Fragrance notes...with Joanna Layla

London-based fashion illustrator and contemporary artist, Joanna Layla, was top of the ‘blue sky’ list when Darren, Spencer and Stacia were choosing the perfect creative to bring their luxe candles to life. Huge admirers of her whimsical work, which relies on soft washes of colour and broad, blurry brushstrokes to conjure the feel of a scene or the drape of an outfit, her pared-back paintings whisper ‘elevated understatement’ — which is why the team were honoured when she brought her savoir flair to the proceedings. 

Expertly rendering each of the vignettes with soft, complementary colours that sing on their own but are stunning as part of a whole (because, who could stop at one?), we asked Joanna all about her process, inspiration and, the burning question… which CONTROL + CHAOS fragrance is her favourite?

CONTROL + CHAOS: Hi Joanna, it’s the weekend! How does your typical Saturday start?

Joanna Layla: Waking at dawn for an hour to myself before my little boy wakes. I love mornings — stealing precious time with a cup of green tea before the world wakes up. I am most creative and happiest in the morning, so this time always feels luminous.

C+C: What's on the radio?

JL: I like the quiet first thing, but then an random selection of Radio 4, curated Mary-Ann Hobbs or Jamz Supernova sessions — plus, an eclectic mix of tunes my partner and little boy accumulate into a playlist. Dan works with/in/around music, so I enjoy being the recipient of an array of unexpected new music. We live on a low-rise 1960s estate in South East London, so at any one time reggae, afro beats or soul will drift in through the window. I enjoy the ambient sounds of London — especially at the weekend.

C+C: Coffee or tea?

JL: Both — a green tea in one hand, a black coffee in the other.

C+C: What are the scents that evoke the best memories?

JL: Sea salt in hair, the smell of the sun’s heat mingled with traces of the sea… dried salt. Walking home up the white steps from the beach as a child in Portugal.

Anything citrus reminds me of my godmother’s essential oils.

The smell of the back of my little boy’s head when he’s sitting on my lap. Something I never want to forget.

Coffee. Makes me happy. Any time. Any place.

C+C: Can you talk us through your design process — where do you find inspiration?

JL: I find inspiration anywhere and everywhere. I love the parameters of a brief and the creativity it inspires — as soon as there is a boundary to push against visually — a limitation — my brain comes alive. A few sentences from a client can inspire a world of imagery. My design process is physical — I draw my way in. Working quickly in ink to find gestures, shapes and a point of view. Initially it’s more physical than cerebral — a dance — until the clarity of choreography takes over and I can see the brief, the client’s zeitgeist, visually. Then I edit my drawings to see how I can say the most with the least, finally using depth and colour to complete the visual narrative.

I am drawn to beautiful things and find endless inspiration in people-watching, curation, style and expression. How someone puts together a look, or micro-trends on the street. This visual note-taking often feeds back into my work intuitively.

C+C: Any Instagram accounts you love to follow?

JL: As a Philo-phile, I adore Céline (with the accent) — old Céline, the archive On Instagram, I like to look to interiors, design and styling — a side-step from my own discipline. Wallpaper mag is stunning — and I love the work of abstract artists such as Maja Dlugolecka and art director/stylists such as Alexandra Carl and Katie Shillingford. My agency, House of Juba, has a phenomenal  roster of artists and is endlessly inspiring. And as a keen believer in zero-waste and rotation, I also recommend Curate & Rotate and E.L.V. Denim.

C+C: Is there a piece of art or furniture that’s on your wishlist at the moment?

JL: I am a little obsessed with chairs. I would love to own a Cesca chair — I grew up with my mother’s Cesca in my bedroom as a teenager and took it completely for granted. I would love to use a set of his dinings chairs in our space now. I referenced this love affair with a Cesca chair sketch and abstract in my recent solo show at Edward Bulmer.

I would also love to own one of Helen Frankethalers huge liquid abstracts, in my dreams. Or a Louise Bourgeois drawing… also, in my dreams.

C+C: Where do you source the best art and interior finds?

JL: I am a magpie. So most of my finds, both fashion, art and interiors are from travelling to other cities, largely with work. My eyes wake up in new terrain and I always source key pieces while I’m in a new environment. Recent finds include a large abstract gold ring from a jeweller in Minori on the Amalfi Coast, vintage Acne Studios and Chanel in Stockholm, and ceramics from the amazing vintage junkyards of Sonar in Bilbao. My style is consistent, so this magpie-nature somehow holds together aesthetically.

I’m working in Berlin at the moment and near the atelier is a beautiful mid-century store, Magasin. It is interior heaven. I also love the curation of art objects, fashion and jewellery at Cruba Berlin.

C+C: Is there a go-to gallery you love to visit?

JL: Gallery-hopping is one of my favourite things to do so it’s hard to pin down just one. In Berlin, Contemporary Fine Arts Berlin. In Paris, the Pinault Collection, Bourse de Commerce. I saw the stunning Danh Vo installation there recently. Palazzo Grassi is always a beautiful visit in Venice. I saw the incredible Marlene Dumas retrospective there last year. Closer to home, I always think the programming at Dulwich Picture Gallery is inspirational, and the Hayward and Barbican Galleries in London too (recent favourite exhibitions include Strange Clay: Ceramics in Contemporary Art, and Noguchi). I think the newly renovated Soho Revue is gorgeous — I loved Gill Button’s work there in the spring.

C+C: It’s Saturday night — what’s for dinner?

JL: Japanese. I love the complex simplicity of the flavours. I enjoy Japanese food visually too — the arrangement and presentation are so integral to the enjoyment of the food. 

C+C: …and which C+C candle is burning (and where)? 

JL: My favourite place to use candles is in the studio. The flame of a beautiful candle gives a point of clarity in a room, a focal point of calm. I love drawing at dusk with a candle burning. The ultimate peace and reset. On a Saturday evening, the luxury of Tryst + Forgiveness would be perfect. 

C+C: What’s the plan for Sunday? Chilling or adventuring? 

JL: I’ve always loved being a Sunday painter. Something about time away from time (working at the weekend) means I love working when it isn’t expected of me. I prefer to take my Sunday during the week — to relax mid-week. And then my dream would be a family day exploring any city — galleries, ice cream and wandering.

C+C: Best Sunday lunch? 

JL: My partner, Dan, is of Chinese ancestry, born and bred in London and the tradition of dim sum is magical. It conjures up family — whether it be with friends or relatives. Sharing dishes, pots of green tea, tiny white cups, the steam on opening the wicker baskets, and the circular spinning tabletops.  

C+C: Book or box set?

JL: A book or magazine. I can get lost in the pages of a magazine. A tome like Numero Berlin or Another Magazine; a beautiful children’s picture book or a Chanel biography. I find printed media endlessly inspiring and exciting. There is something about the tactility of turning pages — a sense of discovery, a sensation, that I haven’t yet found on screen.

C+C: What’s on your bedside table?

JL: A marble buddha inherited from my father. A lamp. A drawing of Frida Kahlo. Whine + Grind — I’m the mother of a small child so I treasure this chaos.

C+C: We don’t like to make you pick sides but, which CONTROL + CHAOS illustration do you love the most? 

JL: Dropped + Mopped. The most adventurous. The hues are unexpected. It has warmth and depth and is simultaneously contemporary with old school glamour.

I’m really in love with the series, how the candles sit together in dialogue and bring out different elements of each other. 

C+C: And how do you control the chaos? What keeps you calm when things start to get manic? 

JL: I need to move — walk, run, dance, paint… get outside in the fresh air. If all else fails, light a beautiful candle. 

Thank you so much Joanna! 


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