Piero Lissoni: Architect, Designer, Art Director, and Now Candlemaker

For famed Italian architect Piero Lissoni, no project is too small or simple.

Lissoni, with his namesake firm based in Milan and New York, has designed grand projects around the world including the Dorothea hotel complex in Budapest; the Hotel AKA in New York City and Alexandria, Va., as well as furniture and lighting pieces for such brands as B&B Italia, Flos, Kartell and Living Divani, and many corporate headquarters, private villas, showrooms, bathrooms, and kitchens. He’s considered a master of proportions and contemporary design.

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But this year, in partnership with Wa:it, an Italian clean beauty brand featuring natural skin care products, fragrances and incense with a Japanese ethos, Lissoni designed the Tōka candle. It is distinguished by its wide terracotta container that’s crafted, painted and glazed by hand, and its fine fragrance formulated by Wa:it.

“I never designed a candle before,” said Lissoni. “In terms of complexity, it’s very difficult, like designing in hot water.” The challenge he said, was to create something simple, yet sophisticated. “My idea was to be precise in the design and the same time imperfect in the production,” so no two candles are exactly the same. “The world is full of candles. I tried to include some elements to be different.”

Piero Lissoni
Piero Lissoni

For Raffaella Grisa, the founder of the four-year-old Wa:it beauty brand, creating the Tōka candle — a first for her firm as well — fulfills her vision of reconnecting with the environment. “A candle should smell good and have a purpose,” Grisa said. The scent is a distinct blend of neroli oil and leaves from wild fig trees, which Grisa said evokes the shores of the Mediterranean and the sunsets of southern Italy. “Apart from having a fantastic scent, there is a healing effect, a rebalancing effect. The purpose of the scent is to create a peaceful place.”

She said that typically with a candle there is a starting point and an end. When the candle burns out, she said, “you are sometimes left with an anonymous vessel, or waste. With Tōka, we have created something different. Once the candle is over, you have a special, unique container, and that is why I involved Piero is this project.” (Tōka is the Japanese word for a small luminous source, or ceremonial guiding light. With Wa:It, the “Wa” is Japanese for peace and harmony, and the “it” refers to Italian aesthetics.)

“I didn’t know Piero personally,” Grisa said. “I just knew about his work. He is so well known. When I had to approach him the first time, I was a little bit intimidated. I prepared a presentation. But it was easy to approach him and his team, even though they are so big. They listened to my story, and they recognized the soul of Tōka. Piero understood well the DNA of Wa:it, and its symbiosis between Italy and Japan.”

The Tōka container is 260 milliliters wide, and reminiscent in style and shape to traditional Japanese ceremonial tea bowls. The glazing and the colors are also Japanese-inspired. The candles, however, are entirely handmade by artisans in Italy and the materials are all Italian. It’s a sustainable candle, made from 100 percent soy wax and non-bleached, organic cotton wicks. On average, the candle burns for 30 hours. Lissoni’s signature is on the underside of the candle’s container.

Creating the Tōka was a step-by-step process with artisans using a late 19th century   manual pottery wheel to individually handcraft each Tōka container. Then it was slow-cooked in a small kiln, and allowed to cool off so it can be painted and glazed, and then again cooked in the kiln. It took two months to make the 500 candles. The artisans worked under the guidance of master ceramist Antonio Bonaldi

In addition to the candle, Lissoni designed the candle’s box, using paper made from algae from the Venice lagoon. “Algae is a big issue for the ecosystem in Venue,” Grisa noted. Algae grows naturally in the lagoon but due to pollution, the algae is increasing and suffocating the ecosystem.

The Tōka launched Wednesday in New York, appropriately at Hotel AKA which is in the NoMad neigborhood, and was first introduced during the Salone del Mobile 2024 in Milan. It sells for $280.

Tōka is being sold online at waitbotanicamente.shop, and at the Gray Matters footwear store located at 409 Broome Street in SoHo, only through May 23, considering just 500 candles were made.

Raffaella Grisa
Raffaella Grisa

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