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Candle Names Have Gotten Out of Control

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Retailers

Some of the best candles have names that run on pure vibes. Does anyone know what a santal is? I don’t, but that hasn’t stopped me from buying dozens of candles bearing the word. I am of the opinion that candle names need not directly reference their scents. Ideally, they should lend their overpriced votives an air of aspiration. Flamingo Estate’s Euphoria candle, for example, which is a persistent presence in my Instagram ads, has me convinced I can fill my tiny kitchen with the aroma of a wealthy olive-oil scion’s vacation villa. I have no problem with this.

However, my recent candle browsing has led me to conclude that we have strayed too far. As candle names have drifted further from their actual scents, some have taken on a memelike quality; others have gone political. Have you been candle shopping recently? I went looking for some aromatherapy (read: $60 hunks of scented wax) to hunker down for winter, and let me tell you: The names of these things are getting absolutely bonkers.

I am not just talking of Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina candle, though I believe it’s partly to blame. As you may recall, early in 2020, Paltrow and the perfume brand Heretic collaborated on a line of profoundly confusing candles, each more nonsensical than the last. THIS SMELLS LIKE MY VAGINA was soon joined by THIS SMELLS LIKE MY PRENUP, THIS SMELLS LIKE MY ORGASM, and, later, HANDS OFF MY VAGINA. On top of causing several explosions, Paltrow and her polarizing candles spawned a new generation of out-of-control candle names.

Some of the outlandish examples I’ve come across lately are relatively innocuous. Boy Smells has Cameo, apparently named for an antique stoneware pendant and not the celebrity side-hustle app, and Redhead, which shockingly has nothing to do with Prince Harry. I was into Homesick’s ethos of naming candles after places you’d like to be (Miami, Great Smoky Mountains, Rhode Island — to each their own), but it really took some left turns with a line named after baseball stadiums and a Bud Light–sponsored Tailgate candle. Does anyone want their home to smell like stale beer and sweat? One candle I was recently contemplating purported to smell like a vortex: “infinite space, close encounters, and tumbleweed.” Please, what mind-altering drugs do I have to take to understand this candle?

Others appear to have lifted millennial internetspeak and applied it liberally to a wide range of “scents”: It’s Fine I’m Fine, Left on Read, Adulting, My Patience Is in Retrograde, Instant Karma, New Bae. What does a 90’s Baby smell like besides Lip Smackers? Candle names are not immune to the memeification of mental health, either — Personal Therapist and Social Anxiety candles abound.

Equally off-putting are the political slogans that have made their way into the luxury-candle space. Some brands have at least made the effort to link their liberal-leaning candles to some sort of charitable donation, which is nice but does not excuse naming a candle I’m Speaking. (Apparently, it “smells like male fragility and rude interruptions,” and a portion of profits will go toward a “nonpartisan” nonprofit helping women run for public office.) There are candles joining the Great Resignation (Two Weeks’ Notice), and others are still mired in hustle culture (New Job, Boss Babe). The moment I knew for sure things had gone too far was when I came across Cancelled Plans’ Student Loans candle (no charitable tie-in there).

The worst part is I bet these candles smell great. It’s more the principle of bringing an object emblazoned with the words BAD AND BOOZY into my home, especially one that is supposed to soothe me. It feels akin to wearing a “Wine O’Clock” T-shirt or Instagramming a cheeky phrase on a letter board. Much like the more subtle status candles that dominate a different corner of Instagram, the design-y labels on these candles feel tailor-made for the feed, where they’ll lurk among a selection of expensive skin-care products in well-curated “self-care night” shots.

There’s nothing wrong with buying candles for the feed — even sloganless votives are designed to look good there. But maybe keep trending Twitter topics off-limits for the time being? You could do a lot worse than Santal No. 742.

Candle Names Have Gotten Out of Control