In an industrial estate in Barking, East London, Lola Lely and Yesenia Thibault-Picazo are busy reinventing the medieval craft of chandlery. “We are very proud to bring manufacturing back to an area that once had a strong heritage of producing everyday goods for London,” explains Lola. “Wicker baskets, matches, soap, pencils, paint tins and toys were all made here … It’s a strong heritage that has since vanished from the area. Through our project, we are bringing back this activity to the area.”
The project is Wax Atelier. Founded in 2018, the studio specializes in luxury hand-dipped candles and waxed goods, including waxed cloth bags and waxed linen wraps. Their goods are stocked in 15 countries worldwide, and they are currently working on a series of new product launches for TOAST, Paul Smith, and Matthew Williamson amongst others. We speak to the creative duo to find out about their process and the age-old appeal of working with wax …
Both Lola and Yesenia studied design: Lola at the Royal Collect of Art; Yesenia at Central Saint Martins where they later taught together. What unites them is their passion for exploration and experimentation: “Neither of us is anchored or defined by a particular practice,” Yesenia explains. “We both enjoy navigating the space between.”
The opportunity to do so came about when the pair decided to pursue a brief they had set their own students. “Our first brief required the students to look at one material and to explore it through a very broad spectrum: technical, historical, socio-economic, to understand its past and sustainable future. For fun, we of set ourselves the same brief and methodology …”
As Lola explains, they quickly became fascinated by the historical and cultural richness of wax: “As makers who enjoy working with our hands, we were both intrigued by the transformative nature of this raw material. It can transform from a solid to a liquid state within seconds, it’s malleable, tactile, impermeable, easy to work with—and it has this beautiful scent!”
Initially, they began experimenting with hand-dipped candles, fabricating their own jigs which are threaded with wick and double-dipped into honey-scented vats of simmering wax to produce an elegant, tapered design. “We have developed our own recipes over time through a lot of trial and error,” explains Yesenia. “We use only natural materials such as beeswax, plant waxes such as rose wax and green tea wax, and also natural dyes such as madder root for color.” A new collection of candles made from a blend of beeswax and orange wax—a by-product from the orange juice industry—is planned for this winter.
Their large workshop is divided into two sections: one side is dedicated to candle making, the other to producing waxed linen food wraps and bags which are colored using natural dyes. (Lola has been exploring the art of natural dyeing with plants and roots for over five years.) The gentle palette of buttery yellows, peachy pinks, and khaki greens is the result of Lola and Yesenia’s endless experiments with natural ingredients.
“The collections we produce develop very naturally and instinctively because they are directly inspired by our research and experiments,” explains Lola. “Our inspiration comes from the natural world: plants, insects, flowers, and our appreciation for beautiful and useful objects,” adds Yesenia. “We love the beauty of handmade objects and natural colors achieved with plant dyes—but we also have a keen interest in sustainable materials and production methods which are not destructive or poisonous to the environment or to ourselves. These are the important elements we bring into all of our products.”
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