LM Woman #56 / Elise Pioch
LM WOMAN #56 / Elise Pioch
Elise Pioch, of scent and homewares brand Maison Balzac, is French to the core with her innate ability to embrace the memory and romanticism of her fragrances alongside a certain no-nonsense chic in her personal style. The contradictions of a career in high fashion and a love of the wildness of nature brought her adventuring spirit from Paris to Sydney where she found a way to connect back to the ‘emotional geography’ of her family and her French childhood. Stimulated by an endless stream of new ideas her ability to draw out great work through collaborations with other creatives has stamped a distinctive mark on her growing brand.
Elise wears the Elsie Shirt Dress
I love the notion that Maison Balzac candles evoke memory. Was this a slow burning (excuse the pun) notion for you as an approach to creating a candle and a scent or did it come to you quickly as a way to connect to your history?
Evoking memories was the very core of Maison Balzac from the beginning. I started the brand because I had been in Australia for 8 years and I was missing my homeland, my family and the familiar scents of my childhood. I was determined to recreate my emotional geography, to bring it to life in Sydney through the medium of perfumes, candles and objects for the home.
Elise - you had a successful career in the fashion industry from a very young age before taking the leap and coming to Australia from France. What prompted that move and what did you find when you came here culturally and creatively?
Fashion was my world, my passion; it was so natural for me to study fashion and to work in the industry. Nothing made more sense to me than doing what I loved the most! However, living in Paris made me feel miserable after a while. It is a very beautiful city but it is far from nature - I could never see a full evening sky - and I felt cut off from my other passion, which is to connect with wilderness. Also, my English wasn't very good and I wanted to learn it in an English-speaking country. My quest for adventure and linguistic skills led me to book a return ticket to Australia but I never returned!
I consider that what I do today is fashion for interiors so I am still very much enjoying my passion while also embracing nature on a daily basis (my home is like a tree house located in the Kuring gai National Park, it is by the water and is only accessible by boat).
What did you do prior to starting Maison Balzac?
Prior to starting Maison Balzac, in Australia I was lucky to join the Belinda HQ in Sydney as a buyer for their fashion stores. I left Belinda in April 2012 and started Maison Balzac 1 month later!
The name is very powerful – thinking a famous French writer in the 19th century Honoré de Balzac – how did it come about and why is it significant for you?
I named the business after my mother (Nadine Balzac) and my beloved grand parents- her parents - (Jeanine and Andre Balzac). The fact to put my family name on the packaging is a way to place each product under their lucky star, kindness and graciousness. I can never launch a product I am not proud of, otherwise it would be like a betrayal to my ancestors’ name. My grand parents told me many times that we were distant relatives of Honoré de Balzac but I've never found the link in our family tree. It is still a beautiful name that evokes 19th century French culture!
You deal in the senses - a candle brings light, scent and a certain embedded romanticism – do you find this explorations has heighted awareness of other senses and their relationships?
I have always loved blurring the contours between taste, sight, touch, smell and sounds. I was twenty when I discovered the concept of synesthesia thanks to Charles Baudelaire's poetry. Since then, I have been fascinated by the way artists have used the concept to push the limits of perception. With Maison Balzac I constantly play with this notion. For example, every season we develop two products with the same shape but made in different materials (one in glass one in wax). We have created an incense fragrance - L'apres Midi - based on music, so it is recommended you light it while you play Prelude a l'apres midi d'un faune by Debussy. Recently we developed a candle to pair with a non- alcoholic drink by NON which is based in Melbourne. Lastly we have a candle called Le Rose, which was created to smell like the colour pink in a painting by Miranda Skoczek. Blurring the senses creates the most wonderful firework of emotions...
What is your process in creating a scented candle? When do you know you have nailed it?
When we create a new scent, we start by dreaming of a moment, a detail or an emotion then we share this with our Sydney-based perfumer. She spends a few weeks playing with the concept until she comes back to us with a few options. There is no right or wrong in the perfume world, it only comes down to feelings. So, we smell each sample and let them evoke something. We know we nailed it when the sense of happiness and satisfaction is so strong that there is no doubt about it. If there is any doubt, we have to re-work the scent. That idea of balance is hard to explain, it really is about gut feeling and intuition!
Elise wears the Soma Shirt Dress
You have had some very interesting collaborations with creatives from other fields. Do you enjoy the process of engagement with others in terms of pushing a concept to new levels?
We love collaborations so much: it is the union of two worlds finding a common thread and sharing it with our respective audience to open up our boundaries. Collaborating with Lee Mathews is actually one of our fondest memories. Lee wanted to recreate a specific moment in time when, as a child, she would go on holiday and drive down a country road full of Black Sassafras trees. She remembers winding the window down and smelling the air full of citrus and pepper. My team and I are addicted to this scent and candle and I am so grateful she shared this personal moment with us and that we translated it successfully.
Your home seems to reflect your ethos - light and connected to
nature and the outdoors. What aspects of your home are most important to you?
Our homes have always been surrounded by nature (lots of it!), had foldable doors that can be fully opened to pretend the house is actually part of the landscape and they all had huge windows to let the light, sky and greenery come in. Being part of nature is definitely a requirement for me. It has a calming effect and it means that there is always something new to watch; kookaburras looking at us from the balcony, dragonflies trying to come in, funny clouds passing by....
Elise wears the Bodhi Pant
Are you a collector? What is fascinating you most at the moment?
I fall in love with objects for no particular reason. They all seem quite eclectic but once they are together at home, I think they make sense. The accumulation of these ‘love affairs’ creates our own interior style. There is no direction or determined look; I go with the flow of my instinct and this tells a story in itself. My latest obsession is designer Ettore Sottsass. I adore his sense of humor and his approach to function and colour. At Christmas I got a Sottsass pale blue ceramic teapot from my favorite auction house in my village in France (Les Encheres du Midi in Beziers). It's the piece I hold above my head in one of the photos. The beauty and quirkiness of it drives me crazy!!
Your personal style always feels uncomplicated and chic. What attributes are most important to you in what you wear?
When it comes to clothes, my priority is comfort, then it has to be a soft fabric of dark color! I don’t like anything too revealing and I prefer a tomboy look over a feminine look. It must be the French in me!
Can you define how you live your life in 5 words?
Creativity, playfulness, family, nature and kindness.
What is exciting you at present and what is on the horizon for you and the brand?
There is so much on the horizon for me and Maison Balzac that my head is spinning all the time! We have new categories of products launching in April (including a collection of trays and solid perfumes for the skin), we are celebrating our 10-year anniversary later this year with a retrospective of our 10 favorite fragrances, and we are planning more collaborations with Lee Mathews..... come in and spin your mind with us!
Elise wears the Preston Shirt