Wendy: Le Feu De L'Eau translates to The Fire Of Water. We knew that we wanted to play with the elements of water and fire in the name of the brand, but it read plain. We played around with various languages until it was said in French. It then sounded and looked beautiful to us. It seemed to represent the candle the way we wanted it to.
B: The process of creating the candles reminds us of the Colorado river carving out the Grand Canyon.
Wendy: The candles are formed with the water as our mold. Elements of temperature and pressure are very important in controlling the form of the candle as we pull it through the water. I often compare our candle making process to natural phenomenons such as the Grand Canyon. I feel like the process of how we form our candles is a microcosm of how our planet formed islands and canyons—through volcanic activity and shifts of temperature and pressure. I never get bored and continue to be surprised by what comes out of the water. Because every candle is unique, there are no two alike. And every so often something special happens—like spots or texture on the candle shell. It's something we can't explain or reproduce. Sometimes the design and texture is totally out of our hands.
B: How does Le Feu de L’Eau fit into the current candle market?
Wendy: We are very proud of our candles because we are the only one who can make these. We don't have to worry so much about fancy packaging, gimmicks or marketing for them to standout. They just are what they are. Each candle is a mini sculpture—a slice of fine art. We approach our product from the point of view of a fine artist and not as a corporation. We enjoy our work and have fun doing it. I don't know if there is another candle company that can say the same thing. I believe our candles are for anyone who appreciates art, beauty, and life.
B: How did you come up with your color palette and inspiration boards?
Jo: Being a visual person, I'm better with pictures than words—I've always liked to create inspiration boards for work. For our candle research I pull the photography, life, fashion, and beauty. Wendy complements with art, architecture and textures. It’s a compilation of us.
B: What kind of obstacles have you had to overcome, if any?
Wendy: It’s been a lot of work. Mostly because we are our own manufacturer. We can't fall back on someone to help us make the candles if we get behind. The biggest obstacle is trying to keep up with the demand. We are growing at a rapid pace. We officially launched our company in January 2012. We didn't have huge expectations because we understood it can sometime take years to reap the rewards of a new business. But through strong word of mouth and the internet we received some very large orders along with some really great press. It’s literally non-stop. Sometime Jo and I laugh and think, uh oh—what did we get ourselves into as we pack orders at two in the morning.
Le Feu de L'eau, $55, available in six variations online at lefeudeleau.com