When I was 13, I used my babysitting money to buy a pink, rhinestone-studded bottle of Britney Spears’s Fantasy at my local mall. With notes of orchid, musk, and cupcake, it smelled like how a Britney video felt, and thus how I wanted to smell — sickly sweet and chastely erotic. It became my signature scent. But Spears wasn’t the only pop star to sell a fragrance popular with millennial teens: J.Lo, Lady Gaga, Usher, Beyoncé, Gwen Stefani, Jessica Simpson, Sarah Jessica Parker, and even Derek Jeter all released successful fragrances between the years of 2002 and 2012.
If the mid-aughts were the era of the celebrity fragrance, however, 2020 has seen the rise of a new branded scent: the celebrity candle, which is poised to overtake perfume as the go-to business venture for A-listers hoping to make it into a gift guide.
Arguably kicked off in January with Gwyneth Paltrow’s candle that, she claims, smells like her vagina, the celebrity candle craze can be considered a cozier, trendier offshoot of the celebrity fragrance market. With everyone stuck inside their houses for months on end, 2020 has been a year for hygge and shelfies. Lighting a trendy candle endorsed by your favorite artist and then posting about it on Instagram makes you feel like you’re staying in by choice, rather than to avoid spreading a deadly virus.
But, like celebrity culture itself, the celebrity candle market is fickle. They can sell out quickly — especially when they’re limited drops tied to album releases. Hayley Williams’s Sanctuary candle, for example, is no longer listed on the Apotheke website, Kacey Musgraves’s Slow Burn is on backorder at Boy Smells, and Taylor Swift’s sold-out folklore candle is selling for upward of $100 on eBay. (You can still order Slow Burn from Musgraves merch site, though, while Williams’ site takes you to a dead link.)
As a sucker for both candles and limited-edition merch, I’ve gotten my hands on an embarrassing number of fancy celebrity candles this year. But my apartment’s fire hazard is your gain, as I will take you through the weird and growing world of celebrity candles, including what they smell like and who to buy them for.
The story goes that Gwyneth was sampling scents with Heretic perfumer Douglas Little when she exclaimed, “This smells like my vagina!” (They may or may not have been on mushrooms at the time.) But because Goop will sell anything as long as it’s overpriced and/or silly, what started as a joke became a full-fledged product you can now buy and smell. There’s even a sequel, This Smells Like My Orgasm, and a less-sexual-but-still-TMI three-quel, This Smells Like My Prenup.
Smells like: No vagina I’ve ever smelled. I can’t put it any better than Allison P. Davis, who wrote in the Cut, “This smells like a vagina that is douching Summer’s Eve too frequently and will probably end up with a yeast infection.”
Buy it for: Your wellness-obsessed friend who won’t shut up about her yoni egg.
In February the queen of cool-girl country announced a collaboration with Boy Smells on a new candle that matches her retro-luxe aesthetic. It could have been just a cheap pun based on Kacey Musgrves’s song “Slow Burn,” but this candle actually seems very thoughtfully made, packaged in a pretty ombre glass. According to Kacey herself, “The “scentiment” of Slow Burn is about pausing along the way to relax and enjoy exactly where you are right now.”
Smells like: Masking the smell of weed by burning incense but, like, in a good way.
Buy it for: Your friend who can roll a mean blunt but still likes nice things.
My favorite celebrity Instagrammer (seriously, go follow him) is also my new favorite celebrity candlemaker. The beloved 82-year-old actor recently teamed up with the nonprofit organization No Kid Hungry to create a fragrance line that includes a gender-neutral perfume, candes, and diffusers, with a portion of each purchase going toward “provid[ing] up to 50 meals for those in need.” A philanthropist and dedicated cat dad who can paint and play piano? We simply have to stan. (The candle smells pretty good, too.)
Smells like: I’ve only tried the Sandalwood, which smells like what I imagine Hopkins’ study to smell like — warm and kind-of weirdly sexy.
Buy it for: Literally anyone.
A late addition to the celebrity perfume market with 2017’s Crystal Gardenia Citrus, Kim Kardashian West nonetheless wisely became an early adopter of the celebrity candle. Over the past few years she has expanded her beauty empire with a full fragrance line that, as of September 2019, includes $28 candles. The one that I’ve tried, which is essentially just the Crystal Gardenia Citrus perfume in candle form, is unfortunately no longer available, but KKW released a winter line with three scents that are available now in an $80 bundle.
Smells like: Frosted Pine, Spiced Oud, and/or Vanilla Cream, according to the KKW Fragrance website.
Buy it for: Everyone who’s been binging Keeping Up With the Kardashians in quarantine.
Leave it to Taylor Swift to spark conspiracy theories with just a candle drop. After the surprise release of her folklore “sister album” evermore, Swift added a few things to her merch store, including a candle featuring a lyric from the song “Cowboy Like Me.” The design is very similar to the candle released alongside folklore (that sold out in pre-order), just in green instead of red. But here’s where things get interesting: Swift also released a set of three scrunchies in the initial folklore merch drop, with a visual motif matching the candle packaging. There’s a red scrunchie, a green scrunchie, and a blue scrunchie. But where’s the blue candle? Could it correspond to a third surprise album coming? Maybe, or maybe it’s not that deep and we’ve all been inside way too long. Either way, we might get another overpriced candle out of it.
Smells like: I don’t know yet because my “eyes full of stars” candle isn’t supposed to ship for another 10–12 weeks, but the description calls it an “oak moss, forest scent.”
Buy it for: Swiftie conspiracy theorists will have already pre-ordered so they can scour the packaging for clues, but it never hurts to have a candle on hand to serve as an emergency gift.