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Unusual Candles Are Having a Moment

By Renée Batchelor

Strange Scents

A selection of scented candles. Clockwise from top left: D.S. and Durga’s Portable Fireplace, Le Labo Santal 26 (3), Frederic Malle’s Russian Nights, Byredo’s Apocalypse, Heretic Parfum’s Siri House, D.S. and Durga’s Concrete After Lightning. (Photograph: Tung Pham. Styling: Michelle Kok)


Scented candles are still considered a kind of luxury in a world of diffusers. Both people and objects look better under the flattering glow of candlelight — and though we always advocate for safe burning — the allure of an open flame holds a certain charm, romanticism (and danger) for those who remain devoted to candles. It’s also relatively easy for us: just strike a match and you’re good to go.

But as tastes evolve, so has the demand for candles that are don’t just burn well and diffuse evenly, but have unusual notes, abstract inspirations or clever design touches. Crowd favourites like Diptyque’s Baies have given way to conceptual candles or ones that evoke very specific emotions or experiences. In these times, burning Byredo’s Apocalyptic — a scent meant to evoke the end of times with notes like fire iron, oakmoss and papyrus— might be a little too on the nose, but is no doubt a source of comfort to many stuck at home. Even cult candles like Le Labo’s Santal 26 — also known as the only candle Beyoncé will use — come in special concrete-inspired packaging that would look more at home amidst industrial-themed décor than a traditional glass jar candle might.

One of the most controversial candles in recent months was Heretic Parfum’s This Smells Like My Vagina that retailed on goop.com. Created by perfumer Douglas Little, the cheeky candle was not meant to approximate the natural odour of any body part per se, but instead used geranium, bergamot, cedar absolutes and Damask rose notes to create a warm, seductive scent. By subverting our relationship with scents and what we traditionally associate them with, candles are breaking new ground in perfumery.

Stores and restaurants are also recognising the need to create a scent signature and how that can be part of brand building. Little also created a candle for Siri House, a social and dining space that has outlets in both Bangkok and Singapore. Mai Timblick, the chief brand officer of Sansiri says, “We wanted a scent that reflected this elegance while also evoking this feeling of warmth, comfort and familiarity; a scent that could be associated with coming home. Douglas took this brief and created a youthful, contemporary fragrance that is feminine and soft while also setting the physical scene for Siri House through scent. Taking inspiration from Siri House’s location, its surrounding landscape and lush greenery, he envisioned a place overflowing with creative conversation and designed a fragrance with a floral heart and fresh, invigorating greenness.”

The result is a scent that uses Rose de Mai, yuzu, Damask rose, bergamot and geranium (the latter three notes seem to be favourites of Little). Timblick feels that the Siri House candle is a great home scent. “As a scent, it’s refined and invigorating yet comforting and familiar — the perfect fragrance for home. We especially loved working with Douglas [Little] as he goes against the grain of scent design and creation. All his fragrances are handcrafted in small batches using only naturally-derived materials. You can appreciate the difference,” says Timblick.

For a small perfumery like the Brooklyn-based D.S. & Durga, candles come in different scents from the perfumes, for several reasons according to co-founder Kavi Moltz. “We feel that what you want to put on your body is different than what you want in your home. They're not always the same thing,” she says. Candles like the brand’s Portable Fireplace — that has heart notes of smoke and oak ash — is meant to help your surroundings smell like a fireplace even (and especially) when you don’t have one. A scent like Concrete After Lightning, meanwhile, is meant to capture the scent of a downpour and sizzling asphalt in the summer. Again, the fragrance may be great for the home, but not necessarily something you may want to christen as your next signature scent.

There are also practical reasons behind the fact that candle scents have to be specifically formulated and can’t simply be replicated from an existing fragrance. “You can't just take a perfume and put it into wax and burn it. [Our candle scents] are formulated to burn properly with wax. Because not all perfumes can, you would have to edit them and adjust them, and they wouldn’t really be the same fragrance anymore,” explains Moltz.