I’m so excited about this interview! As someone who loves vintage mysteries, noir and detective fiction and has always wished that she could live in her favourite books, films, and tv shows, Flame Noir was an amazing find! Jennifer’s scented candles are not merely an homage to some of our favourite detectives, they actually help to create a truly immersive experience when used in conjunction with some of our favourite detective books, movies and tv shows – and that is something I can definitely get behind! I hope you all enjoy this interview with Jennifer as much as I did! She’s an incredibly creative and talented woman and boy, does she ever know her vintage detectives! And make sure to read to the end for a special offer from Jennifer! 🙂
Now, on to the interview!
Tell us about your business, Flame Noir Candle Company!
Flame Noir Candle Co. offers soy wax candles + gifts inspired by some of the greatest classic detectives of film and print. What that means, specifically, is that with this business, I’ve been trying to forge a gateway through scent that sparks imaginations and can help people to connect on a deeper level with the classic detective fiction they are reading, writing, role playing, watching or listening to.
When did you start your business? What inspired you to start it and what excites you about your work?
Flame Noir officially launched mid-October 2016, but I had been working on the concept for over a year at that point. I originally launched with 5 core scents – Sherlock Holmes, Philip Marlowe, Hercule Poirot, Sam Spade and Nancy Drew. At that time, I was just calling each candle the detective’s name. About 3 months in, I got a cease and desist on Nancy Drew. I was mortified. Once I explained what I was doing to the lawyer, I was ultimately offered the opportunity to officially license the Nancy Drew trademark by the holder/publisher, but the whole experience really got me thinking. Flame Noir is a pretty kitsch concept that is almost certainly never going to make the kind of money that would be needed to license every detective that inspires one of the products that I create. I knew I had to change some things if I wanted to keep going.
Flame Noir Candle Co. has been a learning experience for me from the very start. I closed my shop in mid-2017 – took a couple of months off, got focused, and relaunched. During the time I was closed, I changed the names of the candles to the home, office locations or towns that feature each of the detectives. I revamped my labels, and as a company, I started putting the focus on my work with creating vintage styled scents that are aimed at complementing vintage detective literature. I was a little freaked out that people wouldn’t “catch my drift” once the candles were no longer named directly for the character that served as my inspiration, but sales actually increased in the subsequent months, allowing me to spend more time developing new scents.
I currently have 15 scents inspired by 13 unique detectives, (ever enigmatic, Hercule Poirot has 3 of his own). This year, I will be adding several more, including candles inspired by the Continental Op, Maisie Dobbs, Mike Hammer, Perry Mason & Nero Wolfe.
As for the original inspiration – it all boils down to one date night with my fiancé. This is before we moved in together, when we would have date nights at each other’s houses. During a date night at his house, we decided to play a game of “Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective”. To set the mood, he lit some period hurricane lamps and a scented candle he had lying aound. With the vintage furniture and his massive pipe collection – everything should have been perfect, but somehow, I kept feeling distracted. We started talking about it and then it finally dawned on me: the candle he was burning – it was some gaudy store-bought scent that he had been given as a gift. It was exactly the WRONG scent for such a cool mood.
When I woke up the next day, I started messing around with the idea of creating a candle that would better fit the atmosphere of the Sherlock Holmes game. Over the next few months, I taught myself how to make candles, started pouring over vintage scent catalogs and historical accounts of common scents worn in the Victorian era, and ultimately, I created my very first candle scent inspired by Sherlock Holmes. Every one of my friends that I showed the candle to or discussed the concept with told me to start a business, so that’s really how I connected the dots between, scent, atmosphere, mood, and of course, detectives.
What excites me the most is when I uncover a new hidden literary gem or read a series featuring a detective I’d never read, or in some cases, never even heard over before and it turns out to be literary gold. The excitement comes in the idea that I can and will try to capture the mood surrounding that detective to the very best of my abilities. When I finally get it right, the feeling is just exhilarating!
