As observed in our 2019 report, we the people still live and breathe celebrity fragrances. Custom perfumes and colognes have become a highly coveted staple in the package deal on the road to celebrity, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that the next phase in the scent category is candles.
The future of commercial scents seems less fixated on celebrity-endorsed fragrances, as we see a shift toward limited-edition candle collaborations. Prayer candles are cute and all — Kim Kardashian West even tried to cash in on that trend while it lasted in addition to her signature KKW Fragrance candle — but what consumers really want is something intimate that reminds them of the stars they stan. Last year, Tyler, the Creator teamed up with retaW to create GOLF WANG's debut scented candle, "COLDWATER." If Gwyneth Paltrow could convince enough people in the Goop community that they needed Heretic's potent (and political) “This Smells Like My Vagina” candle, then there's honestly no telling what people won't buy to get a whiff of fame in the form of a flame.
Heretic founder and perfumer Douglas Little has a deep connection with candles as an artist, viewing the “pedestrian item” as an important tool for crafting ambiance while also opening a window to sensuality that is often overlooked.
“When I mean sensuality I’m not talking about sexuality,” he explains. “I’m talking about being in touch with one’s sensuality and having moments to really enjoy and having something like a fragrance candle increases one's ability to connect to an environment and connect to others. It puts you in a different state of mind. Candles allow me to create unique fragrance profiles that people can bring into their world.”
“This Smells Like My Vagina” started out as an inside joke between Little and Paltrow. His on-going collaboration with Goop's in-house fragrance collection led to the creation of this “sexy and conversational” candle which was “designed to be cheeky, fun and celebrate femininity, and also taking the stigma that some women have around themselves and their vaginas and giving it a different spin and celebrating the beauty, the magic and the power of the vagina.”
“Often I will go to Gwyneth and show her really unusual scent profiles because she likes polarizing fragrances and things that are unique and nuanced,” Little says. “I brought her a fragrance I was working on, and when she smelled it she said, ‘Oh my god this smells like a vagina.’ We laughed hysterically, and it became an ongoing joke because it was such a funny and powerful statement. The fragrance notes are suede, leather, and ambrette seed, which really have a soft skin sexuality to them that was very important. The heart of the fragrance is built around a really extraordinary rose that is sheer, green, crisp and really fresh. The top of the fragrance is built with bergamot that gives it that super optimistic, clean and citrusy bite to it.”
When it comes to collaboration, Little typically looks for “someone who is aligned with my values and the values of the company.” He's interested in working with “powerful women who have very strong opinions and they are what they believe in.” In 2017, Heretic collaborated with burlesque icon Dita Von Teese on Scandalwood, “the world's first striptease candle.”
“The word heretic means someone who has chosen to walk a path that is different from others and that has an opinion that is diametrically opposed to that of the masses,” says Little. “I couldn’t find someone who was more aligned with that statement than Gwyneth Paltrow. We are both coming from the same place in that we feel it is time to disrupt the status quo and it is time to create products that have humor and are gorgeous, that are made clean and have no toxic ingredients. Who better for me to collaborate with than someone who is so aligned with my core values?”
“This Smells Like My Vagina” is currently on backorder but was recently restocked at Goop. Little suspects that the candle primarily sold-out for two reasons: the product's provocative name and “because there is a consciousness of women becoming very in touch with who they are, their power and being very comfortable and proud.”
Recently, Boy Smells revealed an exclusive collaboration with Kacey Musgraves. Slow Burn marks the experimental indie brand's first-ever celebrity candle, and as longtime fans of the Grammy Award-winning country star, partnering with her was a no brainer. According to co-founder Matthew Herman, this personal-turned-professional relationship with Musgraves began organically through DMs about their classic KUSH candle. As expected, Slow Burn immediately sold-out online and the pre-order waitlist hit a whopping 10,000 names (the candle is available for pre-order on the Boy Smells website and will be restocked in April).
“We see [Musgraves] as a role model for breaking down barriers and living authentically, a shared core value of ours and Boy Smells,” Herman said in an email. “With her support of the queer community, sense of humor, and outstanding good-taste, collaborating with Kacey on our first-ever celebrity collection just felt right.”
Musgraves fan William Landi had an interest in candles long before the Boy Smells collaboration came about. Since graduating from Georgetown University, the ritual of lighting candles has become a fundamental part of his weekend routine. As someone who is “pretty particular” about candles (and personally gravitates toward scents layered with woody and earthy notes), he prefers to smell scented products before purchasing. But Landi didn't hesitate to buy Slow Burn because “a Kacey candle is a hilariously exact intersection of interests that I’m vocal about.” He considers himself a happy customer and “would definitely recommend to a friend regardless of the collaboration."
“I love that the candle isn’t over the top or tacky, which is what I normally associate with celebrity collaborations,” he says. “From the packaging to the scent itself, it feels like a genuine extension of [Golden Hour].”
Landi didn't even read the full description for the candle before placing his order, but describes the smell as “warm, earthy, and familiar.” He adds, “I feel relaxed and a little nostalgic when I smell it. It reminds me of trying to hang out with my older brother and his friends when they were holed away in a bedroom burning incense. It also reminds me of early autumn when you can keep your windows open for the first time in months.”
Helena Barquet, co-founder and co-owner of Coming Soon, previously told us that “it’s a very personal thing to give somebody a scent” should you decide to gift a candle, so it makes sense that more celebrities would be interested in exploring this route. Scented candles are the gateway into a more elevated consumer experience and direct access to a market with a reported revenue of $3.14 billion annually.
Little believes that the old model of celebrity-endorsed fragrances is dead. “The future is about tastemakers and people that have something to say and those who stand for something,” he says. “It has to be reflected in the way that products are made. The days are gone when you can buy an off-the-shelf fragrance or skincare formula and slap your name on it and expect to become a multi-millionaire. The customers are smart and savvy, and if they are going to spend money, they are going to spend it on something that aligns with their core values and who they are. The product has to be made ethically, it has to be made sustainably, the manufacturer has to be thinking about recyclability and has to be making sure that the product is actually good for the person wearing it and for the environment. It's a much different conversation than we had 10 or 15 years ago.”
Perhaps it all comes down to celebrities being human though. Like the rest of us, they enjoy the simple luxuries in life like a pleasant aroma to set the mood. As Little explains, “there is also a sort of specific ritual with candles that we don’t think about. The idea of striking a match and lighting a candle is something that we should give more resonance. Allowing yourself to have this space where you are creating an environment that is comfortable, safe and seductive. It really recharges the soul in a way that many other things simply cannot.”
But maybe candles are just another elaborate hack in disguise to dupe fans into becoming even more obsessed with celebrity culture. After all, there's nothing stronger than scent memory — and all the emotions that come with it will only deepen the connection of customers.
“I think [the Kacey Musgraves x Boy Smells] collaboration is a testament to both their potential and the strong connection between scents and music,” says Landi. “I feel like the standard celebrity fragrance is a bottle with a named slapped on it, which is not the case here. Kacey’s songs evoke very specific feelings and scenes, and the collaboration was able to genuinely echo those in a candle. I hope it pushes other collaborations to strive for the same level of continuity and connection.”