insight - Ramdane Touhami
Written by Gregg Henglein Photography by Jacob Breinholt
Occupation - Creative Director, Entrepreneur
In November, the world’s oldest candle company, Cire Trudon, made its first venture outside France since its inception in 1643. And if you’re wondering what would make the candle company that served Louis XIV finally step out of its native comfort zone, look no farther than the man who, for the last five years, has been at the helm.
Ramdane Touhami has been dubbed a ‘King of Creation.’ While in college, Ramdane created the ‘Teuchiland’ T-shirt business, garnering 20 distributors in France at an astonishing rate. Three years later, he founded King Size skatewear, the first streetwear brand in France. Sold in 60 shops in Europe, the company quickly drew €1,500,000 each year. After taking part in several fashion concept stores, Ramdane shifted to cosmetics, where he began the General Perfumery concept store, specialising in giving little-known cosmetics brands their start before sailing into the French and European markets.
Starting from scratch is something Ramdane has done well throughout his career. But starting from scratch becomes tougher when it’s done with a brand that dates from the mid-17th century.
“One day the family who used to own the company called me and said, ‘We have this thing, we are tired of it, we don’t know how to manage it, we need someone to revamp it,’” Ramdane recalls. “At the beginning I declined because it was complicated and I knew nothing about candles. But after I heard the story I said ‘Yes, of course, I have to do it.’”
This, of course, prompts the question: How do you take a brand with more than 360 years of legacy and put your mark on it while still honouring that legacy? The answer, Ramdane says, is that his mark is irrelevant.
“It’s not my own mark,” he emphasises with a shake of his head. “I don’t work with my ego, I work for the company. I work for the product. When I decide to make glass, I want the factory to have the technique to make the glass like 17th-century glass. It’s all one-?by-one, handmade. That’s for the product.”
And yet he’s changed practically everything since it was handed to him. But his changes, too, are for the product, and for that aforementioned legacy.
“Everything you see, except the taper candles, did not exist. It used to exist in the 18th century, and they stopped making it. The family changed a lot of things,” he says. “They were making candles for big brands, but stopped making candles for themselves.”
This is the essence of Ramdane. He’s welcoming upon meeting him, and there’s an air of confidence and accomplishment to him that at first could be taken as smugness. But within moments it’s clear what’s truly at his core: the pride he takes in what’s going on here, and the wish that all people took such pride and care in what they do.
Look no farther than the candle displays themselves. Each candle is not only contained within hand-crafted, exquisitely moulded variations of dark green or red – 17th-century style, he notes several times – but contained within individual glass domes. When I ask about the purpose, he begins to explain before ushering me over to get the sense first-hand – or nose, as the case may be. I ready myself to smell the candle, but Ramdane guides my face towards the dome instead. Here, the smell of a library – resplendent with deep wood-textured aromas and slightly yellowed pages of classics – pervades my sense, as shocking as such a gentle smell can be, more so for its unexpectedness than its strength.
“When you put your nose on the wax you have the smell of the wax; when you put your nose there [in the dome] you have the smell of the perfume,” he says.
Despite this explanation, Ramdane draws a distinction that, in fact, his candles’ varied scents – which we will get to shortly – are born not of perfume, but of smells.
“Cire Trudon doesn’t smell like perfume like other candles. We do smells...like Versailles...it’s not like perfume. Here you have the smell of a library. It has nothing to do with making people happy...we don’t want to make people happy. We do smells people hate, people love, we work with that. Don’t expect something like perfume. We do smells.”
And those smells he loves, though he declines to pick a favourite (“It depends on my mood, my place,” he explains). He takes joy in presenting me a scent termed Carmélite, composed to replicate “old stone walls, in the shade of cloisters and convents, a scent of old stone walls” calling upon the peace and souls of eternity. I imagine that if you smell it without knowing its intent, it would be rather perplexing if not unpleasant. But knowing its objective, it is vivid in its accuracy.
Ramdane is visibly pleased by my uncertainty over the scent, but takes similar passionate pleasure when presenting La Marquise, a candle in which “verbena and lemon stimulate the sensuality of white flowers and the rose. At once tender and clever, it keeps all the sharpness of Madame de Pompadour’s conversations and the voluptuous charms of the Rocaille chic.”
He refuses to alter the beehive emblem that has been the company’s image since the beginning, its Latin phrasing translated as ‘The bees work for god and for the king’. And he also honours its French roots, demanding that even within the modern architecture of Manhattan’s Bond Street, the shop be modelled after the Galerie des Glaces at Versailles, adorned with hand-aged vintage mirrors – imported from France – stucco walls, and Amish furniture that evoke a Paris shop of centuries gone by.
“The one who makes Cire Trudon what it is is Louis XIV, and I dedicate a lot of my work to him,” Ramdane says before calling my attention to the walls’ less majestic occupants, blown-up pages from a book Cire Trudon published in 1742 about how to make a candle.
“We are the best candle maker on Earth,” he says with a confident smile. He’s most certain of this, and he’s committed to keeping it that way. King Louis would most certainly approve.
New York, USA
Ramdane decides all of the scents for Cire Trudon, explaining that they add one or two a year. The most alluring addition this year is a triple dose of brilliance.
Children can engage in the sensory reception of three classic fairy tales – Jack and the Beanstalk (Jake et le Haricot Magique), Sinbad the Sailor (Sinbad le Marin), and Little Red Riding Hood (Petit Chaperon Rouge) – through three coffrets comprised of an illustrated fairy tale, a petite fragranced candle, and a 15ml room spray, inspired by the individual stories.
Imagine sitting with your child or grandchild by the fireplace and reading one of these classics, the vivid smell of fresh-picked green beans accompanying your journey with Jack up the beanstalk, or seawater as you follow Sinbad’s exotic escapades. This clever presentation hits the mark in every way imaginable.
Why, in an age where technology has rendered what we once knew – such as the hardcover paperback – obsolete, do candles maintain their allure? “I think it’s because it’s magic to light a candle,” says Ramdane’s wife, Victoire de Taillac, a lovely woman with an endearing, excitable lilt to her voice. “People are never more beautiful than in the light of a candle.”
Light of the World
New York isn’t the only venture outside France that Ramdane has planned for Cire Trudon. “We open in London in March, Sydney in June, and Tokyo in September. Then we are going to stop.”