What is your process? What tools do you like using? Where do you do your work? Can you walk us through a day in your life with your business?
First and foremost – I read! When I’m not reading, I’m listening to archives of old mystery radio programs or audio books, or I’m watching detective shows, movies, film noir, or I’m playing mystery-themed games. I’m also a bit of a collector, so I’m always on the lookout for rare or hard to find mystery/detective themed shows, out of print games, box sets, original book pressings, etc. When I’m not doing any of those things, I’m often researching – pouring over sites like Archive.org, thrillingdetective.com or the Gumshoe Site to see if I can stumble upon a detective series I haven’t heard of yet, or perhaps jog my memory to search out a series that I had heard of long ago but was never able to find.
Tools are: 100% soy wax, all-natural cotton wicks with a paper weave that are dipped in beeswax. I use unvarnished candle tins and all of my scents and blends are people, animal and earth friendly. I’m a stickler when it comes to not polluting my loved ones and animals with junky chemicals.
For where I work: We live in a four-square house built in 1910, in my favorite place on Earth: Richmond, Virginia. I have a home office in the upstairs of my house for shipping, creating labels and all other non-candle making aspects of the business. Downstairs, just off the kitchen, I have a dedicated chandlery – just like they had in the olden-days!
My process is pretty complex. Once I’ve selected a detective that I’d like to feature – I set about devouring every piece of media I can find in which that detective is featured. I will buy and read every book, listen to any broadcasts or radio shows or audio books, and if there are games, I’ll play those too. I basically completely immerse myself as much as I can until I feel like I really understand the nature of that detective and the era in which they are operating. I pay special attention to any direct clues that are given by the author – such as any scents that are present, or the kinds of furnishing in their rooms. I make notes of those.
Next, I cross reference any notes I’ve taken with vintage scent catalogs and other historical accounts. I keep an eye out for scent notes that were popular at the year of publication, (for authentic classic detective fiction), or in the era in which the book is set, (for modern historical detective fiction). Once I have my full list of notes and historical scent accounts, I start to really think about that detective, the time, the setting, the stories. I’ve worked with scents enough now to have a general rule of thumb about what will and won’t go together, so I start writing out formulas based on that knowledge, along with the inspiration of the character and that moment in time. I’m usually able to write out a good 4-5 different formulas before I ever even open a fragrance bottle.
Fragrance blending is next. I use everything from zip top baggies and paper test strips to pipettes and Q-Tips in an effort to not only select the various scents that are going to be used, but also the right amounts of each. Most scent blends usually take me at least 4-5 tries to get it “basically right”.
Once it’s basically right, I start testing in soy wax. I’ll make and cure small batches and try burning them while I read my favorite passages from the books. If I’m not feeling it, I continue experimenting with the blend until it is exactly as I want it to be. This process can take anywhere from a week to a month, sometimes longer. Once I’m confident I’ve created the perfect commemorative candle for the detective I’m featuring, I typically wait another week or two before officially declaring it a success, as sometimes little adjustments might occur to me during that time.
After I’ve finally said, “yes, this is it!”, I move into creating the silhouette artwork of the detective for the label, write the summary for the scent description, do the label templates, create the web page and copy for the new scent. When the labels are ready, my final step is product photos.
With the product photos – since I sell candles that are inspired by detectives, there might be vintage toy guns, shell casings, Billy-clubs, fedoras or bowler hats, magnifying glasses or vials of poison in my photos. We are lucky enough to have a great number of vintage collectables just hanging out in our house because as both of us have been collectors for decades. What we don’t already have on-hand, I set about gathering, creating and/or search out so that I can put together a photo background that is as authentic to the character and the time frame as possible. This might seem like a small thing, but when you sell products on the internet, creating a perfect photo is truly important. I take my time with these photos and do my best to get them right.
Once all of these steps are completed, I proceed to officially launch the new Flame Noir candle scent. It takes me anywhere from 1-4 months to create one new scent. I have test scents locked in zip top bags in various stages of the process in a drawer in my chandlery most of the time.
