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Expensive Candles Are Hot, High-End Holiday Gift

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Subtle tones of cherry, tobacco and vanilla? A hint of jalapeño; coffee maybe? If only. Fine wines are so 2011. This holiday season, luxury candles are the rage.

“With complicated fragrances and prices that can approach $500, they are a long way from Mom’s vanilla,” according to The Wall Street Journal. “Swaddled inside gilded boxes that open up to release wafts of heady perfume, high-end candles make a popular holiday gift–especially for oneself.”

The paper quotes Anthony Carro, proprietor of Candle Delirium in West Hollywood, Calif. (where else?), who claims sales of the $25-to-$85 candles he sells have grown 10% to 15% a year for the past five years. One reason may be that people are staying home more, he says. “Candles,” he adds, are “kind of an antidepressant.”

Calling December “show time” in the business, The Journal notes companies roll out limited-edition scents and boxed sets. Laura Slatkin, chief executive of Nest Fragrances, says her company rings up 40% of its sales from October to December. “People burn more candles in the winter,” she says.

The paper adds that like wine, high-end candles contain more, and often pricier, fragrance. Wax and fragrance have to be compatible and correctly blended, or the perfume oils will “leach” unattractively at the sides, says Karen Solari, vice president of marketing at Symrise.

And as with the label on the bottle, packaging of luxury candles can make up as much as 50% of the cost of production, Naji Absi, president of Unique Candles, a Northridge, Calif., manufacturer, tells the paper. “The candle is actually the cheapest part,” he says. “The minute you walk into the store, what attracts you is the packaging.”

And just as Greg Norman and Francis Ford Coppola have with wine, more celebrities are getting in with wax.

The Journal specifically points to a candle from fashion designer Jason Wu, launched last spring, that comes wrapped in tissue and nestled in foam inside a miniature, golden-lidded shoe box. It retails for $48. And Sir Elton John has his “Holiday” and “Woodside Garden” offerings.

“Everybody wants to do a candle, and they wind up in a price range from $50 to $80,” Carro of Candle Delirium told the paper. “That’s a tough price point to be in if you’re someone that nobody knows.”

But a note of caution. Hangovers are tough, but so is inadvertently burning down a house. More than 15,000 candle fires are reported each year, the paper notes, meaning the investment could, literally, go up in smoke.