There is something magnetic about Elise Pioch. Perhaps it's the French 'gene'; that innate and ingenuous panache French women simply ooze, but the founder of opulent candle house, Maison Balzac, has a refreshingly minimal take on personal grooming. With big almond eyes, a voluminous quiff of hair and that irresistible French savoir faire, the former fashion buyer is the picture of effortless beauty. Perhaps it’s a byproduct of the whimsical yet back-to-basics lifestyle she created for her family (husband Pablo and daughter Loulou), who divide their time between their Sydney pied a terre and an 1800s Church in the picturesque town of Portland, New South Wales, which calls for many an ooh-la-la moment.
We took a trip out to the 'farm', and over a warm pear and Nutella cake, waxed lyrical about everything; from being an accomplished hunter (yes, you heard right) to the artistry and sentiments behind her exquisite candle range.
“This house was a church…
It was built in 1880. You would have walked away from it if you had of seen it at the start. There were holes everywhere - we lived with wombats and spiders and snakes and goannas. We spent every weekend before we had a child working on it doing everything ourselves. We haven’t had one tradesperson come in here. I was in my swimwear, on the ground [pregnant], belly hanging out, nailing every single nail – there’s a photo but it’s not pretty! I grew up in the South of France in a house where we had a fireplace and a massive garden growing our veggies and chickens, so we have a similar lifestyle here. We even have a church bell. The first time we rang the bell was for our wedding that we had here with fifteen friends. We were sitting at the altar with the celebrant and our friends and I had been cooking [for everyone] in my dress - it was a Dries Van Noten coat, so nothing very formal, with pants and heels, I wanted it to be quite unusual - and as the celebrant was saying, ‘so do you want to take him as your husband?’ I could smell the food was overheating in the oven, and I was like “Shit! I need to turn the oven off! Sorry what did you say?’ I had to say I do and rush over to stop the oven!
I love getting things for the house with a story…
If it doesn’t have a story or is too modern or minimal it doesn’t work. I sourced a piece from a Chateau in the South of France, I love antiques and flea markets. Everything needs to have a story, we find things on the streets; we don’t know what life it had before but it feels like its OK and it fits. I once traveled with Jesus Christ in my handbag from Paris to Sydney! I got it from a flea market in the South of France near my village where I come from. I was stopped at Customs at every airport because they were like, ‘Why do you have Jesus in your bag? Are there drugs in it?’ I was like, ‘No!’ I almost missed so many flights on that journey because of Jesus. Even that has a story.
I’m French so I eat everything!
There is nothing I don’t eat! I eat sugar, chocolate, beef, meat, cheese! But I cook everything myself, so that could be the only exceptional thing. Everyone now is gluten-free, sugar-free, meat-free! I just make with local produce. I even had a friend the other day who lives in LA say ‘you know we should always start with fruit and then eat lunch’ and I was like ‘why?’ and she said ‘the body processes the fruits much easier and faster so you should start with that and then get onto the really solid proteins etc,’ and I was like ‘Pfft!’ But where is the common sense! You really want to eat fruits at the end, don’t you!?
I’m very much about giving Loulou traditional food
The food rules that I learnt from my parents. Especially when she is in the full growth [stage]. My mum told me about this friend of hers whose daughter refused to give cow milk to her babies, she gives them soy milk, rice milk and almond milk, so imagine all the fat they’re missing out on, because you need so much fat when you growing up. Soy milk is not great and it’s full of hormones apparently – but I like it! I don’t listen to any of those things! I eat honey and soy! It’s good for my soul.
In Paris I worked for Hermes, for Martin Margiela when he was designing for Hermes…
A lot of my friends still work there, so for my wedding, they got me a Hermes teapot for me because they know how much I love tea. So that’s a very special thing and I use it everyday. It’s made of ebony wood and silver, it’s been scratched a little bit because we use it, but you should see the way this pours –how liquid goes out into your drink - it’s like a piece of art, just that. I don’t drink coffee or tea because of the caffeine, I just go mental! I only do herbal tea. In my garden I’ve got all these herbs – rosemary, thyme and verbena. I boil water and I put verbena, thyme and they naturally kill germs.