What do you love the most about your business?
I think the most rewarding thing is when someone writes to me and tells me that they have connected in some real way to one of my scents – that it either helped them during their creative process as a writer of mystery fiction, or it served as a perfect gift for a cast/crew of a mystery show they are working on, a theatre troupe they are working with, cast a perfect mood for a mystery game night, or when it made an awesome surprise for someone that they love or miss. It’s the best when someone tells me that a Flame Noir candle helped them to enjoy their favorite mystery book, game, movie or show in a deeper or more personal way.
What is the most difficult aspect of your business?
Being cannibalized is a really tough reality for small creatives with stores on open marketplace websites. When I see some new Etsy shop suddenly start offering detective themed candles as an afterthought, it can certainly bother me. Since Flame Noir Candle Co. only sells detective/mystery themed candles, it means I can’t supplement my income by also selling trendy candles inspired by Harry Potter or Jane Austin.
When you specialize in only one thing and each thing you create is a labor of love, direct competition by shops that are better financed because they are appealing to a wider audience by offering trendy candles can have a major impact. The shoddier the knock off, the more offensive it is. When I can see that almost no time or effort went into creating a candle that someone else is offering at 9 or 10 cents less than a Flame Noir original, it can really get my goat. While I make an effort to just accept that it’s a part of open marketplaces and hope that people out there will be able to tell the difference, ultimately there are losses due to that kind of chicanery. It’s annoying and it feels ugly.
I definitely look forward to a day when I will be able to build the official Flame Noir website up to the point of where I won’t have to use open marketplace websites to find new customers. For now, the reality is that without Etsy, Flame Noir wouldn’t make it on its own.
What is your personal favourite of all of your scents (candles, sprays, etc)? And which would you recommend to others?
What is interesting in working with custom scents is that each of the different mediums I use react in their own unique way to the scent blends I create. Consequently, I have different favorites for each!
My favorite room spray is 221B Baker St. without a doubt. My favorite candles are Hercule’s Christmas, Hunter-Dulin Bldg. and Cahuenga 615. My favorite wax melts are 8411 ½ Sunset Strip, Hunter-Dulin Bldg. and 221B Baker St. I like the floral scents I offer but tend to really vibe on the unisex or masculine variety best. This is probably because of my typical reading choices!
Last year I was obsessed with the Wardlow House candle while I was reading the Phryne Fisher books and watching the TV series, and recently I’ve been completely intrigued by the newest candle in my line, H Division, which I created while binge-watching Ripper Street on Netflix. There is some fluctuation in what I’m loving from one moment to the next because I’m almost always pairing each scent with the detective that inspired it.
As for my family: My future mother and father in-law love the Hercule’s Christmas and 221B Baker St candles. My mother loves Hercule’s Rose wax melts, and my fiancé has called Cahuenga 615, “the best smelling candle in the world”. I will say that I love everything I’ve created and consider each line a success. If I felt otherwise, they’d be shelfed until I could rework them to my satisfaction!
I love that all of your scented products are not only cruelty free, but also GMO, Phthalate, lead, and gluten free, as well as being vegan friendly to boot! That is so amazing! Can you tell us more about this and why it was important to you?
I am a lifelong cat lover as much as I am a lover of detective fiction. I’ve tried to use natural products for decades as just a part of my own lifestyle choices, but I never thought much about the cheap fragrance candles I was always burning around my house. That is, until my 13-year-old cat Chubby Cheekers was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor under his tongue back in 2015. Chubby was my pal – the coolest cat ever. I was so completely broken up when I was told. I spoke at length with the vet and asked her what some of the factors could be that lead to his condition. She told me that cats groom their fur with their tongues, which I obviously knew…. but I started really thinking about that and my environment. The only thing I could think of that might have had an impact were those crummy candles I had been burning for years. I made a decision to put more thought into eliminating everyday items that might expose me and the people and pets that I love to unintentional risks. When I started working on the concept of Flame Noir just a few months later, I carried that experience and the resolution that I made to myself with me.
