There can be no more powerful illustration of the widespread popularity of the scented candle than the 2011 wedding of Britain’s Prince William to Kate Middleton. The bride transformed the Gothic interior of London’s Westminster Abbey into a luscious green forest, using maple trees. What really hit the headlines, however, and garnered column inches in many an interior magazine, were the Jo Malone candles that filled the air with their sweet floral scent.
The candles were a personal touch by the bride and they also reflect what is now an international obsession. Sales of scented candles have reached the millions, with hundreds of different brands on the market. The once humble candle industry has grown into a luxury lifestyle experience, including room scents, candle melts and, most recently, scented matches. It’s a striking example of how an industry – which arguably should have died out with the invention of the electric light bulb – can become a global phenomenon. The candle itself has become a coveted luxury item, used to add atmosphere to a room.
Cire Trudon is one of the oldest candle makers in the world. The brand was founded in 1643 and supplied candles to the court of Louis XIV, Marie Antoinette and Napoleon Bonaparte. It is believed that, in 1811, Bonaparte gave a Cire Trudon candle as a gift to his son on his birth. The candle was embellished with three pieces of gold that depicted the shape of the baby’s head. Combining its unique mix of palm oil, rice, soy and copra, with its distilling method, the company created the perfect, durable candle, and Cire Trudon has always understood that the candle could be a luxury accessory.
Today, Cire Trudon is one of the most renowned candle makers in the world. It is celebrated for its hard-blown glass containers designed in Italy, rich scents and designer collaborations, including partnerships with Giambattista Valli and French-Turkish jewellery designer Yaz Bukey. Julien Pruvost, the company’s executive director, says the house works with six ‘noses’ – perfumers – to add complexity to its scents. ‘Candles can bring back the smell of a vacation, a memory – that’s the power of scent,’ he explains. The company is truly artisanal in its approach and has even commissioned the artist Lawrence Mynott to create illustrations for each candle scent.
French perfumer Diptyque is one of the biggest names in the industry. When the company started making scented candles in 1963, it quickly gained a cult following. The brand produced three scents, Thé, Cannelle and Aubépine, and international fashion editors were soon bringing Diptyque candles back from Paris to feature in their pages. The company reached the mainstream when its blackcurrant and rose Baies candle was featured on a hit US television show.
This exposure introduced Diptyque candles to a whole new audience and helped pave the way for a new wave of international candle perfumers, from Tom Ford and Miller Harris to Acqua di Parma. Historic perfume houses, such as Guerlain and Dior, have also started to create scented candles alongside their famed fragrances. Today, almost every dinner party, charity gala or art gallery opening you attend will be filled with the aroma of scented candles. Even boutiques have embraced the trend, with Lanvin’s Parisian flagship burning Diptyque’s Baies.
The choice of candle scent is a very personal one and is intrinsically linked to memory. Art director and model Julia Restoin Roitfeld says that the smell of Diptyque’s Tuberose will forever remind her of her parents and indeed her mother, former editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris Carine Roitfeld, says her home was always filled with this intoxicating, exotic scent. Kate Moss swears by the sweet and heady smell of Diptyque’s Roses candle while New York-based designer Peter Som burns Diptyque’s Baies in his studio and uses the empty containers to house his pencils.
This global obsession with scented candles has led to ever more creative uses of scent itself. The celebrated French perfumer Francis Kurkdjian is renowned for fusing fragrance with art, and once famously filled the outdoor ballroom water feature at Versailles with 600 perfumed candles. In 2009, Kurkdjian launched his own luxury fragrance house, Maison Francis Kurkdjian, and this elegant brand has gone from strength to strength. His olfactive installations include the creation of a greenhouse of scented bubbles in the Grand Palais in 2010 and, in 2006, he turned the fountains in the gardens of Versailles into a scented basin, so that the smell of orange blossom rose on the force of the fountains and wafted in the evening breeze – an event worthy of Louis XIV himself.