Most of my vices are relatively cheap. I love wine, but I have no problem drinking it from a box or a $10 bottle. Lipstick is practically an addiction, yet spending more than $25 a tube is a rarity for me, mostly because there's so much good stuff for $20 or less. And while I admit to being a nerd, I have a hard time swallowing the $60 price tag for most new video games.
But candles? I don't know what it is, but I can spend on a candle without blinking. If I had to guess why, I'd point to how much I love fragrance and relaxation. Few things are more soothing than lowering the lights, picking a book to read, and lighting a candle.
That said, not all candles are worth the money. This is true even if you're like me and you go for the smaller, cheaper votive candles--they're still pricey at this level! Hence, I'm going to compare four high-end or luxury brand candles I've been trying over the past year or so.
My initial experience with Diptyque was not particularly pleasant and, admittedly, soured me on the brand a bit. That said, I finished three of their votive candles--Baies, Roses, and Figuier--and ended up enjoying the actual scents of the candles. They're surprisingly simple, given how many raves this line gets; Roses, for instance, is a beautiful fresh rose scent...but that's it. It's not an especially complex or unusual smell. Still, it's a very genuine fragrance, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
The throw is decent; these candles filled my bedroom with a light fragrance that lingered for about an hour after burning. Also, nobody can deny that these have some damn pretty jars. I don't care if it's a beauty blogger stereotype: the empty jars I fill with perfume samples and drop on my shelves look lovely. The jars get more comments than the fragrances, in fact; none of my friends gave their opinion on these candles until I specifically asked how they liked the smell. The general consensus? "It's nice."
The Jo Malone candles were received far more enthusiastically by my friends, which kind of surprised me due to their very basic fragrances and relatively light throw. Really, though: Blackberry and Bay barely perfumed the air in my room, even after two hours of burning, but my friend crossed the threshold and immediately said, "Ooooh, what smells good?" I think because Jo Malone scents tend to be rather light and basic, they're crowd pleasers. There's next to nobody who will be offended by Blackberry and Bay's slightly sweet, vaguely herbaceous, after-the-rain-but-not-musty smell.
The packaging for the actual candles is just "okay." They're not as plain as the NEST candles, but they don't have Instagram-worthy labels like Diptyque. That said, Jo Malone sends their products in attractive, ribbon-tied boxes stuffed with black tissue paper, and I give them points for that. (Mostly because I suck at gift wrapping and they're doing the job for me, BUT ANYWAY.)
I've been snitty about Byredo in the past, but I gotta say, they've got the candle game down. Bibliotheque is my current favorite candle, a rich, luxurious mix of peach, vanilla, leather, and patchouli with a dash of powdery florals for texture. And I'm damn picky about peach fragrances, so coming from me, that's saying something! This is also a powerhouse of a candle, even if you only get the 2.4oz votive; barely a half hour in to burning, my bedroom or bathroom is thick with this scent.
The packaging is lovely, too. The wax, jar, and wick are all black, though the jar is actually translucent, which allows you to see the warm light from the candle when you burn it. (I have to point out, though, that the "all black" look makes it a tad difficult to see the wick and trim it properly.) There are also a few "special edition" candles in other colors, like deep purple. Overall, it's a candle that feels expensive.
Unfortunately, Byredo candles seem to be made more for the candle connoisseur. My friends said it was "okay, but a bit much." My mom complained that it "smelt like paper." (The few perfumes she enjoys tend to be simple, bright florals; anything even remotely textured, earthy, or smoky grosses her out.) Also, it looks like they're phasing out the cheaper votive sizes; I can only find a few of the votives on Lucky Scent these days.
Like Diptyque, NEST was a brand that started on my bad side. I purchased a full-sized Hearth candle during a Sephora sale several years ago, and I was pretty pissed when it had absolutely no throw. Several people assured me that this was a fluke and NEST candles were actually quite nice, so I gave them another shot. I'm glad I did: the Moroccan Amber votive fills the room with that warm, rich, amber-and-vanilla smell I love in the winter. The fragrance isn't quite as strong or long-lasting as Byredo's, but it's still damn good.
I will point out that while NEST candles smell good, the actual variety in the range is kind of "meh." Creamier, vaguely gourmand smells in their range, like Sahara Spice and the aforementioned Moroccan Amber, are well-rounded and pleasant. Their attempts at crisper or fresher smells, however, tend to read a little screechy and synthetic to me. I'm also not wild about their packaging, which consists of a clear jar with some frosted stripes. At $16, you're getting a nicely-fragranced candle, but not an especially pretty one.
Packaging -- How aesthetically pleasing is the candle?
Scent Complexity -- Are the fragrances unique and special, or relatively linear/mundane?
Throw -- How strong is the fragrance during and after burning?
Popularity -- Did other people enjoy this candle?
Based on this chart alone, you might assume that there are clear winners and losers. NEST, for instance, didn't receive a single 1, and Byredo got the most 1s. However, I think the chart actually demonstrates that these candles all serve a different sort of customer and purpose. With that in mind, I'd recommend Byredo for people who are interested in unique scents and a luxe experience. If you want something that will be a general crowd pleaser, something that's unlikely to offend guests, go for Jo Malone. Those on a budget will likely prefer NEST, since the drop in price does not seem to coincide with an extreme drop in quality. And if you want a well-balanced, pretty candle, try Diptyque.