The business reality is that there are some compromises you have to make when you decide that the candles you offer are going to be clean and free of chemicals. I think it’s important for people to know the characteristics of natural products, so I try to be as up front as possible about it. Without chemicals, the nature of soy wax is to get frosty, and it can even look grainy or lumpy when the wax dries after your first burn. (If it bums you out, you can hit the tops of your candle with a hair dryer on a low setting and that should smooth it out). Without dyes, some scent blends can naturally discolor the wax slightly, so some of my candles might be a creamy white, while others might have a slightly yellow, tan, or pink hue to them.
The tins that I use are free of varnish, which is a chemical wash that tin manufacturers use to prevent wax discoloration or “tin pinking”, which is a natural chemical reaction to certain fragrance oils that can turn the color of the tin on the interior of the candle pink. I don’t use varnished tins, and I don’t use dyes or additives to cover it up! People who don’t fully understand the nature of completely natural soy wax candles might be a little weirded out by some or all of these factors, but I’m hoping that I can pass the information onto them so that they understand that these characteristics may be present in Flame Noir candles and that it’s a good thing! I’ve never had anyone ask me about it thus far, but I like to make sure that my door is always open for any questions they may have. Not understanding the nature of natural candles could potentially make a customer think that the candle they have is of inferior quality, when in fact, the exact opposite is the case.
Customers who do have experience with all-natural candles take these small considerations as a sign that I am looking out for them, their pets and the people they love by offering them a product that won’t pollute their environment.
(Flame Noir is a supporter of animal welfare and rights and has donated locally to Richmond Prevent a Litter (PAL) nonprofit for their diligent and underappreciated work in implementing TNR services for urban feral cats, the RVA SPCA, and the Wildcat Sanctuary (TWS).)
What started your love of vintage, and vintage detectives and film noir in particular?
I almost think I was hardwired for it. My mother took me to thrift stores when I was very small and the thrill I felt at finding well-made, vintage clothing items for dirt cheap has stayed with me for life. Likewise, sewing has always been a part of my home life. The dining table in my house growing up had a sewing machine on it more often than it had dinner! Growing up, my mother made a lot of my clothing, so there were pinafores and ruffles and belts and hats.
By the time I was 12 or 13 years old, I shopped exclusively at thrift stores. I always wanted to look different. I wanted something unusual or elaborate. I made my own clothing, stenciled designs on my shirts and pants. I love attention to detail and appreciate true craftsmanship, which I feel you find more often in vintage garments. There was a time when a woman’s closet had only 6-7 dresses, but each one was immaculately made, and the quality was extraordinary. The throw-away clothing we have now isn’t built to last. It doesn’t make you feel the same when you put it on. Since vintage garments in good condition can be quite pricy, I also sew my own clothing from vintage patterns, which I collect whenever I can find them.
Likewise, I’m not entirely sure when my love of mystery and detectives started, but I was probably around 5 or so. I remember reading the Trixie Beldon series when I was very young – they may have been the first young-adult books I ever read. I remember reading the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books a few years later. Likewise, the Pink Panther was one of my favorite movies when I was little. I still love Inspector Clouseau!
I didn’t get into pulp and noir until I was around 13 or 14. Back then, there were still brick and mortar video stores. My local store was a place called “Video Madness”. I would browse through until I found a cover that appealed to me, which is how I stumbled on Film Noir. The striking photo-covers with their bold type faces excited me. I actually saw my first film noir before I ever read a noir or pulp detective novel. Somewhere during this time, I realized that the film I was watching was based on a book – and so it began.
If you had to pick, who do you think is your favourite fictional detective?
Philip Marlowe without hesitation. Without question. Philip Marlowe.
Do you have a favourite crime/mystery writer?
