It's hard to imagine how the Ancient Egyptians would feel, in the days where candles were used simply as a source of light, about Gwyneth Paltrow's "This Smells Like My Vagina" candle. It's impossible to even explain to the versions of ourselves from a decade ago how spending $10 on a Lavender Breeze Yankee Candle would evolve into dropping $40 on a Kacey Musgraves wick. Why are celebrities asking us to reckon with these votive-imposed questions? Is this the next celebrity beauty frontier?
This line of questioning began with several high-profile candle releases—from Kacey Musgraves' Slow Burn to Harry Styles' Adore You—and not one, but two lady part-inspired lights. About a month after Paltrow's buzzy Goop product sold out twice, Erykah Badu's Bad Pussy Premiere incense was gone in less than 20 minutes. (Although Badu bid "Panties off" to Paltrow's scent, she disputed any correlation between them on Twitter.)
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No, these aren't your mother's twice re-gifted cinnamon spice votives, nor the celeb prayer candles popular on Etsy. (Although, I keep a Ruth Bader Ginsburg version in my cart, should the need arise.)
The Celebrity Candle™ is the latest trend in A-lister merch, following the pop star fragrances of the early 2000s and splashy makeup lines of the 2010s. It's the latest way celebrities are carving out a space for themselves in the wellness market without competing against Rihanna's Fenty Beauty or Kylie Cosmetics.
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If your first question is who's buying these candles (scent unsmelled!)—the answer is everyone. After all, the trend arrives at a time in our culture when there are more evil spirits to ward off than ever before, and for big business to profit from said séance. Paltrow, Musgraves, and Badu's scents all sold out rapidly, reflecting a 2018 Business of Fashion report that showcased how on fire the candle industry was. It noted the increased efforts of brands including Louis Vuitton, Sephora, and Gucci to delve deeper into the candle industry. An NPD Group study that same year found that home scents were the fastest growing area of the U.S. fragrance market.
The wellness economy is also set to surpass $1.1 trillion by 2023, and maybe a 8 oz or 16 oz votive is an easy starting place in the market? For one, stores are following suit with sites such as Net-a-Porter increasing its candle offerings by a third in 2018.
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Naturally, the celeb-approved wick is a status symbol, essential to an Instagrammable bathroom shelfie. But, perhaps there's something deeper flickering underneath. In some ways, these candles feel akin to a celebrity tell-all.
Celebrity perfumes offered fans a way to smell the way their icons did; candles provide them with the scents celebs dream of in their homes, when they’re soaking in a tub. There's an implication, particularly when the name invokes the most intimate part of a celeb, that we're learning something about their inner life or overall vibes. Now, I don't believe Kim K wears a floral nightgown as she melts her own candle wax in the backyard. (I might believe Kacey does. We all look at the same moon; we all smell Gwen’s vagina.)
Of course, not every candle will wax poetic. But they've always been aspirational, a self-care cure-all that eases the weight of the world while contributing to an often kitschy industry.
As celebrity brands continue to sprout, wellness trends refuse to fade, and I search the black market for ways to get Slow Burn before April 2020, might I suggest the next crop of A-listers tasked with keeping this trend lit?
Perhaps a job-hunting Meghan Markle partners with, say, Diptiqye for a coyly-named Megxit wick? (What does freedom from the monarchy smell like?) Maybe Megan Thee Stallion reimagines what Hot Girl Summer smells like in a soy candle? And a Feel the Bern 2020 votive would sell itself.
Consider your incense budgets doubled.
Savannah Walsh Editorial Fellow Savannah Walsh is an Editorial Fellow at ELLE.com.