It’s kind of amazing how a scent can bring you back to a particular moment, place or person. It evokes so much memory. It could be the perfume your mother wore or the smell of laundry; the saltiness of the coast or the wafting of spices in the kitchen. Burma is such a fragrant place. There is so much you can learn about it through its smells (sometimes familiar, sometimes less so). As Phway Aye, co-founder of the Burmese fragrance brand (and April Kindred Club Partner) Gabar, tells us: “fragrance & scent felt like a natural fit: a way to package the sounds, sights & smells of a romantic, vibrant land," and lists “wet concrete, heat and rain, jasmine and sweet tea with a touch of condensed milk” as the scents that remind her of home. We couldn’t wait to ask Phway about Gabar, where she finds inspiration and how she brings Burma into her London home.
What inspired you to start Gabar?
Gabar was started with the intention of bringing Myanmar & South East Asian heritage to the world. My co-founder Susan and I are both Burmese and are deeply passionate about telling the story of Myanmar, not just the beautiful sides but also its complicated ones. When we thought about the kinds of mediums through which we wanted to tell that story, fragrance & scent felt like a natural fit: a way to package the sounds, sights & smells of a romantic, vibrant land as well as a medium through which you could emotionally connect with people and help alter the state of mind. On top of this, too, we wanted our brand to represent and speak to a new generation of fragrance & beauty buyers, and carry with it a spirit of resistance that would help ignite a next generation of creatives and change makers. We felt all of these intentions collided and came together.
What do you want your brand to show or say about Burma?
We would love for Gabar to shed light on Myanmar’s incredible beauty & diversity, as well as its tragic and extremely heartbreaking political history. Myanmar is a country of many faces and despite what you might hear on the news, the everyday spirit and gentleness of the people is so profound. We want people to sense the warmth and tenderness of this country and also grow to respect the struggles it has gone through, and somehow take away from this story, a deep feeling of hope and inspiration.
If Burma had a scent that you could bottle, what would it be?
The warm creamy scent of Thanakha (traditional tree bark), wet concrete, heat & rain, spices & fresh fruits, Jasmine, lime, and sweet black tea with a touch of condensed milk.
Where do you go to get inspired?
My biggest sources of inspiration are walking, especially through a quiet, tree-filled part of London or through a museum, or sitting in cafes, people-watching and wondering about the lives they’re living. My favourite places in London for inspiration are Hampstead (the Heath and all of the boutiques & cafes close by), Richmond Park, as well as the canals through Little Venice, and the small cafes dotted across Marylebone. I’m someone that reacts quite quickly to nature and quiet but also need people and the liveliness of a city around me to feel completely lit up.
Gabar definitely gives a sense of the slowness and beauty of nature – is that something you like to bring into your own interior style?
Absolutely. I love the idea of the outside world bleeding into my interiors - whether that be through floristry and plants (the art of ikebana is a big passion of mine, for example, and I love the idea of small ikebana displays embellishing a living space) or having as much natural sunlight as possible, or simply opening up windows and spaces to allow for fresh air and nature and the outside world to be at your fingertips. I also prioritise having art & furnishing that’s reflective of the natural world - as many linens and as much wood and clay/ceramics for example. My interior style is very much led by simplicity, ease and an ode to nature.
How would you describe the feeling your home gives you?
Warm & light. The feeling of home should be soulful, and a space and environment that comforts you and as if someone is giving you a big embrace after a long day. I also find it important for home to be a source of rest, reprieve and inspiration – having objects, books & stories that ignite my thinking, or help me see something I’m mulling over in a different sort of way. I love the idea that my home can support thinking & flow and allow the best of its inhabitants to come out.
Kalinko believes in the transportative nature of objects in a home – like the way our Rangoon chair can transport you to a sun soaked room in Yangon. Do you have pieces in your home that do the same for you?
For sure. I find it personally beautiful that certain objects can capture memories and transport you to new places, especially over the past years when we’ve been so confined indoors. I have a particular sculpture piece by Myanmar sculpture and artist Chan Aye that does exactly this. It’s a simple sculpture, of a mother holding a child in an embrace, but the curves all blend into each other and make the sculpture resemble just one intertwined curve. Not only does this piece take me back to Yangon, the exact gallery and area it came from, but also my mother & family, our various homes (whether Myanmar or New Zealand), and all of the stories from childhood of travel and discovery. It is one of the few objects in my possession that I hold dearly for exactly its ability to transport.
How do you try to bring elements of Burma into your London home?
I try and bring Myanmar into my home life through art, books, objects & furnishings - whether through the choice of certain materials reflective of Myanmar (wood, bamboo, lacquer, rattan, for example), or particular art pieces or books that directly link to Myanmar, or through objects gifted or made or acquired from childhood days or through various trips back. The spirit of Myanmar also lives on quite strongly in the kitchen, where there will no doubt always be an array of Burmese spices and cooking materials. I hope that overtime I can honour more Myanmar artists and find more places for a diverse array of paintings & sculptures in my home too.
Where do you feel most at home?
In nature - in a forest or on a plain/desert.
Favourite room in your house?
Go-to song for a morning at home?
Nuvole Bianche by Ludovico Einaudi.
Kalinko piece you can’t live without?
Top country on your bucket list?
Favourite global cuisine?