“We’re combining this new attitude with our aesthetic, which I think is different than any other luxury candle brand out there.” —Alaina Young
Alaina Young is not someone you would picture running a luxury candle company in a Madison Avenue office in Manhattan — she recognizes this herself.
Pick up a Bijou candle and the first thing you’ll notice is its French-inspired bases and all its intricate embellishments. The French word “Bijou” itself literally means “a small dainty ornamental piece of delicate workmanship.” From its girly Pink Bellini scent to the sophisticated Bois de Vanille, Bijou oozes luxury and femininity.
“I wanted Bijou to be everything I ever dreamed of — this romantic, French aesthetic, which I surprisingly love because looking at me, you wouldn’t think that,” says Alaina, the 29-year-old founder and creative director of Bijou.
The 6-foot silver-haired, tattoo-clad entrepreneur never believed she fit into a certain mould. Born in New York City’s Upper East Side and raised in Vienna, Austria, Alaina’s childhood was what she described as “Von Trapp meets Kriss Kross.”
“I was obsessed with sneakers, basketball and hip-hop. I dressed like a rapper in the 90s, walking around in my JNCO jeans, and meanwhile we were in the fields of Vienna. I even remember being in the woods and my parents were sipping on wine,” Alaina recalls.
Though it was one of Alaina’s favorite times in her life, she admits she never truly fit in. Being of Chinese-Slovakian descent in a predominantly homogenous society, Alaina was understandably introverted, and she was picked on by others. “I was a queer kid.”
“Growing up gay or even remotely different, it was hard to move around a lot and make friends. I was always so shy, so it was hard for me,” Alaina adds.
Ever since she was a child, Alaina had always lived in a state of juxtaposition — but she wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. The mish mash of worlds, experiences and visual activity have greatly contributed to her constant stream of creativity and passion for both classic European art and modern design.
Her childhood experience in Vienna not only had an effect on her design aesthetic — it also set the foundation for what she would later do in her career. Her dad, being an entrepreneur himself, most notably bought an old brewery and turned it into one of Eastern Europe’s most popular beer makers. Years later, Alaina would eventually follow suit.
After moving back to the U.S. with her family, Alaina found herself studying art history and design, which led her to her first job in film and commercial production, working with famous directors and helping to design sets. She loved the idea of creating certain moods with environments, color schemes and spaces, but started feeling that the grueling 16-hour days may not be for her. When the opportunity arose to start a tabletop company with her mother, a former Glamour Magazine editor, Alaina jumped at the chance and immersed herself in the predominantly old-school industry.
After much success with the casual dinnerware brand, Q Squared NYC, she began toying with the idea of branching out on her own and starting a candle company. “It was just that ‘aha’ moment where I was like, ‘We should make candles.’”
Bijou’s bases are made of shatter-resistant resin that doesn’t burn. Alaina drew up a few sketches on how the candle base should look — inspired by vintage milk glass vases she would find all around Paris — and started contacting notable fragrance houses in the Greater New York City Area.
It was a longer process than she thought it would be. Alaina was incredibly meticulous about the scents and the look and feel of the whole product, working with 3D printing designers and scent experts to produce the perfect candle. She ultimately wanted to create a product that made people feel good about themselves and achieve their own version of luxury.
“When people hear ‘luxury’ they think Louis Vuitton or some expensive brand name. But I think ‘modern luxury’ is all about pampering yourself,” says Alaina. “Whatever you do to make yourself feel good. It’s about unapologetically living your life exactly how you want to live it.”
In just over a year, Bijou has taken off, with celebrities like Lauren Conrad naming Bijou one of her “very favorite candle brands.”
Many young women are already living Alaina’s idea of the “Bijou lifestyle” and it’s encouraging to see. They are the inner trap queens in business powersuits. They are CEOs with tattoo sleeves who run global conference calls in fitted sweatpants. They are the modern gentlewomen, literary ladies and social media mavens who speak their minds and DGAF. They want a life that doesn’t break the world into binaries — gay/straight, man/woman, liberal/conservative — but still allows them to be as strong as they can be.
When asked why she includes the symbol of the peacock in many of Bijou’s branding and packaging, Alaina says that not only are they beautiful, but she believes in what the peacock stands for: expressing your true self.
“Being your true self is the highest form of beauty to me,” Alaina says. “I always allow myself to be in that gray area and at the end of the day create products that reflect that.”
About the writer:
Part city dweller, part mermaid, Desiree Gamotin is the digital marketing manager at Bijou.