Glass talks to British candlemaker and perfumer Jonathan Ward

Hackney-based British  Jonathan Ward is a candle and perfume maker whose passion, commitment and consideration of all elements of his craft is exceptional. Following a successful career in fashion in New York, Ward returned to the UK 13 years ago and founded his eponymous candle brand which now is one of the best in the market.

Working out of his small salon/studio, he makes his gorgeous candles by hand using very high quality wax which has organic certification from the Soil Association. The company is also developing a unique technique called “continuous burn” to extend their burning time.

The labels and packaging he uses are made on a British 1966 lithographic press using equally high quality GF Smith papers and the candles are housed in beautiful elegant glass from an Italian company Luigi Bormioli and can be reused as a drink tumbler once the candle has finished.

And each of his divine fragrances is created by a team of European perfumers in London and Athens using using ethical producers.with every element of the process done by hand. Ward shares his take with Glass about the some of the more complex issues and the challenges faced by a fine candlemaker.

Jonathan Ward at work in his studio. Photograph: Brenna Duncan

There have been a spate of articles regarding the potential dangers of scented candles in the last year or two – as a candlemaker was this worrying?
I’ve been striving and advocating for clean candles for 13 years so it doesn’t worry me. In fact it was a relief to see the industry judging a product on the integrity of what’s inside as opposed to the quality of the exterior. Transparency has always been the goal.

You’ve been advocating for clean-burning products for nearly 13 years, has this been a battle ?
It was really tough when I started. The customer’s perception of a quality product was based on factors that didn’t judge the material choices. If the brand identity was strong and the fragrance stronger, customers weren’t questioning the materials. We informed clients of our ingredient choices and why we’d chosen them. Staying true to your values has been a battle for sure.


A recent launch – Belarus Assasin by Jonathan Ward

The general idea is that natural equals good, chemical bad … is it really that simple ?
It’s infinitely more complicated. Let’s say that that statement is true. So, let me take Jasmine Absolut, the purest jasmine available on the market. In wax it would be almost untraceable by scent, it would almost disappear. The cost of the candle would rise to nearly £200 rather than £45. So the customer would get the purest jasmine on the market but the cost would be unreachable for most. And their fragrance experience would be disappointing to say the least. Fragrances for candles are ultimately finally combustible and need to elevate richly when they’re cold in wax and when the wax is hot.

I will try to expand on this. If you solely use aromatherapy-based fragrance oils then the final scent blend will always be close to a “spa-like” scent that is very noticeable as a aromatherapy fragrance. It’s like using the 12 set of coloured pencils when you’re a child. The colours are always basic. If you use the multi-layered set of pencils that has 144 shades, your ability to blend and create expands exponentially. So in order to create innovative aromas, we strive to use a mix of naturals and fine aroma chemicals in unison.

Another example would be looking a little more closely at the portfolio of naturals that carry sensitivity warnings, some naturals are highly irritable to the skin and some are toxic if inhaled. My mission has always been to deliver complex interesting fragrance delivered in the cleanest way possible.

The discussion gets a little more complicated at this juncture. I encourage clients to try and think of purchasing a fine aroma chemical fragrance oil like purchasing a fabric. You have cashmere at the top end and you have a thin poly/nylon blend at the bottom of the scale. If you wish to use cashmere, it comes at a cost.

Fine aroma chemicals have been used in every (I mean every) legacy fragrance ever produced. They are pure molecularly exquisite, safe and complex (and they cost a lot). At the lower end of the scale, the aroma chemicals become cruder and a little dirtier. Understanding material choices are key.

It’s a complex discussion, one that can only be clarified with brand transparency.

Jonathan Ward making one of his candles

What do you feel about the word “vegan” used in candles?
It irks me a little if I am honest. The basic presumption would be that as long as a product does not contain animal products of any kind, it must be vegan friendly. If you are living a vegan lifestyle and purchase a candle that uses the word vegan in its marketing collateral, let’s look a little closer. I would presume that the customer who cares deeply enough to live a vegan lifestyle has a sensitivity to how they consume in every area of their purchasing choices.

