It seemed like a good idea at the time: Take some of our fine fragrances, and make candles from their scents. After all, if you love the way something smells on your skin throughout the day, why not perfume the air with it, too. Easy, right? Well, in the immortal words of the Brad Pitt film Moneyball, it’s incredibly hard.

Fortunately, we had the incredibly talented perfumer Nathalie Benareau to help us, and she made it seem effortless. In roughly two months, she took her original scents from Hanami, Olmsted & Vaux and Hepcat, and translated them into Annica, Claremont and Howl, respectively. “This guy I love to work with is very knowledgeable, and he gave me a few ideas on what to use,” she says. “I called him in and he said ‘Augh! These people who try to turn fragrance into a candle. It never works!’ [Laughs.] But it does if you do it the right way.”

We couldn’t agree more. We spoke with Nathalie to learn just what the right way entails.

1. It starts with the heart.
“The materials that you use in fine fragrance, you cannot use in candles. They’re not soluble, they don’t burn well. So what I usually do is look at the formula, and remove the things that I know are not going to work. Then I make a base—a coeur, a heart—that I know will be good in candles. From there I can start playing with different notes and pushing different things.”

2. It’s a completely different ball of wax.
“Once I have that heart, I put it into wax, just to see how it’s going to be adapted. Because it’s going to smell very differently from alcohol [as in a fragrance] to something that you burn—alcohol brings everything out, but when you burn something, certain notes burn well, but they burn differently than they would evaporate on skin. The balance is different, so you always have to smell that and see how to re-balance the notes.

“You cannot re-create exactly the same scent into candles, and something you would wear on you is not necessarily something you would want in your home. It’s a different form. A different smell. You want something that’s maybe a bit more innocuous, that you know is there but it’s not going to be too much. And it depends on where you want to put it. If you put it in the kitchen, maybe you want something strong, I don’t know. There are things that aren’t compatible.”

“You cannot re-create exactly the same scent into candles, and something you would wear on you is not necessarily something you would want in your home.”

3. It’s an art…
Which meant that sometimes, Nathalie had to go back to the brief—our original moodboard, with photos, songs and keywords that capture the idea of the fragrance.

“For Hepcat/ Howl, which is about the whole artisan, hipster notes, we wanted to keep that comfort, that feeling that you have when it’s a rainy day and you’re a bit sad and you have a coffee in your hand and you’re reading a great book and you’re sitting on that great couch that’s leathery and it’s super-dark outside. You’re just so happy to be there. That dark optimism. We wanted to keep that.

“This one was actually the hardest to do because it’s full of woods and spices and things that really don’t burn well. [Laughs]. What we did was push the smokiness. There’s this smoky cedar note, and there’s a tobacco note that’s interesting to use. And pepper notes and amber notes that give that feeling of warmth and comfort and coziness, which is the whole idea behind the fragrance.“

“I resolved it through trial and error. But also because we have a great R&D department that works mostly on candles in our office.”

Nathalie Benareau portrait
Nathalie, sourcing scents.

4. …But it’s mostly science.
“Eric [Korman, our co-founder] and Anne [McClain, our scent adviser] let me push different notes than the fragrances, knowing it would be different. So that helps a lot because there are things on this you cannot choose. Like musks, for example. You don’t use them in candles, they are useless. In fragrance, musks stay on your skin and they smell like something soft and close. It’s comforting. They retain the fragrance much longer. They’re extremely big molecules, so when you put them in a candle, they don’t burn very well. They just don’t have any effect on the air. And what you smell, it’s kind of like ‘Eh.’ Maybe you’ll smell something clean, but maybe not. And the fragrances I did for PHLUR are very musk-oriented so there was a lot to do on that side to re-adapt the fragrance to candles. [Laughs.]

“Once we have done all this, I usually do a few other modifications. There might be things that are missing. Maybe something was watery, and now I don’t smell it anymore. So I would push that more. So it’s really a question of, a bit of this, a bit of that, and trial and error.”

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Suffice it to say, we think Nathalie found exactly the right bits of this, bits of that, and that there was more trial than error. Check out her work by having a look at our candles, soon to be available in new glass vessels!