Waxing Poetic

Interview by Charlene Chan
Photography by Jovian Lim

Anyone who’s had the misfortune of experiencing a bad head cold will likely remember the taste—or lack thereof—of food consumed during that period. It doesn’t matter if one was served the most exquisite dishes; without a sense of smell, the complex nuances of flavour are lost upon us. Yet scent, as crucial as it is to our daily lives, remains an abstract concept that defies definition. This elusive quality of scent is what Daphne, who started Candles of Light in 2015, names as a challenge she’s had to overcome in her work with fragrances. She shares with us the process behind the creation of a new scent, and the one fragrance that has, till now, remained out of her reach.

Please tell us about your background and how Candles of Light began.

I took a basic candle making workshop and fell in love with it. In particular, I fell in love with the process of scent creation—the ability to create or recreate a moment or feeling using a combination of scented raw materials. I experimented and researched a lot on my own, from the different types of wax bases to combinations of different raw materials. I also blended—and still do—a lot of scent blends and evaluated them in my preparations to figure out what worked and what didn’t.

Certain scent combinations just don’t turn out as well when burnt in a candle, while some scents are more suited for misting, and vice versa. I took a lot of workshops and classes, and travelled to France to study natural perfumery. In the midst of doing all of this, I had never felt more excited or alive; everything just felt right, like they were finally falling into place.

Scent is something that can be very personal, and can remind us of a very specific time/place. Has working with scent given you insight on the human psyche?

One of the main things I love about scent is how personal it is. It’s always incredibly insightful and so interesting for me to observe feedback and reactions whenever someone smells one of my scents. Scent has the ability to trigger a specific memory, experience, person or place. Most people, when I chat with them, tell me they don’t like scent or perfume because it gives them a headache. But we’re smelling things all the time, and without smell, we wouldn’t be able to taste. It’s not scent that’s bothering them but the quality of what they’re smelling, which is why I’ve chosen to work with a natural palette of raw materials.

How does the creation of a new scent begin?

One of my teachers had a great analogy. Let’s say you want to make a vongole pasta, and you head to the supermarket to get the ingredients: garlic, white wine, herbs, some clams, olive oil, etc. But hey, there’s some single origin chocolate you love on offer, and a thick slice of wagyu that looks especially tempting. You don’t throw them together into your vongole, you might make a side dish and a dessert from the other ingredients instead.

It’s the same with creating a new scent, which is why it’s so important to have a brief in mind, whether it’s a feeling or emotion, or theme / subject matter. For my own range, I formulate scents according to times of day, whether it’s sun filled forest walks in the mid morning, or winding down at the end of a long day, which gives me a good starting point to create from. Otherwise I would be all over the place!

Read more in The U Press N˚15 (Singapore edition).