Simply gaze across the wide, majestic plains of Western Kansas and you may not guess what kind of curious world lies within. But shut your eyes and inhale deeply…and you will discover a secret carnival of scents.
Madame Scodioli’s soaps, perfumes, and whisker waxes are not only intoxicating, but also luxuriously skin-softening! She mixes and hand-pours all of her items right here in Kansas.
Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of sitting with the Madame in her wagon and discussing her business and inspirations. She is joined by her lovely assistant, Riley.
KCQ: Madame Scodioli, tell me a little bit about yourself! (And you have a very interesting surname–where does it come from?)
MADAME: I grew up in a normal family in a small Midwest town, but I ran away to join a traveling carnival full of gypsies when I was fifteen and my petit goatee was in full bloom. The rousties gave me the name Scodioli (sko-dee-o-lee)–it’s actually the result of a misinterpretation of a song title.
KCQ: How did you become involved with making soaps, scents, and whisker wax?
RILEY: Scodioli Creative joined Etsy in 2007, as sewers and bookbinders! We were creating fabric coasters, journals from old magazines, then stationery from recycled x-rays… which was all fun, certainly, but we weren’t passionate about it.
MADAME: Oddly, hygiene is something I can truly get excited about. I’ve always been crazy for extravagant bars of soap in outrageous packaging. And soap is all I really wanted to make. But I came up with all these wonderful scent ideas and I knew it wasn’t going to stop there. I started concocting the perfumes, and of course the Whisker Wax was a natural step for a bearded lady. Also, my grandmother was a soapmaker for decades–she made lye soap out of pig fat in her basement. I was very close to her. I feel as though I’m carrying on a tradition, even though I’ve taken it in a starkly different direction.
KCQ: Did you learn the soapmaking process from your grandmother? And in what ways does your craft differ from hers?
MADAME: I unfortunately did not get the chance to learn from my grandmother. That would have been amazing though! Maybe I could have avoided all of those early “practice batches.” Ha!
By the time I was born, she was already “retired” from soapmaking, and it was nearly a decade after she passed away before I tried my hand at it. The kind of soap she made was strictly utilitarian: very harsh, no pretty colors or scents or nourishing additives. You could take a cheese grater to a chunk of it and use it for laundry soap. She made what most people consider “lye” soap (although ALL soap contains lye).
My process is the same as hers, although I use a mask, goggles, rubber gloves and a beard net. Working with lye can be very dangerous.
KCQ: What are your favorite materials to use?
MADAME: Palm kernel oil and coconut oil, for my soaps. The two work wonders together to create a hard, long lasting bar that still lathers like a dream.
RILEY: And rosemary. She won’t set the bottle down.
MADAME: It’s a good rosemary! I’m trying to control myself. We also love to use clays in the shaving bars. It’s great for cleansing pores, provides lots of slip, and it’s an excellent way to color the bars without chemicals.
KCQ:What do you like best about handcrafting your lovely goods?
MADAME: I like to be able to control every single part of the process, from the label design to physically shipping the orders.
RILEY: Ahem… anal…. :D
MADAME: It’s true. ;) Control issues aside, also it’s a huge satisfaction to know that we are making something useful, practical and aesthetically pleasing at the same time. And I love the fact that men enjoy our products as much as the ladies! There is not much to be found for well-designed bath products for men. We receive such wonderful compliments from all of our customers, and we gush over every single one.
KCQ: Can you tell me a bit about the circus theme that runs throughout your products? How did this come about? Where do you get your inspiration?
MADAME: We’ve modeled our entire concept around the American traveling carnival, from the late 19th century through the dust bowl era. It’s a period of time that really moves us. And we try to keep a strong mid-Western feel to our products, to pay homage to our Kansas roots. But there’s a healthy dose of good ol’ gypsy spirit in there, too. We try not to limit ourselves to just “carnival”.
RILEY: The novel Geek Love by Katherine Dunn was a huge influence, as well as the music of Tom Waits, ManMan, Calexico, Tin Hat Trio…. and the Hierophant gave us a book on sideshow oddities that has proven to be invaluable.
MADAME: Inspiration comes from every direction. Sometimes it starts with a name, or an idea for a story, then we come up with the scent to correspond. Other times, we begin with a scent idea (we get wonderful suggestions from friends and customers), and we build from there. Often the creative process is started by an amazing antique store find, and the story is built around the object – as was the case with Elyria. A customer requested an Earl Grey scent, then the mandolin was found and it took off from there.