Raymond Chandler – however, Dashiell Hammett was a true master. I’m not sure it gets better than “Red Harvest” by Hammett. I am also a massive Ross MacDonald fan.
What is your favourite thing about vintage detectives and film noir?
There are many things I love about Film Noir. Though there are tough female detectives that were actually written in the 1930s in the pulp and hardboiled genre, (such as the trailblazing Bertha Cool), it’s predominately a male-driven medium on one hand, and oddly enough – an entirely female-driven medium on the other.
Film Noir allows its male characters to acknowledge the power women have over them. They feel it in some non-desensitized way. There’s no whining to be found from the hardboiled male detectives of Film Noir. When you watch a noir, you’re not getting 2 hours of some guy’s existential, self-absorbed emotional journey to figure out whether or not he actually loves a girl. Its primarily free of self-pity, or that “I know, right?”, kind of sarcasm that seems to inhabit almost everything these days, especially films.
With Film Noir, you see only what’s there, and the shadows of what’s not…. the fear of women that both repels and compels each male character to enter a situation that is daunting from the start, where he knows that the deck is stacked against him but is compelled to proceed anyway. It’s the most basic human characteristic to delve deeper, no matter what you’re going to find. In many ways Film Noir represents a kind of visceral vitality. There’s an underlying simplicity, regardless of its twists and turns. I guess for me what it really boils down to attraction without questioning – only the acceptance of it, and an attempt to control whatever damage may be left in the wake of it.
I love the passion, the danger, the unrelenting search for truth, the defiance – and I love that no one’s talking themselves or anyone else out of anything. Everyone’s present and alert. Shadowy half-truths are forced out into the light – let the cards fall where they may. The world of Noir is all or nothing. When you add to that the visually striking lighting & cinematography, 1930s-40s period clothing, sets & cars, it’s really just the highest brow, lowest brow cinema there is.
I love a pretty wide variety of classic detectives, but the hardboiled detectives are my personal favorite. I find the pulps completely absorbing. With Philip Marlowe, he’s outwardly simple and inwardly complex – there’s a dichotomy there that is delicious. There’s something thrilling about a spirit that can’t be broken, a strength in character that can’t be stomped out and integrity that isn’t for sale. The situations are sticky and complicated. Even as Marlowe knows he’s being lied to from just about every angle, he bucks up, walks in and he gets the job done. When he can’t solve the mystery with his wits, he shakes it up until someone makes a mistake and the truth comes out.
I really admire that hardboiled detectives like Philip Marlowe aren’t born with any unrealistic deductive reasoning or other advantages. In a lot of ways, Marlowe’s just a guy. There’s a tenderness and a humor about him that makes you want to see him win. Of all the classic detectives, that’s probably why he continues to be my favorite.
Do you think any of these fabulous characters have helped to inspire your own style or life in any way? If so, which one and how?
Absolutely! I have a very strong moral compass. My family certainly deserves some credit for that, but I have no doubt that reading detective fiction from an early age has been a major contributor as well. I think detective fiction not only teaches you to be a good person by way of showing you that some things are good, (like solving crimes), and some things are bad, (like committing crimes), it also takes the time to expand upon the personal tragedy and impact that crime has on the people who are forced to live through it.
I’m not sure if any one detective has directly influenced me more than another – I like to think there are traces of all of them in the mix somewhere.
What is your favourite era for detective novels/film noir?
I do love the Golden Age, but for me it’s the Pulps! Hardboiled all the way. 1930s-1940s.
Do you have a favourite film or TV adaptation of these great works?
For TV: I am a massive fan of the Philip Marlowe, Private Eye TV series that ran for two seasons on HBO (1983-1986), starring Powers Boothe, who is probably my favorite Marlowe of all time. For Sherlock Holmes, I prefer the outstanding Granada series, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, starring Jeremy Brett (1984-1994), and my all-time favorite Hercule Poirot is portrayed by David Suchet in the Agatha Christie’s Poirot series, (1989-2013). There have also been some great modern historical crime shows popping up in recent years, like Phryne Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and Ripper Street.
