For many Chicagoans, the lockdown this spring was filled with temporary hobbies designed to help pass the time—such as baking sourdough and mimicking poses in famous works of art—that had mostly fallen by the wayside by summer.
But for Streeterville resident Maggie Landa, experimenting with candle-making at home ultimately led to the creation of her first business: online candle company Maison Margaux.
"I really started looking into different things, reading about wax, wicks, oils, glasses—anything," Landa said. "This kept me going, and it was definitely a hobby, and lots of research went into it, a lot more science than I would have thought as well."
With the encouragement of a friend who owned an Etsy business, Landa debuted her shop on Etsy in October. After expanding the number of scented candles from two to five the following month, she launched her website, maisonmargauxcandles.com, on Nov. 16.
The homemade candles, made of paraffin-soy blend wax, fragrance oils and 100% cotton wicks, sport French-inspired names such as Nette et Frais, meaning "clean and fresh," and Fraicheur des Pins, or "freshness of the pines."
Landa first developed a fascination with French culture a decade ago, when she was a Kent State University student studying abroad in Florence. During her time in Europe, she accepted an opportunity to join a weeklong class trip to France and "loved everything" about the experience.
"Since then, I have returned to France a handful of times and visited different areas of the country, all equally beautiful and charming," Landa said. "So, that's where the French theme comes in. And then Margaux is Margaret in French, which is my name. When I started, I knew I wanted to do something with my name and play around with it from there. And so that is where I came up with Maison Margaux."
Making each candle takes approximately three days, Landa said. The first day involves cutting the wax, measuring the fragrance oil, sticking the wicks to the glasses and using a wick clip to hold the wick in place. After melting the wax and ensuring the temperature is correct—too much heat can cause the fragrance to burn off—Landa pours in the fragrance oil, mixes it with the melted wax and transfers the wax to the candle jar.
"On the second day you take a heat gun to it and just even everything out," she said. "That takes about five minutes a candle, and the more accurate you are with this being even, the less work and time it will take the following day."
The third day is reserved for final touch-ups with the heat gun, cleaning any excess wax off the glass and applying the label. The finished candles have approximately 100 hours of burn time.
"Each scent definitely has a different inspiration," Landa noted. "I do love traveling, and so a lot of the scents are inspired by places that I have visited. Each scent is something that I like and I am confident that others will like too. Brise de Mer—that was inspired by a trip to the French Riviera, and the scent is very calming and relaxing. And then I have Senteur Tropicale—that is tropical fruit. It was inspired by a trip I took to Thailand, and it has notes of passionfruit and guava."
In addition to candles, Landa's online shop includes options for designing custom labels for special occasions, such as anniversary dates or bridesmaid proposals.
"I've had customers reach out to me wanting to do monograms and also different lakes," Landa said. "I'm working on one right now for Lake Michigan and Lake Geneva for a customer and placing a heart where the customer lives, or who they're gifting the candle to lives."
For Landa, "the sky is the limit" when it comes to expanding her business. Looking ahead, she plans to introduce additional scents, different-sized candles and a sample pack containing a variety of votive candles. She is also considering exploring and launching diffusers.
"The most rewarding part has been making the customer happy," she said. "I love seeing when they write a good review, when they reach out to me by text and email and say they love my custom label, or whatever it may be. And also, having repeat customers too—people who are coming back and loving the product as much as I do."