When Stu Freeman and Patrick Crea began experimenting with an idea that grow to become Noncense, their ultimate goal was to be stocked in Colette, the Parisian boutique that for two decades redefined the retail experience. Noncense, a collection of ceramic incense burners handmade in Australia, inverts the meditative associations with burning incense and infuses that ritual with a sense of the absurd. Eschewing the “gothic or wooden surfboard” shapes traditionally associated with burners, Freeman and Crea inadvertently happened upon the spark for the idea at the outset of 2015 through, aptly-enough, the simple act of play.
“We were just playing around with incense when we would hang out,” Freeman, a Sydney-based Art Director and Project Manager specialising in event production, installations and interior design, recently told GRAZIA. “We put it in a carrot and it just worked. Then a banana, then a [stalk] of broccoli and it was actually quite funny. We did a photoshoot with that and thought that it could work well.”
From simple beginnings, the duo, who met in Sydney through a mutual friend in 2012, began investigating the possibilities for prototype designs. They shared a fascination with Japan – Crea initially spent time there in his capacity as a menswear designer, and noticed the popularity of incense in a retail environment; Freeman, on the other hand, has long had a fascination with the proliferation of vinyl toys cast to resemble foodstuff – and the “bright, poppy” colours that saturate the country’s popular culture landscape. The incompatibility of plastic and heat, however, reoriented their focus in the direction of that country’s other great art form, ceramics.
“We needed to find someone who was willing to make ceramics bananas for us,” says Freeman. “People thought we were quite mad for some time. It took about 18 months to find someone who could make something to the standard we wanted it to be in Australia, which was the way we wanted to go.”
Freeman and Crea, who has since relocated to Melbourne and is in the midst of launching another new venture dubbed Studio Ciao specialising in furniture, began slip casting a prototype model with the help of a mother-son ceramicist duo based on Sydney’s Northern Beaches and, in December that year, the Noncense banana incense burner soft-launched. Within the space of the following year, a pizza and egg shape followed. Both are handmade; the former in the same fashion as an edible pizza would be, from a circular base cut into triangular sections. A crust and the pepperoni detail are then painted and added separately in a facsimile of the actual process. “Even though they are obviously not real, we want that look to [invoke the sensation that] having elements of reality to it,” says Freeman.
On the day that Freeman and I speak, Andelman closed the doors on her Rue Saint Honoré boutique forever. The boundary breaking retailer, Freeman recalls, was the third stockist to begin carrying the Noncense line and Andelman personally contacted the duo to place her first order. “That was amazing and kind of blew our minds,” he says. “That’s when we realised that they’re not actually that stupid. They make sense in the right environment, around similar products and in the right interiors.”
From those early first orders with Colette, Noncense has grown to accumulate an impressive roster of stockists and fans both locally and internationally, including Dover Street Market, a store they’ve been doggedly pursuing for two years, as well as the German fashion designer Bernhard Willhelm. A large order from Paul Smith recently necessitated that they branch out to other makers in Australia. Local manufacturing is integral to the success of the product, says Freeman, accounting for its attendant benefits of both quality control and the ability to workshop new prototypes easily. The past year has seen the duo experiment with multiple new designs and expand the number of manufacturers that they work with to upscale their output in accordance with the demand for their product on a made-to-order basis. As for future instalments, expect further variations on the theme of kitchen staples. The two want to approach future releases as you would seasonal fashion collections, with multiple new designs featured in quarterly drops. There’s also the prospect of Noncense-branded incense, which Freeman says they’re hoping to release early next year.
“I think that we would probably start with quite classic scents, rather than delving into a banana one.”
Tile and cover image: Courtesy of Noncense