Candles that look more like ephemeral sculptures
In the 2010s, when houses began to serve as the backdrop for social media posts, the branded candle, or proof of it, became ubiquitous. Perhaps it was Le Labo Santal 26 burning serenely next to a neat pile of fashion books. Perhaps it was an already depleted Diptyque variety, the empty cup holder now filled with makeup brushes and perched on the corner of a bathroom sink. Now modern classics, those candles are still around and still smell great, but there’s a whole new range of options that are, well, weirder.
Those candles, which register as (affordable) works of art and are often designed as such, focus on form, color and process. Take Hannah Jewett’s sculptural candles, in curved, abstract shapes that transform when lit, or Carl Durkow’s playfully stacked pillars, some of which are reminiscent of the sculptor’s work. Constantin Brancusi. New York artist Janie Korn used to make ceramic figurines, but found herself wanting to create something more immediate and interactive. she now makes hand-painted wax candles modeled on Wendy Williams, Ally McBeal, and a bottle of Kewpie mayonnaise. “When you light a candle,” she says, “there is an act of performance. And that of exhaustion – unlike most sculptures, you don’t have to live long with a candle.
Candles modeled on everyday objects – a lamp, a bunch of grapes – have an eerie quality that seems adapted to our eerie and digitally steeped time. But while these candles are meant to make you think, they are also meant to make you smile. “They bring joy and confusion,” says Samantha Margherita, a Los Angeles-based decorator who ended up last year with less work and more time. She started making molds from items she had around the house, which she would fill with pastel-colored wax. Her first finished candles, which she released under the Altra Object brand, consisted of a pale pink bitten apple and a neon yellow pear.
Margherita still makes each of her candles by hand, drawing on a craft tradition that spans continents and centuries. In her Maison Modulare store in Los Angeles, Chrys Wong sells Mexican Bouquet candles, which are usually given to a future bride at the time of the marriage proposal. In a recent pop-up, a customer asked Wong, who works with a number of manufacturer families in Mexico’s Oaxaca region, if the candles are 3D printed. Not even a little. Each family has their own technique, but the basic process is always complex: large pieces of beeswax from the Chiapas region are first melted over a fire. After being shaped into disks, the wax is placed on tree branches to whiten in the sun for about 15 days, then hand-shaped into the signature florets of the style before being attached to the pillar candles.
The lockdowns induced by last year’s pandemic, during which so many sought special but low-stake pieces to suddenly refresh all-too-familiar spaces, almost certainly helped spur demand for the artistic candle – Korn noted an increase in orders and Margherita’s creations sold out almost as soon as she listed them. In any case, another fall is upon us, and an original and comfortable candle could do you good.
Top, left to right: Waxness Leafy Strawberry candles (set of 2), approx. $ 10, etsy.com; Ri-Ri-Ku Mini Lamp Candle in Seafoam / Peach, $ 32, shopririku.com; Secret Scents of Ella Parker Mahogany Torso Candle, $ 25, secretscentsofella.com; Mother & Child Crying Clover Candles Tower Candles, $ 108, cryingclovercandles.org.