The ritual begins with the strike of a match. In a matter of minutes, sumptuous citrus and cedar notes fill the air and I am transported from lockdown in East London to a Sicilian beach at the height of summer. Fragrance is about transcending time and space, circumventing the logic of the mind and reaching for a visceral, often involuntary, memory. It’s a superpower that carried us perfumistas through the static weight of the pandemic.
“I think the last few years accelerated the need for comfort,” says Christopher Yu, who is partly responsible for the success of numerous coveted fragrance brands including Diptyque, Maison Francis Kurkdjian, Fornasetti and Cire Trudon. “Sales more than doubled during lockdown because home became the sanctuary.” Indeed, this trend shows no sign of abating, with the home fragrance category projected to reach $27.63 billion by 2027.
Not all scents possess this ability, mind you. Growing up in a pre-Diptyque world, scented candles, sprays and diffusers were about masking the malodors of life with another, equally sickly smell. They were pine fresh and merry berry disasters full of headache and synthetic molecules that clung to furniture for months on end. Today, luxury home fragrance is about quality, joy and creativity rather than function. As a result, the lines between haute perfumery, home fragrance and art are becoming increasingly blurred.
Yu’s latest project, Ostens, is a prime example. It showcases high concentrations of raw ingredients that have the alchemical ability to change the mood of a space almost instantly. “Like the FX market or gold, the price of raw ingredients fluctuates. For example, pure rose oil from Turkey is currently averaging double the price of gold per kilo,” he says indirectly referencing the brand’s Illumination Rose candle. As it burns and fills the room with freshly cut flowers, it is clear that you get what you pay for. “I believe everyone can instinctively tell the difference between real ingredients and synthetics in the same way that they know fresh foods from flavoring essences,” Yu adds.
The way in which an expertly crafted fragrance is presented has become equally important. From ceramic containers decorated with Piero Fornasetti’s muse to the traditional matryoshka dolls by Vilshenko, good design extrapolates the feeling that fine fragrance evokes. “I like the idea of amplifying scent with visuals,” says Luke Edward Hall, the British artist and designer who has collaborated with Ginori 1735 for Profumi Luchino, a sprawling, 31-piece collection that encapsulates the idea of armchair travel, using scent and design to, as Edward Hall says “create a deeper, richer world.”
The home fragrances and ‘souvenirs’ in Profumi Luchino transport us to five distinct corners of the world: the Cotswolds, Marrakech, Rajasthan, Big Sur and Venice. “My idea for the collection was to focus on the destinations and to create scents that embody these places from my personal point of view,” says Hall. “Storytelling is a big part of my work, which is why with each destination I have imagined a building, and then based a scent on its history, interior or occupants.”
To wit, his homage to Venice, Palazzo Centauro, smells of incense, churchy woods and a palace crumbling under the weight of an unnamed contessa’s riches. His design places the candle cozily—and somewhat amusingly—in the crown of a decapitated Ganymede sculpture. Elsewhere, Rajasthan’s majestic architecture is brought to life via Rajathra Palace, a colorful blend of cardamom, cloves, coriander, rose oil and patchouli that’s burned in a suitably high-camp pink urn decorated with floral motifs. The collection is unexpected, evocative and fun—everything luxury home fragrance ought to be.