The Making of
Wary Meyers’ Candles
If you want to put too fine a point on it, you could say that John and Linda Meyers specialize professionally in obscurity. The couple run a brand and webshop called Wary Meyers, where they sell flea-market ephemera that often have a delightful but abstruse narrative attached, and their own goods like Gonks, which are handmade creatures for kids based on an old World War I British archetype. They also made themselves scarce a few years ago when John, a former visual merchandiser at Anthropologie, and Linda, an art director, picked up and left Manhattan for a quieter life in Portland, Maine. But as a young couple with a very young child, they felt increasingly that they ought to be investing their time in something that might one day become ubiquitous: “The thing with our company is we’ve always done a lot of one-offs and prototypes — things where we’ll make one item and then it’s like, ‘Well, how do we produce them somewhat cheaply and not in China?’” says Linda. “And everything we did before seemed slightly esoteric. We had a book where we did 50 DIY projects and people loved the products and were like, ‘Do you want to sell them?’ And it was kind of like, ‘Well, do you want to pay $1500 for a dresser?’”
Which is why last week, the couple released their first — “dare I say mainstream?” jokes Linda — product: A line of scented candles with iconic-seeming packaging and incredibly inviting-sounding scents (their Sunshine fragrance is described as dandelion, heliotrope, and green grass; their Sea Melon is a blend of juicy watermelon and sea salt). “We decided to do something a little more accessible, something people would want more than anything we’d done before,” says Linda. “But also something where we could still put our personal stamp on it.” We recently caught up with the couple to find out the story behind the product that’s shot to number one on our wish list — and we’d bet will soon be on yours as well.
First things first: Why candles?
Linda: “On one of our first dates we went camping and we had this old thrift-shop candle-making kit that we brought with us. We’ve always loved scented candles; even when I’ve had a dollar to my name, I’d go out and buy one. We’ve had the same Mariage Frères candle for like eight years that we don’t even burn. About a year ago, we thought, moving forward with our company, what do we want to do? And this felt right. We love packaging design, we love that a candle is also a functional object. And I love scents. I love testing them, seeing how they are in the wax, perfecting them.”
What were the challenges involved in putting together this line?
Linda: “We thought we’d get the candles out for the holidays. Boy, were we in for a shock. The scents really have a mind of their own. You can love a scent and it just doesn’t work in the wax. We’d have a scent we’d really like and we’d pour it in and the wax would turn acid green. We spent probably $1,000 on a terrarium scent that you won’t see on the site because it still doesn’t burn properly if people don’t trim their wick. Being a candle lover, I know how a good candle burns and how a bad candle burns, and we wanted ours to be the best-burning candle ever. But every scent we have we love, and I would buy.”
Which is your favorite?
Linda: “My favorite scent is the Milky Way scent. I like vanilla but I didn’t want it to be a vanilla smell. We wondered what could have the same warmth, and I started getting involved with milk fragrances and creams and leche. It fills your whole place and has this really calming effect. It really is like warm milk — like almond, creamy, honeyed milk.
John: “My favorite is Coco Nuit. Being in Maine we don’t see the beach that often, or I guess the tropical kind of beach. I love that smell of coconut; it reminds me of going to Tortola or Florida or Jamaica. I love the packaging too, the gold-leafed pot leaf. As an object it looks really cool.”
Yeah, the packaging is so nice.
John: “We made like 15 different versions of the packaging. The early ones were kind of graphic. But we wanted something that’s going to sell. We can’t keep doing these things like, ‘Oh, that’s based on Ettore Sottsass, don’t you understand?’ No one’s going to buy it. There were a lot of watercolor drawings and graphic design. And in the end, it was like that Coco Chanel saying: ‘Before you leave the house, take one thing off.’ We stripped it down. For Coco Nuit, we left a couple of coconuts; for Fruity Fruits, a few colorful rings. And then it became more about what it is. If you see it on the shelf, you’re going to notice the typography — that’s just an old typeface that’s nowhere. Linda had to scan in from an old Visual Graphics Corporation alphabet book and recreate each letter.”
What’s the font called?
John: “It’s called Kap-Antiqua. We Googled it to see who was using it and the only thing that came up was the designer’s son asking a type forum, ‘My dad designed this font in the ’70s, and I only have his sample sheets, does anyone know anything about it?’ So it was nice bring it back. And it’s really cool looking. The Q is so awesome, we should do a quince flavor, or quail!”
“But yeah, we wanted to not be taken so seriously. We wanted it to be whimsical but not novelty. When we were first doing the packaging, we put a Futura font on it and tracked it out a little. And I was like, ‘Okay, this looks like everything else out there.’ If you want to be taken seriously as a high-end product right now, you just put something in a package that’s sparse and track out the typeface and you’re done. But that’s not us; it wouldn’t be honest. You want to stay true to your brand. When you smell a lot of scents, you’re like, ‘Eh, I don’t really know what that is.’ Then you smell Fruity Fruits. And it’s like, ‘Oh my God, this smells like Saturday morning, making a shield with your cereal boxes.’ Or Coco Nuit, you’re like, ‘Yeah, I’m on vacation and there’s some dope and somebody smoking grass.’ I know people will be into that.”
How did you source the scents? Did you go to Whole Foods and get a bunch of essential oils?
Linda: “They’re blended. 98 percent of the perfume and candle and fragrance industry uses fragrance oils. Essential oils are really tough to get to work. So we used fragrance oils but they’re like the best of the best and they’re infused with essential oils. Obviously they don’t make a Fruit Loops essential oil, but in the Fruit Loops fragrance oil, they could absolutely have lemon essential oil. Cannibis oil could have cannabis in it. But the fragrance oil industry is so competitive and secretive, you will never hear exactly what’s in these.”
“So I made the blends of the fragrance oil. Our fragrance oils are from six different wholesale companies, and they’re all over the country. Ideally it would be great to get them all from one company but because we’re so finicky, some of them are just better from one company than another. And because the companies are so proprietary, you just have to sample and test and test and test. That’s the number one thing in candle-making is testing. I’ve tested maybe 100 candles that turned out to be rejects. But if I could go back in time to high school, I’d want to be a perfumer, it’s just so fascinating.” Exactly how small are the batches?
Linda: “We make them in our studio in Portland, and right now, I can make 8 per batch. If it gets going, I can get more equipment. But for right now they’re made in very small batches, and it’s John and I doing everything start to finish. Everything is handmade and everything is done right here in our studio.”
To purchase Wary Meyers Candles, go here, and to read more about Wary Meyers, purchase the Sight Unseen book!