Skin-deep, with Marc-Antoine Barrois
More specific than words, less conventional than a bunch of flowers, longer lasting than a kiss under the mistletoe. And in terms of choice, you’ve come to the right address.
Present in (nearly) all homes, candles are always ready to shine, especially at Christmas. Previously we had the choice between scented or decorative candles. Today we can have both in one. We perfume our home just like we perfume our skin. Candles have become a stylish accessory, a signature, an olfactory ‘comforter’. This is why some keen travellers always carry a scented candle in their suitcase: so that they feel at home in any hotel, even thousands of kilometres from home.
For a long time, scented candles were mainly emblematic (jasmine, freesia, rose, sweet pea), with predominantly floral, green, woody notes, bringing a touch of nature into our homes.
However, for some years now, the trend has been towards much more elaborate, subtle scents, with true olfactory intentions, as is the case for an eau de toilette. We find the same pyramid structure. However, as the question of the fragrance trail is not, or rarely of concern for a candle, we work on the top and heart notes much more than the bottom notes. For Christmas, we like warm, woody, gourmet accords, and, of course, festive scents such as cinnamon, orange, pine, gingerbread, chocolate.
Among the leading brands, we can mention diptyque, Byredo, Cire Trudon (already renowned under Louis XIV), Mizensir, Le Labo, Esteban, Goutal Paris, Jo Malone London, Maison Francis Kurkdjian, Le Labo. Then there’s Fornasetti who make candles (100% vegetable wax) that smell divine and are also beautiful objects! ‘Flora’ is scented with lily of the valley, iris and orange blossom set against musk and sandalwood; the ceramic pot is decorated with the face of the nymph Flora, goddess of fertility and wildflowers. As for ‘Don Giovanni’, the candle offers an intense, mysterious scent of rose and patchouli, in a black and white container that brings to mind the Italian operatic tradition and features the enigmatic face of Mozart’s famous opera character. When it comes to scented candles, Senteurs d’Ailleurs defends the values of high-quality artistry and respect for the environment. Most of the candles are handmade using vegetable waxes and an addition of 5 to 10% beeswax for longer burning. Waxes with a low melting point (42°C) mean they liquefy quicker than hard waxes, for immediate fragrance release. They are revealed in hand-blown glass or ceramic ‘vases’. And, thanks to the ’re-fill’ concept, some brands allow for the precious container to be given a second life (once the candle has been used).
Editor’s favourites: ‘Pomander’ by diptyque conjures up the enchanting Christmas orange spiked with cloves and cinnamon; to be combined with the ‘Feu de Bois’ candle for cosy winter evenings. ‘Bayonne’ by Cirier Trudon (since 1643), a Christmas candle with gourmet chocolate notes complemented by spicy red pepper accords (limited edition). ‘Une Forêt d'Or’ by Goutal Paris: designer Annick Goutal transports us to a magical Christmas celebrating cherished moments with loved ones; this iconic candle is inspired by returning from a walk in the forest and decorating the house with snow-covered pine branches, tangerines, and fresh oranges. ‘Pain d’Épices,’ ‘Pomme d’Amour’ and ‘Mon Beau Sapin’ by Maison Francis Kurkdjian. On the coldest days of winter, the ‘Pain d'épices’ candle conjures up indulgent notes of orange, honey, cinnamon and aniseed. To be shared with ‘Pomme d'amour’ and its deliciously caramelised scent, and ‘Mon beau sapin’ with its slightly resinous fragrance. Mizensir’s ‘Fleur d'Oranger’ and its powerful, honey-scented trail takes us to the sunny courtyards of Andalusia; a deep, fresh scent, as if bathed in light. And if there ever was a perfume to offer at Christmas, it’s ‘Noël au Balcon’ by Etat Libre d’Orange. Top notes of tangerine, vanilla, honey, and orange blossom; heart notes of patchouli apricot and red pepper over must, cistus, and cinnamon. An unforgettable trail.
It was at the end of the 19th century that the traditions of ‘Christmas presents’ took hold. Encouraged by the rise of the triumphant bourgeoisie and department stores, the practice of putting presents under the tree became more and more popular among wealthy families. The practice was to give presents to children on Nativity Day, and adults exchanged gifts on New Year’s Eve. This practice dates back to ancient times when the Romans celebrated the winter solstice and the arrival of the new year. They gave each other gifts to wish each other a prosperous, happy and healthy year. In addition to these gifts, the trend for gift wrap, which also began at the end of the 19th century, brought surprise and anticipation at the sight of colourful, wrapped packages. In contrast, gifts for children from more working-class backgrounds, were humbler: biscuits, chocolate, gingerbread, or small toys made of odds and ends. Well-behaved, deserving children were even lucky enough to receive an orange, an extremely rare and expensive fruit at the time. The not-so-well-behaved received a piece of coal.
Originally, it was a matter of any Christmas tree, not necessarily a fir tree. Its symbolism was fostered by Protestants, who frowned on the idolatry associated with the Christmas manger. If we look at the texts of the Holy Church, we can see that trees have been linked to the fate of humans for a very long time. The tree was present at the fall as well as at the redemption of humanity and was a powerful symbol. In churches in the Middle Ages, the mystery play featured the episode of the temptation of Eve where the tree of knowledge was a fir tree bearing red apples. It was in the 19th century that the Christmas tree custom became more popular. First in northern European countries, where fir trees are abundant, and then elsewhere. In 1837, Princess Hélène de Mecklembourg, daughter-in-law of King Louis-Philippe, had the first Christmas tree installed in Paris, in the Jardin des Tuileries. Europe then definitively adopted this symbolic installation, which was widely appropriated by the emerging consumer society.