The performance of symbolic behaviour is innate. From prehistoric cairns, stones stacked as an offering to the gods, to lighting a votive candle, man has always relied upon the sense of comfort and control performing a ritual — be it spiritual or symbolic — brings. It is interesting to note that even as we hurtle towards the space age, we are increasingly turning to millennia-old practices as the world remains chaotic and uncertain as ever. Whether performed consciously or not, there is much to be said for the calming rite of rituals, be it a mandatory morning meditation session (Oprah Winfrey) to walking over freshly spilt water between dressing room and stage before every performance (violinist Vanessa-Mae).
It was based on this understanding of human needs and nature that Datin Catherine Lai decided to set up 3Rituals. “It was in the midst of the pandemic, in July 2020, that I realised something in me needed to change,” she says. “I had always been involved in charity but I felt I could do more.”
An interior designer by training and vocation, Lai’s forte is bringing empty spaces to life, imbuing them with elements that extend beyond mere aesthetics. “Spaces have to be thoughtful, liveable and, above all, inspiring. 3Rituals is the longed-for love child of my two great passions: interior design and my connection with nature.”
If you have yet to visit its site, threerituals.com, it is essentially a collection of finely-made home fragrances, tableware and decorative items, all meticulously sourced for and curated by Lai. “I wanted thoughtful pieces for homes and offices, beautiful objects for personal and public spaces, and so I searched for things from nature … gemstones and metals that are often overlooked, commonplace pieces that become extraordinary when paired together. As an interior designer, I am trained to work around the elements of space, line, form, light, colour, texture and pattern. The key is finding the right balance to create an aesthetically pleasing interior. It’s the same with home décor and tableware — just on a smaller scale.”
“Each item is made using a crystal, gemstone or other natural mineral,” she continues. “No two products are exactly the same. The gemstones are ethically-sourced from Brazil, Madagascar and South Africa. When you purchase a handcrafted piece, you bring home something from Mother Earth, something that connects you to struggle, triumph and aspirations of humanity. Gemstones by themselves can’t bring you love, luck or money — they only work when you actively engage with their energy as they amplify your inner vibrations and help you see opportunities … even in the midst of a pandemic.”
Those who cannot resist a beautiful bougie will be equally delighted with 3Rituals’ offerings, which are made using environmentally-friendly soy wax and infused with fragrant oils from the 110-year-old perfume maison Drom. (Drom has recently been acquired by another equally celebrated perfume company, Givaudan.)
Lai came up with “3Rituals” based on her name (C being the third letter of the alphabet) as well as her family unit, which comprises herself and her two precious boys, and the value trinity she upholds: create, collect, curate. “Each step has been a delicate process, a mindful and beautiful ritual for me. And if you do things with good intentions, that itself is akin to a beautiful ritual,” she explains. “Besides being the brand name, 3Rituals is also an attitude, an outlook and a way of living. We should be the ones who create our own happiness, collect the experiences that propel us forward and curate what heals, motivates and enriches us. Leonard Cohen calls it a dance: ‘Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin, Dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in, Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove, Dance me to the end of love’.”
Although her products are only available online for now, Lai does not discount the idea of having a bricks-and-mortar store one day. “It’s definitely in the works. After all, some things must be held and touched in order to truly appreciate their beauty. It goes without saying that as an inveterate interior designer, I already have the physical store all planned out,” she smiles. “It would feature natural material furnishings, lots of greenery and colourful art pieces on the wall that are calming and invigorating. Nothing beats the experience of feeling a finely-carved jewellery box, running your fingers on a finely-crafted surface or even breathing in the gentle scent of a fragrance. But beyond serving as a display of our product range, I would want the envisioned space to be a venue for events, talks, workshops … a place where women can come to be inspired and empowered and where no one leaves without a renewed sense of confidence.”
On the women that have inspired Lai herself, she names two without hesitation: “Ganga Nayar, founder of the Malaysian Workers’ Party, the first woman to lead a political party in the country and the first Malaysian Indian woman to be elected to a legislature in Malaysia. And Ada Lovelace, the brilliant mathematician and science visionary, who invented computer programming after writing the first algorithm for the first computer. Charles Babbage may have invented the machine but all the poor man saw was a ginormous calculator.”
This article first appeared on Mar 8, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.