So let’s say that that consumer buys a jasmine soy candle for £12. The cost price of that candle has to be £2.80 – £3.30 at raw cost price. The soy wax will be pretty basic in the scale of materials. Soybean production if ungoverned and is a material chiefly responsible for mass rainforest deforestation – severely inhibiting the animal habitats they support and endangering the continuance of countless species. There are soy waxes from clean sources and soy waxes from less than reputable sources.


Adding the double wicks

I would strongly question a manufacturer’s ability to produce a candle at £3.30 that uses premium soy wax from an ethical source. This is before we look at the fragrance quality, which undoubtedly will be built from aroma chemicals at the lower end of the scale.

As there is no legislation for brands to declare their material choices on packaging, consumers can be guided into making a product choice that feels like it belongs in the remit of their lifestyle choices, but looking under the bonnet those choices are incongruous to declaring yourself as a vegan.

All Jonathan Ward candles have two wicks

Considering that all of the legacy perfumes consumed on a global scale have always had synthesised aroma chemicals in them, is it surprising that there is still such confusion in this area of your industry ?
I think that I touched upon this earlier. I have talked to many clients that while wearing Chanel No.5, talk passionately about how they are only purchase natural products. The Chanel No.5 formula has always been built from a mix of naturals and fine aroma chemicals.

So what for you typifies a clean burning candle ?
Well, for us, we chose to use a certified soil association organic wax that is built form organic coconut oil, beeswax and vegetable wax. As well as carrying traceable ethical credentials, the burn is an absolute dream. You can burn it for 12 hours without the candle getting too hot. There is no sooting, no blackening and little blossoming on the wick.

I realised many years ago that if there was blackening on the jar there would be blackening in the air and possibly within our lungs.

Are suppliers transparent when dealing with producers? Is there legislation in this area?
I know for smaller candle producers that are starting out, they might receive a fragrance blend (if they haven’t built the aroma themselves) from a fragrance producer that sends an ingredient list containing blackberry leaf, cedar wood, black pepper, iris root etc. And there could be an easy assumption that they are receiving a natural blend. They might go on to market it as such (putting themselves in the firing line for criticism at later stages). The blend might be a 94 per cent blend of aroma chemicals.

There is legislation in this area. Each aroma carries a CLP chart listing all ingredients. However, if a brand is a little green in this area, they could easily get lost in the pages upon pages of lengthy text that might not immediately clarify their basic marketing positioning.

Kartushya  – a wonderful Christmas-inspired candle

Is organic better in your product area?
A candle can only ever be truly certified as organic if every single material used in that product is certified organic. The wick, the wax, every fragrance note … It is almost impossible to achieve. Organic is often a term that is used loosely in brands’ marketing materials, we opted for absolute clarity and listed our wax only as organic, as truthfully it is the only ingredient that is certified organic. The organic wax that constitutes 92 per cent of our product performs beautifully and in the purest way, reducing blackening and sooting to almost zero.

Have you seen changes in how people consume in the 13 years you have been producing candles ?
Indeed. There has been a strong switch from the judgement of the product quality solely based on the outside to the judgement of the product based on the inside. The consumer that bought the decadent bag, ribbons, beautiful packaging (produced in less than beautiful factories) and the brand name, has shifted to a consumer with wider choices, smarter questions and a craving for truth and clarity. This will not switch back, it will only continue to gather its own pace.

Finally, what would your advice be to a consumer trying to decipher where or not they’re making a positive product choice …
If you have questions and concerns about a product or any aspect of that product, just speak up. Ask the sales representative for clarity on your question. If you feel count or uncertainty to the truth, write to the brand directly. Any brand that upholds a truthful approach to its marketing will not remain silent when questioned. I always think its interesting when brands are unavailable for comment when issues start to arise in the press. If you have nothing to hide, then don’t hide!

by Caroline Simpson

Jonathan Ward candles retail at £65 (615ml) with a burn of 40-45 hours