What is the name of your company?
The name of my company is Casa dell'Unknown. I feel a little bit of a need to explain the name, because people always seemed a little confused. 'House of Unknown' is the translation from Italian. Playing off of fashion houses I wanted to use the "House of" part in italian, but the word for Unknown in Italian is "Ignoto" and I knew that would be way too confusing for people to pronounce and remember - so I used the english for the word "Unknown," and I feel like it fits me well because I am Italian American.
The "Unknown" comes from the pandemic really, and not originally knowing what I wanted to name my brand. I kept using the filler text "Unknown" in my designs and then eventually thought that I really liked it and it felt fitting since I started during a pandemic when the state of the world felt really unknown and I had no idea if I could really make this brand work. There were a lot of unknowns in my life at the time and so it really just resonated with me.
When was the company founded?
Right at the start of the pandemic in April of 2020 is when I started really working on the brand, but I didn't begin to sell any products until March of 2021
Tell us the story of how you brought your company to life.
I really started to work on creating a candle brand in 2016, but after about a year of working on it my husband and I had a daughter and my plans were tabled at the time because I didn't have the time or space. So, at the beginning of the pandemic I had to leave my full time job to take care of Naya full time and it was then that I decided that if I was ever going to do it, it was going to be now. So I pulled out all my previous formulas and research and started at it again. Two of my original formulas that I created with my husband made it into my first collection and that will always be something really special to me. It took me a year of fragrance development, product sourcing and package development before I felt like I was ready to launch my brand.
How did you feel after it launched?
That is a really hard feeling to describe. There are certain things in life that I feel like we all want to accomplish, but our self doubts and the world make us feel like it's not possible, and so it honestly took a couple months for me to even talk about it in a way that felt like it was real. Once I let myself believe it was real it felt amazing, and every day I am super thankful that I get to do something that I really love.
Where do you draw your design inspiration from?
I draw inspiration from so many things around me, but key to this brand is that I wanted to honor my Italian heritage. It has been such a large part of my life and my upbringing that I really wanted to focus on that. So everything I do I try to bring back to the experiences I have had in my life - from travel, to large family dinners, to my broken italian (language skills). It really has been a large part of my life and it was something I wanted to share.
Why was it important to you to create an “out and proud” LGBTQ+ company?
I wanted to show that the LGBTQ+ community can be successful and that so many of us have more than one identity. We are just as capable and just as successful as anyone else, all while bearing the burden of the often incorrect identities that society so often puts on us. I also love that acceptance that comes with the LGBTQ+ community. It's nice to feel like I have a spot among other people where I feel like I belong and I can be myself.
Was there a defining moment in your company’s history (so far) when you knew you created something special?
When people started noticing my brand and reached out to me to collaborate on projects it really made me feel like I was being noticed.
What has been the reaction of customers to your brand?
The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive! The number of people who have reached out to me after purchasing my products just to tell me that they love them has been amazing!
Any special customer stories that you want to share?
Just this past weekend a local restaurant owner purchased two candles for his restaurant bathrooms and I was blown away that he loved them enough to use them for his business. I was working at a street fair over the weekend and multiple people commented that they saw my candles in the bathroom of the restaurant and took a picture of them to purchase later and then bought them at the street fair. I was just kind of stunned.
At FRUITLOOTS, we call all the amazing products that we find our “loot”. What's a favorite piece of “loot” you've created?
Since I am such a new brand I think in general my first collection is really my favorite "loot," but if I had to be more specific it would probably be the 'Bergamotto' candle because I love the scent and it's something that I worked on with my husband so it's pretty special to me. Also, the street map on the packaging for 'Bergamotto' is Siracusa in Sicily as a nod to my family because it's where my grandmother was born.
Tell us about the product that we have chosen for The Holiday Box.
'Fumo di Pino', which translates to Pine Smoke, is my latest candle and it's my take on a holiday candle. It's a pine forward candle with a subtle smoke, and notes of: juniper, pine, cedar, olibanum, vetiver, amber and bergamot. Although this candle doesn't have a street map on the packaging like my first collection, it's reminiscent of a location in Italy called Castelluccio. Castelluccio is a valley up in the mountains in Norcia that my uncle has taken me to many times. The landscape is dotted with pine trees along the rim of the valley and it is truly a magical place to me.
Where do you see your company in 10 years?
10 years feels like eons away, but we are hopefully growing and on the shelves of some major retailers. I would love to someday be in Nordstrom or Bloomingdales like some of the other candle brands that I personally love. A true dream come true would be to have my own retail store in my home neighborhood of Andersonville in Chicago.
If you could do a special collaboration with any person in the world who would it be and why?
Funny this question should come up, but I have a collaboration coming up with the lovely artist Rebecca Miller Russo of @cigarettesandkale and if you had told me this was possible a year ago I would have laughed at you. One thing I would love to do is have a regular artist series because art is just so inspiring.
Any advice to queer entreprenuers?
Honestly, this is going to sound cheesy, but just be unapologetically yourself. There are people out there just like you and if you are your true self they will find you and you will be amazed at the love and support that is out there. I know I was. It took me a long time to really love myself, but when I did it was freeing. You don't have to be for everyone and you can't be, so do it for you.
If you could throw a party, with an unlimited budget, and you could invite anyone, tell us about the party and who would be there!
I am an intimate group, but lavish party kind of person :) I would have a small group because I really like to listen and learn from people. So I would say dinner for 8, but right in the middle of the Colosseum in Rome. I would probably invite a very strange group of people, but definitely my number one would be Donatella Versace.
Last question. If you could be any fruit, what would it be and why?
I would be a fig, because I think they are kind of mysterious and I love a hidden meaning or subtle surprise. They are a little ugly on the outside, but beautiful on the inside. They are decadent and delicious, very Italian and somewhat sexual. Figs also feel very gender fluid to me.
For more information on Casa dell'Unknown and to check out the rest of their collection, click here
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