Black Magic: the Art of the Candle
London chandler Rachel Vosper ladles out the truth behind the lost art of candle making and her business from the white sands of Barbados to the white-washed mews streets of Belgravia
Article by Tori Snowball
I once had candle making described to me as “black magic”; if that is the case then Rachel Vosper is the high priestess of this voodoo. Selling, working and formulating out of her chic boutique in Belgravia, Rachel is one of the last of the true chandlers in a world of mass produced wax. Walking into her secluded studio is like smelling pure magic; the front room is adorned with her nine signature scents in hand blown glasses and a central table with candles filled in every kind of vessel imaginable. This being a speciality of Rachel’s- you can take almost any vessel to her and she will fill it for you.
Her work shop, where the real magic happens is just out the back, the smell of hot wax as it bubbles in its metal cauldrons, a huge working bench dominates to room where Rachel holds masterclasses where you can make your own candle. Wax covered ladles adorn a fireplace.
So what’s behind the Black Magic?
You can almost say that what you do is a lost art, certainly in your technique and business model… what inspired you to become a chandler?
There has been a real renaissance in the time honoured traditional crafts that focus on quality and originality – which is increasingly what people search for after a period of mass production.
The value of our product is in their handmade, original nature; for customers who want something special that has been well made. The traditional art of candle making itself is a rewarding and enriching method and we are resurrecting this through our bespoke candle making courses for groups of friends or colleagues to try. I was inspired and hooked at first pour having watched a candle maker working on a beach in Barbados 22 years ago.
What inspired you to set up your own business?
Entrepreneurship runs in my family and I was heavily influence by my father who has always run his own businesses. The inspiration to open my first stand-alone store derived from pure excitement to have a space to showcase my many ideas and products that had accrued over 22 years in the candle making business. It was a natural step for me.
What has been your greatest career highlight?
I am fortunate, there have been many. Making candles for Clinton, Pavarotti and Bollinger in Barbados rate highly! Also working with the hugely talented Hugo Eccles to create fragrant candles for his innovative candlestick design for the Laurent Perrier Design Challenge. Being selected as one of the coveted Walpole Brands of Tomorrow has been hugely rewarding.
What is the greatest challenge you have ever faced?
Losing my first investor within a year of opening my shop meant I quickly had to source investment – at the most critical time of any small business. A learning experience that in hindsight was valuable and has made me savvier.
This alongside being a single parent which brings the natural day to day challenges for every working mother, ensuring my young daughter is happy and the business is running well.
What’s the favourite part of your working day?
In the morning when I put the key in the shop door on Kinnerton Street – thinking how incredibly blessed I am to do what I love in such a beautiful part of London.
What’s your favourite part of your day?
Picking my daughter up from her nursery.
With so many scents it must be hard to choose but what is your favourite fragrance?
My new fragrance, which I am very excited about – I am having to push myself to put it in the public fragrance library rather than keep it all to myself! It is yet to be named. If I had to choose a favourite known fragrance it would probably be Dame de Noche – night-blooming Jasmine, picked by moonlight, evokes many happy memories for me.
What is the most difficult fragrance to capture in a candle?
Pine – it’s very difficult. If not carefully formulated, it smells like lavatory detergent.
What phrase do you believe in the most?
When I was a lot younger it was “good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere” now I have that out of my system it’s “Get on with it!”
How would you describe your style?
Customised Vosperette denim overalls in the shop, made by my very stylish and talented friend, Donna Ida. White trainers or heels with nothing in-between mixed with Stella McCartney, Rick Owens, Isabel Marant and American Vintage T-shirts. Cashmere jumpers by Bibi & Mac, a wonderful brand based in Devon… and gym kit is always a good option for the nursery run!
What is your favourite project that you have worked on?
It’s almost impossible to answer that. Every project is so different. If I’m forced to pick one, then the first wedding commission I worked on for a couple getting married at the Savoy. I created a bespoke fragrance for them and it was burnt throughout the ceremony and beyond and each guest received a candle to take home. Scent truly evokes memories. We have kept in touch and they now use the fragrance for all their special occasions. I always feel very privileged to be part of important, monumental events.
What’s next for Rachel Vosper?
VOSPOP. Pop-ups in The Hamptons, Hong Kong and Dubai. It is an exciting time to explore new territories whilst staying in control of my signature brand, without having to commit to bricks and mortar.
As an industry and fragrance expert what do you think is coming next in our world or what would you like to see happen?
For people to access information about the fragrances they are using and understanding the difference between essential and synthetic oils. I believe the industry owes it to the customer to be more transparent about the ingredients they use. Bespoke fragrances will become even more popular and accessible.
And wouldn’t it be fabulous to have a printer cartridge that could print fragrances directly from a computer into your home – a grown up version of scratch and sniff?
If you weren’t doing what you are doing, what would you be doing?
Perhaps I’d be a lawyer at Mischcon de Reya or an investigative journalist. But to be honest, I cannot imagine enjoying anything more than making candles and formulating fragrances.
Visit Rachel’s boutique to discover her amazing fragrances for yourself and fall in love with Choysia, be romanced by Jasmine and seduced by Hellebores. Her diverse variety of vessels look at home in any surrounding and if all else fails, you can always bring the crystal punch bowl to her… just don’t tell your mother.