EXCLUSIVE: OAK LIGHTS OF NEW YORK CANDLES

Every city has its story written in smells, but New York stands apart from the pack in that every block is an olfactory constellation unto itself. In Soho, Spring of 1997, delicately composed designer fragrances mingled with the smells of sticky concrete and roasting honey peanuts. In 1985, stray whiffs of patchouli on St Marks Place offset the beer, tobacco, and Manic Panic hair dye. Tar, gasoline, and paint thinner gave Bushwick its smell personality in 2003, while West Village bars in 1976 were redolent of leather and sex. With the aim of capturing the nuanced and complex scents of New York at specific times in its history, OAK has teamed up with the fragrance/candle masters at Brooklyn’s Joya Studio along with world-class perfumer Rayda Vega. Poured in small batches, these soy blend candles, containing 15% fine fragrance oil, are specifically designed to emit long-lasting, multi-faceted scents that will continue to unfurl as they burn. “The fragrances for the OAK collection were really developed as fine fragrance—or perfume,” explained Frederick Bouchardy, owner of Joya Studio. “Each has an elaborate formula with top, heart and base notes.” The candles’ slender, cylindrical shapes are reminiscent of bodega candles — a New York institution — while their unique, sometimes abstract, fragrances amp up and sex up any environment. Below we talk a bit with Joya’s Frederick Bouchardy about the collaboration.

What is your name, where are you from, and what do you do? Frederick Bouchardy, New York City, fragrance designer.

How do you redefine common perceptions of candles? I don’t necessarily seek to redefine common perceptions of candles or fragrances but rather to imbue a modern and personal sensibility. Joya doesn’t have the history of some 60 year old French or 400 year old Italian brands, but we do engage surprising artists and collaborations for unorthodox results. Sometimes we give an artist a kind of blank canvas—a fragrance, the blueprints of industrial design—and say “go.” Our clientele is responding.

What was most notable about the candle collaboration with OAK? Louis, Jeff and Kimberly knew exactly what they wanted for this project. There were extremely focused places and times used for inspiration. We ended up developing complex, classic perfumes for these candles—almost a wall of sound but in scent—and then added an unusual but complementary finishing twist.

What sets these candles apart? What innovation and creation went into perfecting them? I have a problem with the way the term “luxury” is being used, but I loved the concept of creating a church or bodega candle with premium ingredients. Typical bodega candles are beautiful—with their stature and insane graphics—and are fantastic for ambiance, but they don’t work well. If you’ve ever used one, you can tell they are mass manufactured and hardly burn or give off scent. The mission here was to make a kind of “luxury” bodega candle with the highest quality fragrance and natural blends of domestic wax: soy, vegetable oil, beeswax. Getting them to perform was another story altogether, as they are so tall and large. We spent months developing custom, cotton wicks and clips that work.

What was the process of working with a perfumer like for these candles? The fragrances for the OAK collection were really developed as fine fragrance—or perfume. Each has an elaborate formula with top, heart and base notes, and a master perfumer, Rayda Vega, was the perfect choice to create them. She has decades of experience, designing scents for both acclaimed niche perfume brands and corporate clients. She creates beautiful, balanced, rounded fragrances. This project was a fascinating challenge because she was at times to reluctant to toy with Louis, Jeff and Kimberly’s more unusual requests; however, once Rayda felt comfortable creating compositions that don’t subscribe to the more traditional notions of what is beautiful, the results were exceptional.

Why is it important for you to source locally?I’m not interested in chasing a low-wage advantage. We imported packaging materials in the past, and it didn’t seem right. I would rather support local business and invest in what we need, not an opportunity buy for more, cheaper product. Joya produces perfume, personal care and home ambiance (candles, diffusers, incense) for our housebrand and for a number of other clients—all in New York City (Clinton Hill in Brooklyn). I want to invest our energy and money in local suppliers for raw materials, packaging, everything. Supporting local artisans and industry is obviously good for the planet. And I have a feeling it’s the right way to go.

You are known for creating candles with unconventional multi-noted scents. What has been the most unconventional scent you’ve worked with? Garlic smells beautiful in a pan but brutal as a fragrance oil.

Atmospheric/aesthetic description of each candle. Christopher + West 76: A splash of mandarin orange and grapefruit enhance a boozy vodka martini topnote. Tantalizing cumin, ginger, black pepper and nutmeg arouse the senses in the middle of this creation. Notes of black leather  and musk create a long lasting aroma.

McKibben + Bogart 03: The aroma of dry cedarwood chips and dark guaiacwood mingle with a rich leather accord to create the first impression of this fragrance that lingers into the heart and drydown. Terpenic notes of drying oil paint on canvases in the background tickle the nose, leaving a piquant, lasting sensation.

Prince + Mercer 97: A blend of lemongrass, fresh fig, lime, rosemary and orange peel creates the topnote. The subtle aroma of cyclamen petals and jasmine enhance the heart of this scent, evoking the aura of an outdoor floral display. In the background, smoky birch tar, saddle leather and patchouli combine with musk to create a powerful, sensual anchor.

St Marks + First 85: Notes of fresh pear liquor top off this fragrance. Juicy peach, strawberry and cherry enhance the middle notes. The main event introduces aromatic incense, deep redwood and suede leather, which gives this scent its unique character.

Freeform list of inspirations. Rodin, Robert Frank, mangosteen, Santa Maria Novella, Jean-Pierre Melville, Herman Melville, WH Auden, Egon Schiele, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Mobb Deep, almond croissants, lily of the valley, fraises tagada, Allen Toussaint, Supergrass, Tokyo, Berlin, Paris, New York City, Chichen Itza, my family, my homies and my woman.

Last coolest discovery. Stockholm.

Make up your own question and answer it. Steak or salmon? Steak.

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STAFF DIARY: CAMERON COOPER