Can’t you smell that smell?

Modern candles are savory, affordable luxuries

by Grant Tillery

For ages, candles had a fusty reputation. They were overbearingly fruity and chemical — entering Bed Bath & Beyond resulted in no less than scenticide. There was nothing arousing about the scent or sight of candles. They were long, skinny sticks that stuck out like sore thumbs in their surroundings instead of complementing them.

But about 20 years ago, candles began staging a slow, steady comeback, shedding their bad reputation. European candle makers, such as Diptyque and Santa Maria Novella, began toning down scents and playing with scent combinations, allowing smells to waft delicately rather than overpower a room.

Staple scents like beeswax have been joined by modern ones such as grapefruit, vetiver and cannabis. Last fall, street-style powerhouse Supreme began offering a Virgin Mary candle.

New candles are more attractive. Short, wide and circular, they can work almost anywhere in any room. Votives are also having their day, because they’re inexpensive and easy to travel with.

Many of today’s candles are made sustainably. In the past, pollutant-laden paraffin wax was their primary substance. Now, it’s used less.  Modern candle makers are turning to healthier, natural materials like beeswax and soy.

Often, candles are used alone instead of being paired, but that shouldn’t always be the case. Matthew Malin, CEO of New York City-based apothecary Malin + Goetz, said he believes scents should balance each other out.

He suggests pairing heavy, spicy scents with light ones — for example, using vetiver (a type of grass) to create complex, savory smells. You can complement or contrast scents, but the candles must not jockey for attention.

Some candles emit extremely light scents. Jonny Klipp, owner of Minneapolis Chandlery, crafts a line of unscented beeswax. He works with beeswax because it “has a nice color and fragrance to it.”

Klipp also makes soy candles, which get colored and have fragrances added.

Of his scents, Klipp’s favorite is the lemongrass and eucalyptus soy candle. “It’s sweet and zingy,” he said. Like Malin’s, Klipp’s candles balance light and heavy scents — his best sellers are wildflower honey and sweetgrass sage. The difference from Malin is that Klipp’s scents are combined into one candle, rather than paired.

While Klipp plays with more traditional fragrances, Malin turns the concept of scent upside down. Take Malin + Goetz’s cannabis candle. Though the scent of cannabis is undeniable, it seems counterintuitive to burn a candle that may make your neighbors call the cops or get you written up by your RA.

Cannabis is Malin + Goetz’s signature scent, though it doesn’t include any actual bud. The smell that evokes weed is actually a blend of earthy elements, including oakmoss, sandlewood and amber-patchouli.

Customers like it because of its seductive qualities. It’s a “heavier, spicier green scent that’s sexy,” Malin said. It’s meant to be paired with Malin + Goetz’s neroli candle, which is based on orange blossoms and has similar healing and mood altering qualities.

You can achieve this mood altering at a low price. While Malin + Goetz’s large candles cost $52, their compact votives come in at $14, cheap enough to buy a pair.

Minneapolis Chandlery’s candles cost between $6 (soy tea lights) and $22 (large beeswax pillar candle). The company has a storefront near Minnehaha Creek, where they make and sell their candles. For those who want to make their own candles, they offer several candle-making classes. Right now, they’re offering a soy workshop ($40) and a beeswax workshop ($50).

The candle craft is burning this bright for good reason. They’re luxurious and keep your house from smelling like 3-week-old steak tartare — though with today’s trends, that could be the next big scent.