It is fair to say that Nota Bene Wares is not your average specialist soap and candle company. It has one foot firmly in the past, with every element of production celebrating the heritage of English domestic life. From the bespoke scents it creates, through the way the candles and soap are handmade to the hand-printed labels.
It is the brainchild of Matthew Brooks, a man with a passion for artisan craft and attention to detail. It stands to reason then, that Nota Bene Wares candles and soaps have a quality that sets them apart.
Matthew also works in product and brand development for a London-based luxury fragrance company, overseeing products from concept to shelf, a process he describes as “immensely rewarding.” It was also a process that gave him the confidence to turn his hobby into a viable business plan. Setting up at his Hampstead home, Matthew’s kitchen has become the hub of his cottage industry. “I am using soap-making methods which all householders would have employed until little over 100 years ago,” he says.
While he describes the process of creating the products as labour intensive, you get the feeling that he wouldn’t have it any other way. This is especially true for the scents he creates by mixing natural botanical oils and extracts. It means his apartment more closely resembles an alchemists’ lab than a home.
He notes that the scents themselves involve: “A lot of research, product development and general pondering”, but that this is important as a brand differential. “They reflect the everyday olfactory experiences that have become rare over time – from a dab of old-fashioned Eau de Cologne to cool the skin on a hot summer’s day to brushing past scented geraniums in the parlour”, he says. Some of his earliest scents were developed from a single idea such as cedar embers and others have taken more than two years to refine. This is because Matthew notes the fragrance will change character once its added to the candle or soap, it will change again once it is lit or used and will change again simply while standing idle.
Both candles and soap are a tactile and sensual way to experience fragrance but for Matthew they have a greater significance: “Candles are deeply rooted in our minds as a vehicle for ambient light and atmosphere as well as creating a sublime suggestion of the past. Soap too is indicative of English domesticity. I am fascinated by the history of soap production, how it affected pretty much the first branded products in the world (think of Pears or Sunlight Soap) but also how the smell of soap is one of the strongest ways to evoke memories of childhood. In the days before detergents and air fresheners, people’s houses always smelled of the soap brand they used, for most people over 50 the smell of carbolic or coal tar soap, for example, is so transportative.”
The products’ popularity isn’t just in the distinctive fragrances, Matthew receives compliments on the simplicity and tactility of the letterpress labels too. It’s a formula that works and Matthew is proud to note that at least 90 per cent of Nota Bene stockists approached him after seeing the products on Instagram or experiencing them in shops.
When he isn’t creating new products, he is at his happiest taking an evening walk across the “beautiful, majestic rural space” that is Hampstead Heath, pondering the history of Kenwood’s lawns or simply returning home from a day at work in central London and catching the enticing whispers of new scents as he opens the door of his home.
To see more of Matthew’s products visit: www.notabenewares.com