More than 200 years after Marie Antoinette lost her head, I got a whiff of her from a scented candle in a downtown Manhattan basement.
The 367-year-old candle-maker Maison de Cire Trudon of Paris opened a shop on Bond Street last month, offering dozens of wax creations redolent of history.
“You have the smell of Marie Antoinette, you have the smell of Versailles, you have the smell of Napoleon,” said Ramdane Touhami, 36, chief executive officer, as he lifted one glass dome after another to let me sample.
The guillotined queen’s “Trianon” candle has a whiff of roses and hyacinths. The “Ernesto” of Che Guevara has hints of leather and tobacco. Napoleon’s “Empire” presents pine and sage.
The shop itself, the company’s first outside France, melds the hip and romantic with the historical. Inspired by the opulent Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, it has robin’s-egg-blue walls, distressed wood floors and mirrors, and a shaky metal staircase. Wax busts of French royals and literary characters line the walls.
Founded in 1643, Cire Trudon supplied the court of Louis XIV and churches all over France. Its candles burn today in the presidential residence near the Champs-Elysees.
“They are in the top echelon of luxury candles,” said Anthony Carro, owner of Candle Delirium, a West Hollywood, California, store that offers 40 brands. “They are very prestigious and their smells are highly unusual.”
“Carmelite” is meant to suggest the damp walls of an old convent; “Roi Soleil” conjures the wood floors in Versailles; “Manon” brings to mind fresh laundry.
“It’s hard to go back to burning another candle after Cire Trudon,” said Carro. “It’s like driving an Aston Martin and then going back to a Chevy.”
The scented candles can burn for as long as 85 hours and cost $75 to $85. Unscented (and nondripping) long candles in every shade are $4.
The biggest candle weighs 2.8 kilograms (6.16 pounds) and costs $450. (Candle Delirium has a 5-foot-tall paraffin-wax pillar that sells for $800.)
Touhami, who has a Chaplinesque mustache and mien, joined the company in 2007 and since then has, with a partner, gained control of it. He introduced scents that reflect its long history and materials meant to convey its high-end niche. The cotton wicks are woven in Germany, glass containers are made by hand in Venice and the candles are produced in a Normandy factory.
Sales almost doubled to 13.6 million euros ($18.3 million) in 2009 from 7 million euros ($9.4 million) in 2007, he said. The Cire Trudon brand, which used to be sold only in France, can be found at 600 retailers in 55 countries.
Candle lovers form a subculture that includes pop stars like Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez. Mariah Carey requires four $65 Jo Malone vanilla candles in her dressing room, according to her contract, published by TheSmokingGun.com, a division of Time Warner Inc. Rihanna needs six Archipelago Black Forest Candles (each costs $29) in her dressing room.
“There are people who are candle hoarders,” said Carro. “They have candle closets.”