For centuries, candles were little more than a mold of animal fat with a cotton or reed wick. Mostly used as a source of light, they soon became staples in ceremony and celebration in various cultures. In the modern era, they trickled into the realm of home decor, and in more recent years have cemented themselves as a lifestyle object and marker of luxury living and self-care.
Today, the luxury candle market is booming. While it’s still dominated by mass-market giants like Yankee Candle (which takes up 46% of the market), candles are now being peddled by companies in the lifestyle space—specifically by the beauty, wellness, and fashion industries. The Business of Fashion reports (paywall) that sales of prestige candles totaled $101.9 million in the US in the past year, according to the market research firm NPD Group. That’s only a small slice of the $4 billion prestige fragrance market—which includes perfume—but is still the fastest-growing category, and has risen by one-third over the last two years.
While candles are less expensive than a bag or shoes, fashion houses are entering the market with eye-popping prices. Business of Fashion notes that Gucci launched two candle lines this year with products starting at $300. The fashion label’s “Esotericum, XL feline head candle,” pictured above, goes for a cool $790. Louis Vuitton, meanwhile, offers $185 candles with small leather handles, while designers like YSL and Margiela offer somewhat more affordable products in the $60 to $80 range.
Business of Fashion cites the rise of the self-care as a driving factor in the candle boom. The wellness industry, especially lifestyle-wellness hybrids like Goop and Honest, will often sell a selection of wellness accessories for the home. Goop, for instance, sells a $135 incense burner and its own line of $72 candles. And as the beauty industry dives into ideas of ritual and spirituality to market products, candles are becoming a staple in beauty kits and gift sets. Beauty retailer Sephora, for example, has a whole section dedicated to candles and home scents on its website, and beauty brands like Nars and Kat Von D sell luxury candles alongside blush and mascara.
Instagram is also playing a role, Business of Fashion notes. The rise of indie candle brands like Homesick and Boy Smells, which may have been limited to a site like Etsy in the past, have risen to fame via social media with their sleek, minimalist packaging and savvy use of influencers. Notably, not only do millennials account for Instagram’s main user demographic, they also spend twice as much on self-care rituals then baby boomers do.
As for luxury candles that cost more than a steak dinner, they’re not a bad way for brands to snag entry-level customers—they can act as a gateway drug into a label, and at a lower price point than, say, perfume. And they’re cheaper to produce than something like furniture.