One of the best parts of my job is when I get to interview fashion industry types – designers, stylists, models – in their houses. As well as being nosy-parker nirvana, it’s always a sensory treat: beautiful people, beautiful clothes, beautiful interiors – and, without fail, beautiful smells. Because every one of their homes has an array of flickering premium scented candles.
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Suffice to say, no one’s house pongs of last night’s dinner or wet dog, rather Diptyque’s classic Figuier (Victoria Beckham’s favourite), something coolly unisex from Byredo with its chic black wax or, for real connoisseurs, Solis Rex by Parisian brand Cire Trudon, established in 1643 and candle provider to Marie Antoinette, no less.
It’s a trend that has trickled down to civilians too. Like many of my friends’ houses, mine is liberally scattered with candles – from the spendy Miller Harris ones I receive as birthday presents to the White Company jars I buy myself. (At around £20, they’re half the price of some premium ones, but still, have a great ‘throw’ – candlemakers’ parlance for ‘nice smell’).
More than a quarter of British households now buy scented candles, according to Credence Research company Kantar, with spend up 22 percent between 2014 and 2015. Today the market is worth an eye-popping £90 million.
‘Candles are one of the fastest-growing areas of our beauty business, with sales almost tripling in the last year, and the UK is the biggest market in Europe,’ says Sophie Bottwood, senior beauty merchandiser at Net-a-Porter.
The site offers 136 candles, the most expensive a £390, 1.2kg giant from Fornasetti, the Milanese label named after the 20th-century painter and sculptor whose artworks feature on its vessels. It’s as much an objet d’art as it is a lump of wax.
‘Candles are big business,’ agrees Sarah Coonan, a beauty buyer at Liberty. ‘When we post anything featuring a candle on our Instagram we see a huge spike in engagement.’ The London store has a dedicated candle ‘apothecary’, with a selection of premium favorites and hard-to-find cult brands.
‘Our bestseller for over a decade has been Diptyque Baies, while our most expensive is the Le Labo Santal concrete candle at 1.2kg, which is £300.’ Meanwhile, independent perfumer Miller Harris reports a 30 percent growth in candle sales in the last year, while the White Company has seen a 38 percent rise.
At the other end of the scale, candlemaking is a burgeoning cottage industry – not least because if you want to DIY a beauty product, it’s a darn sight easier to make a candle than, say, a lipstick. As a result, scented candles have become the new cupcakes.
Sophie Beresiner, beauty director at Elle and founder of new candle brand No.22, started off experimenting at her kitchen stove. ‘In theory, making a candle is relatively easy,’ she says. ‘But in reality there are so many variables that affect the final outcome. Finding a formula that works is like winning the lottery.’
Then there’s the rise of the ‘mandle’, the male-friendly candle, often scented with fresh, grassy-smelling vetiver or something woody like sandalwood. Men’s designer website Mr Porter has seen candle sales grow at the same rate as its sister site, Net-a-Porter, and friends have noted that their husbands have begun buying from brands such as Byredo, which has subdued packaging.
Tom Daxon, head of his own eponymous candle business, says, ‘I’m 28 and men of my generation are very into grooming. They buy candles a lot, including the blokey rugby club types.’
One thing that’s driving the trend is the muscling in by new brands on territory once occupied by heritage candlemakers such as Diptyque, the 55-year-old Parisian brand beloved of celebrities. (Madonna and Jennifer Lopez both have them on their tour riders.)
A candle offers a point of entry to a luxury brand, in the same way a lipstick might. ‘You have customers who can’t afford a £3,000 jacket but who can buy a candle,’ says Amanda Morgan, Diptyque’s UK managing director. ‘It’s a status symbol, a way of getting that brand into your house.’
There’s also the trend for scenting events, with Jo Malone providing a ‘scented playground experience’ backstage at this year’s Brit Awards (they used Red Roses and Green Tomato Leaf) and Diptyque responsible for fragrancing the Frieze art fair and numerous fashion shows. ‘People now see that fragrance has as much impact as lighting and music,’ Morgan says.
That translates to our homes too – we want our houses to smell as good as they look. ‘Lifestyle and interiors blogs have candles in almost every photo,’ Daxon says. And we’re happy to display a candle’s branding on its vessel, in a way that we wouldn’t countenance having ‘Heal’s’ embroidered on our sofa.
Premium-brand candles are, however, expensive. A standard-size one (around 190g, burning time 40 hours) will set you back at least £40. ‘It’s like wine, you get what you pay for – you can smell the difference between something high-quality and something that isn’t,’ says Morgan.
Premium candles, then, are worth the investment. But to return to my brother’s point: are we simply burning money by investing in smelly wax? ‘You could say that about so many things we buy that aren’t necessities,’ says Tom Daxon. ‘If you get pleasure from burning a candle then why not? Life is about these small joys.’
So while I can live without Diptyque’s wick trimming tool (£20) and Cire Trudon’s glass display cloche (£62), I’ll be keeping those seductively flickering glass jars on my coffee table for now.
What does your candle say about you?
Diptyque Figuier: You like to play it safe with this enduring favourite, loved by celebrities and fashion folk. You keep the jar prominently displayed long after it’s run out.
Molton Brown Three Wick Orange and Bergamot: Your husband and/or children buy you this every Christmas. Unimaginative, yes, but it smells lovely and is preferable to yet another pashmina.
Ideo Parfumeurs Jasmin de Beyrouth: You’re a candle nerd. You loitered around Liberty’s for intel on this hip new brand. At only £35 it has incredible throw – smells like a £60 job.
Miller Harris La Fumée: You’re a fan of the classics, but also like to make fashion-forward choices. Your new pick is pretty with an edge – how you secretly hope your friends describe you.
The White Company Twenty One: Your home is spotless – when the kids are at school and the dog’s out, at least. You like to light this and dream of being able to have a white sofa.
Tom Daxon Sous les Glycines: You are a modern man whose father thinks it’s hilarious that you buy candles. You also spend too much money on beard oil and manicures.
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