If you feel like you're coming down with something...
drink a litre of thyme, honey and lemon. That’s how my mum cured everything for us until we were twenty. I get all the local honey I can, because I think it’s really good to have the bees working with the local flowers and plants. My granddad was a beekeeper, so I grew up on honey and I give spoonfuls to LouLou as well – it’s just so good for you, it’s a caviar from bees, it’s just something so precious. I also love [hunting]. The moment the duck flies from the sky into the lake and this is when you shoot them and then you pluck them and then you eat them. Some people are horrified when you tell them and some of them are really into it!
With my makeup I’m extremely minimal
It must be a French thing – you don’t overdo anything. If you do the eyes, you don’t do the lips, if you do the lips, you don’t do the eyes. If you wear nothing but a lipstick then suddenly it looks like a million dollars, but nothing else, otherwise it’s too much, just the lipstick and fresh skin. The most essential thing is to have clean skin and just a little bite-y tint – so you look a bit happy! I use powder, Chanel Poudre Universelle Compacte Colour 30 Naturel - I can’t stand foundation, my skin just gets too clogged, it needs to breathe. If I want to make up my eyes, it’s just a bit of Chanel Ombre Essentielle Soft Touch Eyeshadow in Ebony above the eyelashes to open the shape of the eye and it’s always very gentle.
I always use Chanel
Chanel mascara, Sublime de Chanel Deep Black, I’m a big Chanel fan! If I’m really tired, you know as a mother, then this one is very good, it’s like the YSL Touche Eclat but it’s the Chanel version. The Chanel Masque Destressante Purete Purifying Cream Mask is a miracle too – I’ve never had something so nice, you just put it on for ten minutes and your skin is like velvet! It leaves something between the pores – it feels like you’ve slept for three days! Every morning when I make up, Loulou has to have the same, I don’t put everything on her, sometimes I lie and she doesn’t know!
A good haircut is important, especially if you want to be minimal
If you have a good base, then you don’t have to do much. Out here we are on rain water, so I shampoo but skip conditioner to use minimal water. I expect my hair to look OK with the minimum of care. I’m lucky because it is naturally curly but you have to have a good haircut as well. I go to Paloma Rose (Oscar Oscar Paddington). I also put a sea salt spray in, my mum found it for me in France so when I run out it’s going to be bad!
With perfumes I don't wear much...
Guerlain Shalimar I’ve had since I was 20, when I smell that that’s me. Then recently a friend gave me these two cause he worked at Chanel, Bois des Isle and Gardenia, and I use them as room spray and on me because they are very light and go away after an hour, it’s very nice after a shower, a bit like a cologne. The Kiehl’s deodorant is the best deodorant in the whole world – incredible! It is a cream, you just apply like a tiny bit in the morning and it’s got orange, lemon and linseed extract and it really blocks all the smell, I’ve never experienced anything so fabulous! It still has aluminium in it so a lot of people would say, ‘I can’t do this because I’m going to get cancer!’ but I don’t care! I don’t want to stink!” It’s so minimal, everyday you’ve got something popping up that [you’re made to think] you should be scared of.
In the bathroom, I always have fresh roses from the garden
My skin ritual is I use Aesop and Rationale everything; serum, moisturiser, sunscreen, even a facial at their clinic once a year. I also use Sans [Ceuticals] too, which is a New Zealand brand, all organic company that does very unusual products. I love their aesthetic. I like to support brands like that, a bit like my brand are doing amazing things and they are genuinely trying to innovate and make a difference, and that’s why I use them.
The two latest candles are about the strangeness and obscurity of Australia…
And when you burn them together they create a third fragrance. But by themselves they’re already pretty potent and powerful. Obscurite is about the bushfire kind of ash, the precious wood of Australia, and the other one, Estrangete is about the morning, when the dew is out and the sun is shining and there’s this little slip of lemon myrtle - it’s very fresh. So the dark and the glory, or the light; together they create a perfume which is quite special. The other candles can be used together, for instance La Rose and La Blanche because they are all flowers, it’s like having a big bouquet of flowers when they are put together.”
Story and styling by Chrisanthi Kaliviotis; Photography by Daniel Gurton; Hair and makeup by Elise Pioch.