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Rachel Vosper is one of the UK’s leading chandlers. Rachael Healy visited her Belgravia boutique to learn the timeless art of hand pouring.
It’s a beautiful space. The glass front lets the sun in, showing off the wooden floors, antique furniture and delicate candle paraphernalia.
Shelves by the doorway hold the latest fragrance library. Eight candles shelter beneath perfect glass domes, with cards describing the top, middle and base notes alongside. Across the shop, around the room’s original fireplace, are a variety of delicate vessels.
Rachel explains that anyone can bring in their own vessel – a jug, jar, teacup or bowl – and have it transformed into a candle. She also runs a refill service for dedicated customers, so the original jar can be recycled many times over.
Fully familiarised with the space, we accept aprons and get ready for the first step – selecting a scent. We assemble around the fragrance library. Rachel explains how to properly smell a candle, using the dome, rather than the candle itself. The glass dome holds the aroma, allowing you to detect the whole range of ingredients.
I settle on Vostes, with top notes of rhubarb and orange, and hints of jasmine, sandalwood, amber and nutmeg. Apparently it’s a popular autumn choice.
We retreat to the back room. This is where every Rachel Vosper candle is poured by hand. We perch around an old wooden table, which was salvaged from the Institute of Archaeology and now bears pleasing evidence of the work it supports – dribbles of wax and remnants of wicks.
Around us, different blends of wax and fragrance are being heated to melting point. Corina brings a jugful to the table. This is part of an unfragranced batch, with which we’ll prime our wicks.
We each get an ‘RV’-stamped glass jar and a braided cotton wick. Rachel explains that each wick contains a thin zinc pole. This helps conduct heat evenly when the candle is burning.
We dip our wicks in the wax and, while they’re drying, hear more about the fragrances. Rachel sometimes burns Grene (a leafy fragrance) at home, but is more often testing new concoctions. “If I still like it after a few months, I’ll put it into production,” she says. At the moment, she’s trialling a refreshing blend of night jasmine, mint, cucumber and sandalwood.
We turn to our chosen fragrances. Each candle is carefully built up in a series of pours. After a demonstration from Rachel, we trickle the wax into our jars for the first pour.
Meanwhile, our primed wicks have dried. Rachel shows us how to guide it in, using the needle to push it firmly into the wax, which is already beginning to set. Although it’s tricky, it is vital that we get it right in the centre, so the heat spreads evenly when the candle burns.
The candle has to be left to set now. On a hot day, this can take up to four hours. Luckily, Rachel and Corina have a few they made earlier.
We retrieve our jugs of liquid wax and watch as Rachel shows us the next stages. She likens the final layer to a topcoat of nail polish, neatening and sealing the work that’s gone before.
This course takes place one Saturday per month until the end of the year, but Rachel also offers group sessions, which are popular with corporate groups and hen parties. She’s been busy planning pop-up shops around the world, too. After the success of her collaboration with Club Monaco and Noma last February, Rachel is planning a pop-up in the Hamptons next summer and intends to trial temporary stores in Dubai and Hong Kong.
But these small sessions at Rachel’s Belgravia base help her stay connected with her craft. “It allows me to get back to basics,” she says. “It can really clear the mind.”
Hand-pouring candles is certainly meditative and, although it’s a wrench to leave the sweet-smelling boutique, we’re presented with our own candles in Rachel Vosper boxes as we leave. I’ll be doing my best to recreate the chandler atmosphere when I get home.
Visit Rachel Vosper’s website to find out more or to book onto a class.