Office-scented candles: ‘We obviously want everyone to laugh at this’

Which aspects of office life are you most nostalgic for? Is it the earthy, nutty waft of the post-lunch coffee run? Or the smell of warm paper and drying ink from a document left on the printer too long?

If the orders from Eau d’Office are any indication, these are the most longed-for scents from a work-life changed – perhaps irrevocably – by the Covid-19 pandemic. When creative directors Katie Facada and Thibault Gerard opened orders for their range of “office”-scented candles, “warm 96-page deck left on the printer” and “afternoon rush at the coffee bar” were the first scents to run out.

The scents they’ve created include “breakfast leftovers in edit suite 01”, a “bold bouquet of bacon, egg and cheese after a 20-hour edit”, “room 12F.1 after a six-hour workshop”, and “hardworking blend of anti-perspirant and musky colognes, in the smallest conference room at RGA”.

The pair are based in New York and work for design firm RGA. Their quest to recreate the smells of office life began as a farewell gift to two senior colleagues. “It was so messy,” says Facada. “We boiled down the wax and threw in as many noxious scents as possible – booze, coffee beans, potato chips from the vending machine, shreds of paper to represent all the ideas they killed – then we Uber-rushed the candles to their homes.”

But the winking goodbye present soon took on a life of its own. First, they decided to make candles for all 650 of their company’s employees (and enlisted the help of professional candlemakers Candle Studio to avoid future messes). Then Gerard says they were flooded with “demands from former employees and other agency partners, clients, vendors” so “we decided to open it up to the public”.

“We’re not selling them,” says Gerard, “just giving them out to mark the one year of us all working remotely.”

The candles are being sent only to United States residents, and for now, Gerard says they do not have concrete intentions of carrying on the project once supplies run out. But they’ve had so many recommendations for new office scents that “we may be tempted to create a couple more in in the upcoming weeks”.

Facada has been shocked by the popularity of the project, which has featured everywhere from interior design blogs to Fast Company: “Our objective was to make them as RGA-specific as possible. Creatively, we always feel the more specific you can get the better. So the fact that people who don’t even have an ‘edit suite 1’ or a ‘room 12F.1’ are into this is really surprising.”

But she believes the candles do hint at something universal: “A moment or a human interaction that there is really no substitute for.

“The afternoon coffee rush was a chance to catch up with co-workers in line; the happy hours were a way to unwind together after a long week. Even a long and gruelling live edit session is something we miss because that creative process isn’t the same over Zoom and email. If anything, the ‘momentary escape’ you’d get in lighting one of these candles will take you back to a moment and the people you spent it with, rather than just a place.”

Striving for authenticity was a challenge. Gerard says working with Candle Studio was a highlight, but “as scented candlemakers they naturally want to make things smell good”. At first they “had some concerns with what we were trying to achieve … For us, it was less about creating ‘perfume-perfect’ scents and more about combining some of the scents to conjure a specific memory.”

The end results don’t always smell great, but then “colognes and perfumes … slowly mixing in a small space over a long period of time” isn’t meant to “be a pleasant smell to most … Our goal with lighting those was to remind us of the office life we never thought we would miss.”

Facada says some of the new suggestions they’ve received, from “fresh Lysol from a bathroom closed for cleaning” to “someone microwaved fish in the kitchen” are even more ostentatiously anti-perfume.

“We obviously want everyone to laugh at this,” Gerard says. “But it’s also a way to honour the time we shared together … Being physically together in some form is definitely something we look forward to.”