At the core of any professional cyclist’s career lies an unspoken question: what comes next? Does a life as a directeur sportif await? Will ASO wheel you out every July for signatures and selfies? Will you retreat to a life of relative obscurity, run a bike shop, coach a local club? Or can lucrative pro salaries be funnelled into investment opportunities?
For Wout van Aert – one of the most successful and complete cyclists currently racing – there is a surprising answer. Together with his wife Sarah De Bie, Van Aert has invested in the company Mon Dada – “a Belgian producer of artisanal candles in concrete pots [with] big plans for the future.”
This is, I think you will agree, a surprising turn of events.
For the purposes of this story, let’s assume that you don’t know about Mon Dada, the fast-growing candle and homewares brand founded in New York City by a Belgian “girl dreaming big” called Pauline D’Haenens. According to the company’s website, “President Trump revoked her work visa in 2019”, which led D’Haenens to get creative in pursuit of a “a new luxury brand bringing together scented products, thoughtful design and a desire to conquer the world.”
In the years since then, D’Haenens has escaped Trumpian persecution to return to her native Belgium, where she still makes concrete pots to stash aromatic wares in. She is, according to the Mon Dada website, a “LADY BOSS”. As her company has grown, so has its staff. She has hired her mother (“#momboss”), as well as “a team of 7 female bosses that are working hard to make the most unique creations.”
Those unique creations, which are distributed to “over 40 countries around the world”, include an ever more dizzying array of candles in concrete jars. There are ‘urban’ indoor ones. There are urban outdoor ones. There’s a separate niche called ‘Terra’, with Portuguese-made vases that can also be used as a ‘fragrance object’ (but then, what can’t?). There’s a really sinister-looking collaboration with a Belgian architect called Glenn Sestig, who’s designed some luxury diffusers and a big black candle called ‘the Imperial’ that costs €390/$416 USD/AU$655, has eight wicks, a burn-time of a Euro an hour, is made of “iconic mouth-blown glass” and has a “soft gracefulness [that] leaves you longing for more.”
And what is a luxury candle if not a vessel for odour? The Glenn Sestig big boi, for instance, has “notes of woody black leather, Damascus rose, neroli, bergamot and sandalwood.” Elsewhere in the Mon Dada range there are six scents for any occasion, ranging from the ‘Black Sea’ (personality: “mysterious, intriguing and seducing [sic]”) all the way to ‘Desire Sky’ (“vibrant, summer, exotic and feminin [sic]”).
We do not know which of these scents first bewitched Wout van Aert, but from a press release we do know that the cycling star and his wife, a leading Flemish parenting podcaster, “had been following the Mon Dada brand for some time and were secretly in love with the product. The handmade candles are simply unique and immediately appeal to many. The love for the product was actually the reason for this investment. However, Pauline’s story has convinced us even more to join her success story. The craft and feeling that Pauline wants to create with Mon Dada are so pure.”
It is perhaps easy to be cynical about press release quotes that were definitely never said, but there is an undeniable purity to the artisanal journey of concrete and essential oils into €86/$92 USD/AU$144 candles (those are the cheapest ones available). It speaks to the hustle mindset of the entrepreneur who has built a candle empire and brought one of cycling’s most famous figures along for the journey, optimising synergies all the way. Wout van Aert saw an investment opportunity to go along with his previous investment in a chain of Flemish real estate agencies, and he seized it.
But still I have questions. I want to know more about the intersection of Wout van Aert and luxury candles, and how they improve his home life – indeed, whether they do at all, or whether they are an olfactory distraction from his career. I want to understand precisely which scents waft through the Van Aert/De Bie home, whether there are hints of sage and yuzu or whether our guy goes for the “sexy” aroma of ‘Fire Me Up’, all Cuban tobacco and oak. In fact, I want to know what Wout van Aert would smell like if he was a fancy candle so much that last night I dreamed about trying to corner him for an interview about it, which is why I know from bitter first-hand experience that De Bie gets fiercely protective of their investment and that an irritated Van Aert turns to his press officer and says “what the fuck is this guy asking me about my candles for?”, and then storms off. I pursue him tirelessly in search of the scoop, following our guy into an abandoned old mansion where the stairs are like an Escher painting. He gets away, I go outside again, and then I see a unicorn jump the fence into the yard.
But I digress. Does he have the medicinal, sugary scent of a crisply popped can of Red Bull? Does he have a hint of patchouli and horse blanket? Does he, as a hypothetical candle, smell of fresh-cut lawns and petrichor? What secrets do Wout van Aert’s candles hold, and could they please stop haunting my dreams?
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