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New Flames

I own a candle that smells divine and sits in a glass roughly the size of a generous scotch and water. It was a gift. When I opened it, I was taken aback by instructions admonishing me, en anglaise et franaise, to keep the wick straight and centered. Wick maintenance has never been one of my strong suits, so I neglected the poor thing and it was wandering way off course until one of my truly chic friends exclaimed: “Oh, you have a Diptyque!” She was amazed that I could possess so fine an object and informed me that it cost 40 bucks and was a vanguard item. I am all over that wick now, let me tell you.

Since that conversation a year ago, there has been such an explosion of candle chic that every hot restaurant, home design department and shop looks like the Vatican on All Saints’ Day. Candles used to be confined to stores with names like Wick ‘n’ Things, those lace-ridden boutiques that sold soap shaped like seashells and cherub napkin rings. Then aromatherapy turned candles into instruments of mood alteration, and Banana Republic and the Gap tried to connect this somehow with a well-balanced wardrobe. Now candles are not only decorative punctuation but purveyors of room fragrance. And we’re not talking Glade. Because the next step in the candle construct is here--designer perfumed illumination. Donna Karan. Aveda. Origins. Ralph Lauren. Robert Isabell. Calvin Klein, for crying out loud. Cosmetic and clothing lines have gone into the beeswax biz.

Most Aveda and Origins products tend toward fragrant substances in nifty containers, so candles are right up their respective alleys. Origins has two, Into the Woods and Clean Sheets, in glass jars, while Aveda has a whole line, with names such as Euphoric, Madagascar and Rainforest. Aveda dares to call them “plant pure-fumes,” rich and complex fragrances, neatly packaged in recycled green glass. It also seems natural that florist/party maven/perfumer Robert Isabell would produce a half-dozen floral scents with names such as Green Elysium, Nightbloom, Swiss Mountain Air and White Gingerlily Frangipani. (For the horticultural novice, frangipani is dogbane. Perfect for bed and bath.)

For the big-name designers, candles seem a bit more of a reach since theirs is more of a nature vs. couture mindset. St. Laurent has a heart-shaped candle jar that is sticky sweet, both in form and scent. Oscar de la Renta’s new home fragrance, City, comes in a tumblerized “long-burning” version (for $45, it ought to burn continuously for eight days and nights). Donna Karan is operating under the time-honored assumption that more is more. Part of a new line of home products christened Scents and Sensuality (get it?), her candles are as much for the eye as for the nose. They come in two fragrances--Invigorating and Calming; two shapes--square and oval; two sizes--short and tall; and four colors--black, ivory, taupe and chartreuse. They are very striking. Where else can you get black candles sans pentagram? But a word of warning: The tall of either shape is not a wise decorator’s choice for tiny apartments. Think cathedral ceilings, darling; think eight-foot-high fireplaces and east-west ventilation.

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True to his less-is-more aesthetic, Calvin Klein has gone spartan, if one can consider anything known as home fragrance spartan. For now, Klein’s home line includes one white candle in a frosted glass. Fig Tree is rich and floral and spicy. Really, what else does one need? And its instructions--eerily similar to Diptyque’s--come in four languages, making the whole package fragrant, decorative and educational.

It’s all a far cry from the scented candles I grew up with--bayberry and cinnamon pillars that my mother hauled out every December, candles that could not be lit since they were, officially, holiday decorations. But bayberry votives are no longer enough. I’m now holding out for the Chanel candle. No. 5, of course.


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