Films: The Maltese Falcon starring Humphry Bogart as Sam Spade and Mary Astor as Brigid O’Shaughnessy, (1941). The Big Sleep w/ Bogart as Philip Marlowe and Lauren Bacall as Vivian Rutledge, (1946). The Thin Man movies starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, (1934-1947). Kiss Me Deadly starring Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer, (1955). Murder, My Sweet starring Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe and Claire Trevor as Helen Grayle / Velma Valento, (1944).
Tell us about yourself!
Just a fellow traveler through life, spending time with the people I love, reading detective fiction, collecting classic detective memorabilia, vintage paintings and furnishings, making candles and getting married in the spring! I love to garden, sew and make or fix things with my hands. I love playing mystery-themed games, solving puzzles and watching films. When I was younger I played guitar in bands and I was a bit of a gearhead as well. I had a 1972 Triumph TR-6R motorbike that I worked on and did the upkeep for myself. I also bought a project 1971 Airstream Sovereign that I lived in and restored for a while, to varying degrees of success! I’m a tactile person, so fixing, crafting, painting, making candles, gardening, sewing: these are the kinds of things I enjoy the most.
What do you do in your free time?
Starting Flame Noir was an extension of what I was already doing, which is consuming all things detective at an alarming rate and looking for ways to bring myself further into the experience. I’m an animal lover and I enjoy feeding and watching birds, helping animals in need either by donations or donating my time when I can, and spending time with my family. I love thrifting and hitting the vintage shops as well.
Do you have any words of advice for someone who might be thinking of starting their own creative business?
I think the first thing to know is that you don’t have to wait until you’ve figured everything out. When I created the Sherlock Holmes candle and began to conceive of Flame Noir, there were no Sherlock Holmes candles anywhere. By the time I launched, there were two other Holmes candles on Etsy. My point is, don’t hesitate. Start small if that’s what it takes to get the ball rolling and add things at a comfortable time frame for yourself. Having a small creative is a learning experience and, if you’re doing something you love, you should be loving the process. Enjoy your victories. If you’re selling on the internet, take the time to tell the story around what you are offering, and take great pictures!
Do you have anything special you would like to promote to my readers?
If you’re a fan of Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade – pick up the Lew Archer series by Ross MacDonald. The Philip Marlowe Private Eye box set can be expensive and hard to get ahold of, but some kind soul has uploaded the episodes on YouTube and it is so worth watching.
If you like interactive games and mysteries, there are some great experiences out there. Look for vintage classics like Gumshoe – The Hard-Boiled Detective in the Thirties or the Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Game through vintage game dealers like Vault of Wonders, who will often hunt things down for you that would be next to impossible to find on your own if you give them your wish list. vaultofwonders.games.
In 2018, I will be launching a sister business called Flame Noir Mystery Co., where I will feature all manner of vintage and/or handmade mystery/detective themed wares, books, games, etc. Basically, all of the mystery stuff I make or love that isn’t a candle, room spray or wax melt!
Where can we find you online?
Flame Noir’s official website is flamenoircandleco.com. Your readers may receive a 10% off discount by using the coupon code: FNCCKITSCH2018 at check out on flamenoircandleco.com! It’s good for one use per customer and is valid until Dec 31 2018.
You can also find the Flame Noir Candle Co. store on Etsy. Flame Noir Candle Co. is on social media,
Thank you so much Jennifer, for allowing me to interview you and for the generous offer to my readers!! This was so much fun and I wish you all the best with Flame Noir Candle Co. and Flame Noir Mystery Co.!
I hope you all enjoyed this interview and that you make sure to check Flame Noir Candle Co.! I know I personally can’t wait to try Jennifer’s amazing candles!
Images featured in this interview used with kind permission from Jennifer of Flane Noir Candle Co.