In conversation with Dr. Kate Forbes & Barnabé Fillion on Ptolemy, Aganice and Callippus—Aesop’s latest range of aromatic candles
Seeking new aromatic blends that would engender a sense of equanimity, Aesop took inspiration from ancient astronomy and associated mythologies to create a trio of aromatic candles. Ptolemy, Aganice and Callippus, each named for an ancient stargazer of note, is the latest addition to Aesop’s Scented Home range and the first of its kind. A small luxury that can offer a much-needed respite from the outside world, Aesop’s Innovation Director Dr. Kate Forbes & perfumer Barnabé Fillion share their thoughts on how the candles’ nuanced, lingering fragrance can help the restless and housebound put things in perspective.
To understand the present, we have to know the past. Would both of you say the dynamic has evolved since the first collaboration in 2014 for Marrakech Intense?
Kate: Our relationship has become stronger with each collaboration; it brings a galvanizing energy to the ideation and development process, and ultimately, rich rewards to our customers. In Barnabé, we have found a creative partner who shares our deep regard for both science and nature, our ardent intellectual curiosity, and our belief in the harmonious marriage of innovation and tradition. We are also twinned in our aesthetic leanings and cultural interests, valuing what has depth and longevity over what is momentarily fashionable.
Barnabé: Overall, our relationship is definitely built on trust, mutual respect and genuine collaboration. While each partnership is unique and our relationship evolves after each collaboration, the fundamental grounds for which we create something are consistent. To create something extraordinary using the best quality ingredients available to us is ultimately our shared goal.
Aesop is known only to launch a product if it thinks it is needed and serves a purpose to the range. So, what is the role of the aromatic candle trio in the Scented Home subcategory?
Kate: While all fragrances in the range can add a sense of calm and an uplifting atmosphere to home or office settings, the Aromatique Candles are the perfect choice when subdued lighting is also desired. Perhaps at the beginning or end of the day, when a gentle interlude between workaday routine and personal affairs can help establish or restore equilibrium.
How does astronomy fit into the tale of Aesop?
Kate: The overarching concept began with the notion of ‘Candles as stars’—in its simplest form, comparing the flickering lights of a candle in the dark to the stars in a night sky. This soon evolved, becoming a wider appreciation of the scientific study of the universe and the fact that stars have primordial, cross-cultural significance. This research culminated in the naming of each candle for an astronomer of ancient repute—Aganice, Callippus and Ptolemy, respectively—alluding to the capacity of candlelight to evoke a calming sense of wonder.
Why these specific three astronomers then?
Kate: Aganice is titled for a woman often cited as the first female astronomer of Ancient Greece, renowned for her knowledge of the moon and its cycles; Callippus honors another Greek astronomer and mathematician, who significantly refined the dominant planetary theory of his time, while Ptolemy bears the name of an ancient Greek-Egyptian scientist whose work informed much medieval astronomy.
What was the creative process like for the aromatic candles? Was it driven by an ingredient? A story? Perhaps, a past scent?
Barnabé: For me, it strangely always starts with a visual; a blurry image that little by little, discussing with my collaborators drives me to a more focused final image that then becomes the details of the created scent.
Kate: In all our collaborations with Barnabé, there is a moment in which a particular inspiration or set of inspirations comes to the fore, striking a note that feels precisely right on an intuitive level for the product in question. This will often lead our thinking around ingredients, as exciting correspondences emerge. More often than not, this is quite a subtle phenomenon.
Where do the Aromatique Candles fit in Aesop?
Kate: They are intended for all who take pleasure in subtle interior fragrances, particularly those who enjoy the accompanying element of subdued lighting. Customers who are already familiar with our room sprays and oil burner blends will undoubtedly find them highly appealing. Further, they make for generous, gracious giving on any occasion.
Can you share a bit about the concept design and the reason Aesop took the bold step to go bare (on the outside, at least)?
Kate: In keeping with our customary approach to packaging, the ceramic vessel that houses each candle is minimalist and elegant—featuring a raw alabaster exterior with a laser-etched Aesop logo, and a glazed interior with a printed quotation. The outer packaging is a modest, protective box crafted from recyclable paper. Our focus with all of our products has been to keep the packaging functional, focusing our attention to the product within and this is similar here.
How does the fragrance fit into the design?
Barnabé: Well-designed sensory products add another layer to its purpose; they can be used to scent a room, but also add a decorative element to the space. The ceramic is food-grade, which allows for the vessel’s eventual repurposing after thorough cleaning—it will make a fine drinking cup or utilitarian container for domestic or office items, or a modest yet aesthetically pleasing vase.
The conversation between smell and emotion is something that both of you are passionate about. Yet, it’s tricky because the relationship is really personal. Some may reject because the scent is foreign. Is there a core challenge you need to overcome before developing a new fragrance?
Kate: Absolutely agree. Smell is such a personal experience because it is so tightly linked to memories and emotions, both positive and negative. I don’t think it is our place to overcome this, but instead, we focus on development of fragrances that we love and share these with our customers.
Barnabé: I feel that it is very important always to develop curiosity for both the emotion and smell while developing a new idea and then interrogate the nature of the link in between.
Aroma is very personal and can reveal a lot about oneself. Tell us your personal favorite among the trio and why.
Kate: As we worked through the development of the Aromatique candles, I was immediately drawn to the complexity and earthy smokiness of Ptolemy. It has warmth and a familiarity that invites me to exhale after a long day and feel uplifted yet grounded. As the candle burns, it balances fresh citrus top notes, with deeper incense & resin, and fills the space with a sweet smokiness.
Barnabé: Personally, the choice of scent is influenced by many factors including the space in which it will be diffused and the time of day. During the day, to evoke a landscape of spicy flowers, I suggest Aganice. In the evening, I may use Ptolemy to transport myself to a Japanese forest. Callipus most definitely when I’m more sensitive to the green notes of vetiver and shiso.