There's something about lighting a candle—an effortless way to instantly transform the ambience of a room, with the strike of a match, making everything look a little more beautiful. We learned that in Scandinavian tradition, the heat and light provided by this simple object has become a cultural symbol of cozy intimacy and gathering that nourishes the soul. The word for this—untranslatable in the English language—is called "hygge" in Denmark (or "mys" in Sweden and "kose" in Norway). Tired of the frou-frou luxury candles that clutter our tabletops, we've searched high and low for unique candle designs that immediately catch the eye and beckon others to gather. If you're gifting a candle this holiday season, choose one that makes a statement—even after all the wax has completely melted away.
Le Labo: Laurier 62
Can 62 ingredients fit inside a single candle—and smell decent? Only small-batch cult perfumer Le Labo could have pulled it off successfully. Released this October, Laurier 62 is their newest original scent that blends laurel, cumin, sandalwood, eucalyptus, thyme and more into a chaotic yet beautiful "mess" of a candle. It's housed in a vintage tin can container; resembling a miniature paint can that looks like it's been dinged and hammered and maybe even run over by a truck at some point. (Le Labo keeps the distressed process—which they created—top secret.) The final touch is the personalized label, stating your name and date, and making it perfect for an anniversary or commemorative gift. The hand-poured GMO-free soy wax in Laurier 62, along with the rest of the vintage candle collection, burns for up to 50 hours and is available for $60.
Scandinavians purportedly use more candles than any other country in the world, which might explain why "hygge", the art of creating intimacy even in the smallest day-to-day moments, is engrained into their psyche. Shaun and Gerry are two English gents who fell in love with two Scandinavian girls and have uprooted to Copenhagen and Stockholm, respectively. Since February 2013, they've poured their love for their adopted region's way of life into candles, affectionately naming their line Skandinavisk. Thanks to the special combination of ingredients (vegetable stearin from palm oil, refined paraffin, organic non-pollinated beeswax) and traditional method of production, the unscented HYGGE candles burn slowly—with no drips or smoke—and radiate a deep glow from their bodies. The 140 Hour Advent Candle is a particular beauty, allowing you to count the days of the Advent season by burning five hours every night. HYGGE candles start at $25.
D.L. & Co: Le Pomme D'Or
Snow White wouldn't be able to resist the seducing scent emanating from these shiny apples. The LA-based D.L. & Co calls itself a "modern alchemist and purveyor of curious goods" and founder Douglas Little is pretty obsessive about his fragrances. He created a special blend of soy, maple and palm waxes so the fragile fragrance oils (not typically used for candles but rather for the body) could be translated clearly. The resulting wax, he says in this interview, feels more like a silky hand lotion and holds between 12-14% of fragrance oil—compared with the average 2-8% found in most other perfumed candles. His penchant for the uncommon results in candles in the form of goat leg columns, fangs and busts of mythical figures, from Medusa to Celtic heroine Dierdre, which cries tears of melting wax. But it's Le Pomme D'Or, the symbolic golden apple that had even Greek goddesses, Athena, Hera and Aphrodite, fighting over it (ultimately leading to the Trojan War) that had us mesmerized. Lustrous enough to see your own reflection, it's impossible to remove your gaze. Approximate burn time is 30 hours and it's available for $85.
Le Feu de L'Eau
Since 2012, LA-based candle-makers Wendy Polish and Jo Strettell have created an international cult following—including big names like Vogue and celebs like Kerry Washington—with their Le Feu de L'Eau candles, which translates to "The Fire Of The Water." Eschewing any sort of mold, they further developed a process invented by Polish's father: Shape each candle under cold water using a high temperature wax, creating organic, marbled sculptures. Each of the nine different colors, hand-blended by the two in their Glendale studio, has a different scent to match its mood; the final product is work of art on its own, as no two are alike. The candles burn for approximately 80 hours and are available for $60.
Glasshouse Fragrances: La Maison
Australia-based Glasshouse Fragrances teamed up with leading French perfumers based in Grasse and Paris for their La Maison collection. The opaque black vessel's multifaceted surface not only reflects the glow of the candle inside (which has two wicks) but also the complexity of the triple-scented fragrance. Out of the six different bespoke fragrances available, we were most smitten with the very sensual, night-time appropriate No. 6, Le Desir Ardent—which translates to "burning desire." Its top notes contain ylang-ylang (considered to be an aphrodisiac), with base notes of patchouli, sandalwood, tonka bean and musk. The approximate burn time is 70 hours, which adds up to quite a few bedtime sessions. Available for $60.
Oui: Tall Marbled Ceramic Candle
Angela Hodgkinson, an ex-Brooklynite now based in Oklahoma City, launched Oui, a line of health-conscious candles in 2011. For her newest collection, Hodgkinson works with local potters to create wheel-thrown ceramic vessels; the clay is stained by hand and marbled on the wheel, inspired by the Japanese "neriage" technique of blending colored clay. She finishes the pieces with food-safe glaze and pours her unique fusion of high-grade soy wax, safe fragrances and essential oils (free of additives, phthalates or petrochemicals, which are common in scented candles) inside. And it isn't just eye-candy—her Cedarwood Rosemary Vanilla scent was our favorite of the bunch, as its subtle and smells like soft snow on a fir tree. Once the candle has seen the end of its time, the remaining soy wax is easily removable with warm water and soap, and the vessels can be repurposed as drinking cups or planters in their second life. Available for $45 online.
Photos by Nara Shin