Our candle-obsessive writer explains the sensory appeal of the beloved home accessory, the best you should buy, and the rituals you must undertake in order to experience a candle fully
What is it about smell that makes it the most visceral of all our senses? Scent is a time machine—it can transport you back to your childhood and the wafting spices of grandma’s baking, or dial us back to beachside vacations where salty air mingles with the fragrance of suntan lotion and fruity cocktails. That’s why perfumes are such an impulsive and deeply personal purchase: you can have an army of experts tell you which one is the most technically perfect scent is, but eventually, you will go with what speaks to your heart and gut.
For me, scented candles fall into the same category. The ritual of trimming the wick to just the right size, lighting the candle and breathing in its silage is an almost meditative experience. Like many others, I’m obsessive about the candles I allow into my collection, and light specific ones at different times of the year: Diptyque’s most popular candle Baies (or berries) is my summer burn of choice, and so are Nest Fragrances’ Bamboo and Birchwood Pine. For fall, I veer towards tobacco-scented flavours, while in winter, the smell of woodfire from Diptyque’s Feu de Bois sends a comforting message. At nostalgic moments, I’ll light a wick to take me back in time—Indian brand Niana manufactured the signature scent for Ananda in the Himalayas, and I light that very sparingly to remind me of the blissful week I spent in the mountain spa.
Like fine perfume, good candles can be expensive. Unfortunately, unlike perfume, you can’t test out a candle before buying, so there’s a fair amount of trial and error involved. To be safe, buy one candle from each brand to start, and see how they perform. Often, different scents even from the same brand will perform differently: some might be milder and only fragrance a small corner of the room, while some flavours might permeate through your entire home. In essence, you want to be aware of a few things while testing:
- The first time you light a new candle, allow it to burn for a few hours at the least, so the whole top layer of wax is molten. If you don’t allow that process to take place, your candle will tunnel, or not burn to the edges of the jar.
- Always trim the wick to 1/4 or 1/8 of an inch to keep the candle from burning too quick or smoking. Start with ¼ of an inch and if the candle starts smoking or the flame is too high, trim down even more. Too long a wick will cause the problems mentioned above, but a too-short wick might drown in its own pool of wax and you won’t be able to light it again, or will cause the candle to tunnel, so proceed with caution.
- After you put out a candle, reposition the wick so it’s in the center of the jar. Wicks not positioned correctly will cause an uneven burn and your candle will not melt uniformly in the future.
- A candle’s scent should be evident even as you near the end of the jar: if the scent ceases to be emitted halfway, avoid repurchasing from that brand.
- As for accessories, some are essential: a candle trimmer is a necessity if you’re serious about starting a collection, it allows you to comfortably cut the wick without struggling with a pair of scissors. Secondly, a glass candle shade will help a wick burn more evenly if there is a draught in your room which affects uniform burning.
Below are some iconic luxury candle makers and their most beloved scents, as well as a few new contenders and worthy Indian brands.