Wednesday 27 March 2019

Sweet smell of success

Three Irish luxury candle designers tell how the scent of heaven does not have to cost the earth

Helen James designs her ‘Considered’ range for Dunnes Stores.
Helen James designs her ‘Considered’ range for Dunnes Stores.
Mark and David Van den Bergh named their Max Benjamin firm after their nephews.
Maggie Mangan of Cloon Keen’s.
Candle by Helen James' Considered range for Dunnes.
Candle by Bog Standard.

Claire O'Mahony

Luxury scented candles have always been something of an indulgence. True, they smell divine but with some boutique brand candles costing in excess of €60, it's quite an outlay for what is essentially a hunk of wax and a pleasing whiff. Fans of luxury scented candles argue that the more expensive varieties are worth the money because of their longer burning time and better quality ingredients, while cheaper ones have a reputation for smelling nastily synthetic.

But Irish consumers no longer have to shell out large amounts or compromise on quality when it comes to artisan, bespoke home fragrances, with a number of home-grown companies offering luxury scented candles at the reasonable end of the price scale. They've now become a very affordable luxury.

As part of her new 'Considered' homewares range for Dunnes Stores, designer Helen James has created four, food-inspired natural candles, Basil and Fennel; Root ginger; Lemon balm and Mandarin rind, which are made in Ireland. The concept came to her when she had dinner at a friend's house, where the scented candle being burned overpowered the taste of the food. The candles, created to enhance the flavour of what you're eating, retail at €12 each.

"I think candles have become an everyday indulgence, almost like your latte," Helen says. "But I want to be able to burn a candle in my bathroom, my kitchen, my bedroom, all the time and not take out a second mortgage to do so."

Maggie Mangan of Galway- based perfumery Cloon Keen Atelier sees a lot more competition in the Irish luxury candle market in comparison to when she started the company in 2002. "I think there is a bias towards Irish products for a certain type of Irish consumer and that is great for Irish candle manufactures.

"There are a lot of candles on the market that are really good quality but not astronomically priced," she says. "Ten years ago, it was more about single note candles like lavender and vetiver, but now customers expect more of a story behind the candle, creative perfumery and good quality."

There are 12 candles in the Cloon Keen range, which cost €35 each, the bestselling of which is Antique Library, inspired by Trinity College library. "The Irish are quite bookish people and it's a nice connection for people to have and to think of the story behind the candle. It's an amazing scent, it gives a really nice cosy warm atmosphere to a room," she says.

One of the biggest Irish candle success stories is Wicklow-based company Max Benjamin, which is run by two brothers, Mark and David Van den Berg and named after their two nephews, Max and Benjamin. Stocked all over Ireland and in eight countries abroad, their scented candles are priced from €19. "I think what people want is a beautiful product at a price that is certainly not cheap but something that's affordable," says Mark Van den Bergh. The fact that all Max Benjamin products are produced in Ireland is important for their customers, he thinks, and he believes that they are initially attracted by the stylish packaging and then are seduced by the fragrance.

"When you go to a store, one of the first things that appeals to people is the way a product looks and everybody has different tastes Max Benjamin has a timeless classical simplicity about the way it looks and that is what draws people to it," he says. The company recently launched a new range infused with tea fragrances, as well as their Gold Collection, available at Brown Thomas and at a slightly higher price of €35.

One of Max Benjamin's consistent best sellers has been their lemongrass and ginger candle. "Irish customer's tastes are every bit or more sophisticated than other markets," he says. "They're influenced by travel and foreign countries and the lemongrass and ginger fragrance reminds them of Asia and Thailand."

Of course the temptation when you've splashed out on a luxury candle, even if it hasn't been ridiculously expensive, is to only light it on special occasions. However, according to Maggie Mangan, this is actually quite a wasteful thing to do. "A lot of people think, especially with expensive candles that they're going to save it and only burn it for 20 minutes a day but you end up wasting a lot of wax in our candle," she explains.

"It depends on the diameter of the candle but you want to burn it so that the wax pool goes to the very edge. It could be four hours or less, depending on your room."

So there is no need for candle addicts to have any guilt about lighting up any more.

Best of the rest

La Bougie Candles

Made in West Cork, fragrances might involve as many as 140 elements, and include Ginger & Black Pepper, Sage & Bitter Orange and Dark Rose & Myrtle.

The glasses are custom etched and printed before being hand poured.

Bog Standard

Made in a stone cottage retreat at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, these candles are infused with fragrance, meaning they release scent right down the last inch. Countryside inspired fragrances include Irish Hedgerow, Irish Clover and Irish Moss.

The Georgian Collection

For a bit of grandeur, try this high quality range inspired by the Irish country house, created to evoke the special atmosphere of each room, with fragrances including Entrance Hall, with a peaty aroma; Drawing Room, with its bouquet of summer tea roses and the citrus-scented Garden Room.

Irish Independent

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