How Britain became obsessed with scented candles

Ohen Niko Dafkos started his scented candle manufacturing business, nervous customers worried that their sense of smell wasn’t good enough or weren’t sure what they liked. Fast forward eight years, including the scented candle craze that has gripped the UK during lockdown, and he is continually surprised by everything his customers know.

The change he has seen in visitors to his Earl of East stores in London “has been incredible to see”, he said. “[Previously] those who didn’t work with perfume in a professional setting felt like they couldn’t participate in a conversation about perfume. It’s similar to the democratization of cooking and cooking a decade ago.

Scented candles are now big business. Figures from data analysts Kantar show that between March 2021 and 2022, UK consumers spent £418 million on scented candles. John Lewis reported that sales have increased by 5% every year since 2020, when they jumped 12%, with recent particular interest in cheaper ranges, including own-brand candles.

Jo Malone, the perfumer whose name has become synonymous with fragrance, said the main change she has seen in her years in the industry is that good quality scented candles have become much more affordable. “When scented candles first appeared they were high end luxury. It’s amazing now: you go to supermarkets or anywhere and you can find a scented candle from £5,” she said.

Malone, who has collaborated with Zara on a range of £15 candles, said while budget candles don’t use the most expensive essential oils, many cheaper ranges rely on the same skills and expertise. expertise than their more expensive counterparts. “When I work for Zara, I don’t change the way I work… If you burn yourself blind [cheaper scented candles] I don’t think you would be able to tell most of them apart.

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She has also seen tastes move away from traditional British preferences for citrus or floral notes towards deeper, woodier scents that are more popular in the Middle East: for example oud, cedar wood or leather. . And among a younger clientele, a focus on the environment has increased demand for nature-inspired green scents, she said.

The wide range of fragrances available reflects the scale of demand, which has been supercharged during the pandemic. “People were looking at their own four walls and thinking, ‘This is my home, my classroom, my gym, how can I change it?’ The power of perfume is that it is the keeper of memories, it takes you to where you remember. Scented candles transform this space into something different,” Malone said.

Gwyneth Paltrow with a candle called This Smells Like My Vagina.
Gwyneth Paltrow caused a stir when her company Goop produced a £75 candle called This Smells Like My Vagina. Composed: Goop and Netflix

Academic perfume experts say the pandemic has put a renewed emphasis on smell due to Covid anosmia and airborne transmission, combined with the influence on modern culture of ideas from medieval and Victorian medicine around the healing properties of cool or fragrant air: for example, burning rosemary to ward off the plague or being prescribed sea ​​air.

Cecilia Bembibre, a researcher specializing in the heritage of smells at UCL, said the scented candles also reminded people of places they loved but could not access. Traditionally, home fragrance has sought to bring the outdoors in – for example, the potpourri of dried flowers in the 18th century – to evoke exotic places or remind us of comforting memories, exemplified by the popularity of scented candles with the library. “We try to create our own imaginary journey, we redefine our home invisibly,” she said.

Scent is known to be strongly associated with memory, which explains the popularity of scented candles like British seaside destinations, favorite foods or office or the gym during confinement. “Smell has a very powerful ability to evoke our memories or connections to other people and places, whether it’s parents or vacations we hold fond memories of, especially places from our childhood” said William Tullett, associate professor of sensory history at Anglia Ruskin University.

Fragrance expert Lizzie Ostrom said the popularity of scented candles has sparked wider interest in home fragrances. Demand has also increased for other delivery methods, for example incense (Pinterest data shows an 80% increase over the past month for searches for incense burners) or reed diffusers. Likewise, multi-sensory experiences are becoming increasingly popular, including in theaters and museums, while hotels and bars will pay for perfumery consultants.

She said: “Rather than the smell being pleasantly in the background, we now know that it does some pretty deep things on our brains that are just as important. In a way, smell has had PR work, accelerated by Covid, so you don’t have to say “it’s interesting that we’re thinking about it”. Many people now say “I understand”.

Some of the weirdest scented candles


Thursday Happy Hour Eau d'Office on a High Table Candle.
Thursday Happy Hour Eau d’Office on a High Table Candle. Photography: Office Water

If you’ve found yourself craving a “96-page hot deck left on the printer” and the “afternoon coffee rush” during lockdown, then you’re not alone: ​​this are two of the most popular fragrances produced by Office water. Other delicious smells to encourage you to return to the office post-pandemic include “Room 12F.1 after a six-hour workshop” and “Breakfast leftovers in Editing Suite 1.”


Before the pandemic, Gwyneth Paltrow caused a stir when her wellness company Goop produced a £75 candle named It smells like my vagina. It’s described as a “funny, beautiful, sexy and beautifully unexpected scent” and perhaps seeks a bit generously to capture the female anatomy through a blend of geranium, lemony bergamot, cedar, damask rose and ambrette seed.

British seaside

If you’ve been pining for summers in Great Yarmouth, now you can fill your living room with ‘essence of sunscreen’, the scent of fish and the fresh smell of sea air. The candles are made by Parkdean Stationswhich runs holiday parks across the UK, and includes Scarborough, with cockle concentrate and ice cream elixir, and a candle made with “earthy aromas of local sand”, which evokes Clacton-on -Sea.

weird food

Any food you can think of, there’s a scented candle for it. The Co stink candle lives up to its name by producing pizza, curry and pickle scented candles. For more serious candle fans, tomato-based scents are surprisingly popular right now – luxury fashion retailer Net-a-Porter says they are among its top sellers.

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