The Pyropets Origin - An interview with Pyropet Candles designer Thorunn Arnadottir
Q: Why did you create 54 Celsius, and why decide to focus on unusual candles?
Thorunn: This is a question I get asked a lot. I didn't really have much experience with making candles when we started 54Celsius. I liked candles and was intrigued by them but the main impetus came when I was studying at the Royal College of Art in London in 2011. I was very interested in studying ephemeral objects and the rituals around them. This naturally got me thinking about candles.
Q: How so?
Thorunn: People spend their hard-earned money to purchase candles in beautiful and imaginative shapes or lovely vessels and high end packaging. But then - ultimately - the main purpose is to destroy them. You can just imagine a conversation in a shop: “Oh darling look! This candle is so beautiful. Let's buy it and take it home and burn it!”
Often there is also internal tension in the to burn or not to burn decision. When I was a child I had a candle shaped like a Santa Claus. I remember the feeling of really loving the candle, but also the wanting of burning it - because it was after all a candle and made to burn. I had it for years, and when I finally decided to burn it, it was a rather creepy experience: Santa slowly started to deform, his hat became blood red wax dripping down his face and his eyes started sliding down his chin. I remember the mixed feelings about this, creeped out by his appearances, feeling a bit guilty of “ruining” Santa. On the other hand, it was also very funny! Of course the humor wasn’t deliberately designed into the candle, and most people probably didn’t even notice or look at what was happening to it.
Q: That’s so true. I can imagine how sad Santa would look with his head burned off. So what led you to the Pyropet Candles?
Thorunn: I started wondering whether the ritual of sacrificing a candle could be made even more dramatic. I wanted to design a candle that was pretty on the outside, but would transform into something creepier, perhaps almost like it was shaming you for lighting it on fire. That’s how I came up with the idea of making a cute cat shaped candle that would reveal a menacing metallic skeleton after it’s been lit.
Q: Why a cat?
Thorunn: Well, I am from Iceland and we have a lot of crazy folktales around Christmas. One of the most sinister creatures from these is the "Christmas Cat", a big horrible cat that eat small children that don't get new clothes before Christmas! Recalling the deforming Santa candle made me think of the cat monster. I also really liked the cat as a candle because cats can also be both irresistibly cute and menacing with their sharp teeth and claws. As we’ve all experienced, inside every adorable cat hides a little monster waiting for its chance to be released.
Q: What was the development process?
Thorunn: I made quick prototypes, sculpting the cat out of clay by hand, hacking a sheet of metal with scissors into some sort of a flat skeleton that could be folded into a 3D shaped form and then making a mould from it in silicon. I then cast it and my little pink cat candle was born. In the original version. I left an extra amount of the wick which ended up in a small ball of yarn at its feet. A while after lighting it, its scorched skeleton started to appear with fire blazing on its eyes and wax dripping from its sharp teeth. I called it "The Devil's Pet". Dramatic indeed!
I then developed the shape more, and decided to sculpt it in a polygonal style to reflect the angular look of the skeleton.
Q: Did you know right away that you wanted to manufacturer and sell it?
No. Actually, it was just a project. However, I showed new prototypes of Kisa at the RCA show at Milano Satellite Design Week in 2011. Someone took a photo of it and uploaded it to their Tumblr and it went viral on the internet from there. My email inbox got flooded with messages from people wanting to buy the sinister cat candle with skeleton!
I saw that I had to make this into a product that people could own. I started developing Kisa further for production, and teamed up with Dan, who I had worked with before on bringing some of my designs to the market. We launched a Kickstarter campaign in October 2013 on Kisa. The campaign was hugely successful, and we reached our target goal in less than 24 hours!
This was a rocket launchpad for our Pyropet Animal Candles collection and since then we have added more characters to it: bird, reindeer, owl, dragon, dog and unicorn. Pyropets animal shaped candles are now sold in galleries and shops worldwide.
Q: Where did the name 54Celsius come from?
When we continued to design more unique candles we decided that we needed to expand beyond the name Pyropet - as that name is so linked to the candles with skeletons. So we decided on a broader name - 54Celsius. It's the melting point of some types of candle wax.