Iconic: Scented Candles by Cire Trudon

In the run-up to the holidays, French scented candle brands such as Astier de Villatte and Diptyque go head-to-head in a game of creative one-upmanship, offering wooden wicks, resinous scents, and glass holders adorned with Christmas symbols. Meanwhile, the world’s oldest candlemaker, Cire Trudon, has made tradition its end-of-year watchword, with a line of candles inspired by the history of France. The flagship brand has been proud to pass down this heritage to the American public since opening its first boutique in the United States eight year ago.
© Cire Trudon

Marie Antoinette lit her chambers with Cire Trudon candles, or so the story goes! Although during the iconic queen’s reign, the candlemaker was still called the Manufacture Royale de Cire. American director Sofia Coppola was certainly convinced, and used the French brand’s candles to decorate the sets of her 2006 film Marie Antoinette. Trudon candles – created and named after founder Claude Trudon in 1643 – danced their light across the walls of Versailles and illuminated the royal châteaux of France, from the Ancien Régime of Louis XIV to the Empire of Napoleon. They also lit the biggest churches in France, and continue to do so today.

The candlemaker even survived the introduction of domestic gas lighting and the advent of electricity. In the 1837 novel César Birotteau, which Trudon likes to quote, French writer Honoré de Balzac paid homage to the brand: “Three men were lighting the rooms. ‘It takes a hundred and twenty wax-candles,’ said Braschon. ‘A bill of two hundred francs at Trudon’s,’ said Madame Cesar, whose murmurs were checked by a glance from the Chevalier Birotteau. ‘Your ball will be magnificent, Monsieur le Chevalier,’ said Braschon.” It should be noted, however, that in Balzac’s time the candles were not scented, as this development was only introduced in the 1950s.

From Royal Purveyor to Trendy Brand

While Cire Trudon candles are still hand-crafted in their workshops in Mortagne-au-Perche, in Normandy, the house has hardly fallen behind the times. After almost disappearing between 1884 and 2006, the relaunch of Cire Trudon was headed up in 2006 by designer Ramdane Touhami, who was named creative director. This self-defined “renaissance man” undertook the revamp of the ancient brand. He began by searching through the house’s archives, and stumbled upon the Latin motto dedicated to bees that led the company to such greatness: Deo regique laborant, meaning “They [bees] work for God and the King”.

Ramdane Touhami’s genius idea was to create scented candles, as they would have existed at the time. Using this as a foundation, the brand crafted a line of “historic” candles with names such as La Marquise, Trianon and Mademoiselle de la Vallière. “Cire Trudon has one foot in the past, and one foot in the future,” says the artist. “We have been here since 1643, and we want to still be going strong in three centuries.”

This vision has clearly paid off. The brand’s new boutique in the trendy Marais neighborhood of Paris now welcomes cassock-clad priests, hipsters, and young mothers looking for candles. Trudon also crafts scented candles for luxury brands such as Guerlain, Cartier, Dior and Hermès, restaurants, hotels (it supplies the Ritz with its Orange Blossom candles), fashion stores and trendy furniture boutiques.

© Cire Trudon
© Cire Trudon

Luxury Boutiques in France and the United States

In the United States, where scented candles were long used to hide unpleasant odors instead of perfuming the air, there was a clear luxury niche to be filled. “I often noticed that many people in the U.S. had vast candle collections in the same way as people collect perfumes,” says Julien Pruvost, managing director of Cire Trudon. “The use of scented candles is firmly rooted in local customs, I’d say even more so than in France.” The figures speak for themselves: The United States now represents the biggest export market for Cire Trudon, he says, “around 40%.”

In December, the Cire Trudon teams in New York celebrated the eighth anniversary of the brand’s first boutique in the United States, located on Elizabeth Street in the Nolita neighborhood, renowned for its upscale fashion and interior design boutiques. (Since then, Trudon has opened two more U.S. boutiques, in SoHo and in Los Angeles, and also sells its candles at Bloomingdale’s, Nieman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue.] Architect Fabrizio Casiraghi has successfully breathed a French aura into the Cire Trudon space, using inspiration from the famous Hall of Mirrors at Versailles to decorate the walls in a nod to the house’s royal heritage. Red lacquer covers the room, lending a chic, understated style, while a collection of vintage objects conjures up images of a cabinet of curiosities.

Scents That Recount the History of France

There is no difference between the candles sold in France and the United States. “We don’t change our approach for each market,” says Julien Pruvost. The scents are crafted in the same way as perfumes, with top, heart and base notes. Most of the scents for the candles are created by perfumer and “nose” Emmanuel Philip, a perfumer’s son originally from the French town of Grasse. Each candle is presented under a glass dome in the Trudon boutiques, and clients can smell the perfumed air trapped inside. And as the house enjoys cultivating its historical references, it ensures the glass domes hold scents from every period witnessed by the venerable candlemaker.

Base notes of juniper, sage and hay make up the Empire candle, which recounts the campaigns of Napoleon. Heart notes of tea and mint are used for the Dada candle, whose scents of vetiver and eucalyptus are supposed to “open our magnetic fields”. A total of ten candles narrate the history of France, from the Sun King to artist Philippe Parreno. Basing his work on NASA lunar soil analyses, Philippe Parreno created Odeur de Lune, a candle that reproduces the moon’s scents in a blend of base notes of heated metal and smoked dry wood. The brand’s other inspirations include travel (the Ernesto candle’s notes of rum, bergamot and matching tobacco and leather scents are an invitation to Havana), spirituality (showcased by the Spiritus Sancti incense and Carmélite candles), and the arts.

© Cire Trudon
© Cire Trudon

Blue Celadon and Gold leaf

The festive season lends itself particularly well to the Nazareth candle, which blends cinnamon, orange and cloves. Alternatively, you can indulge in a set of three traditional candles boasting Eastern notes: Bethléem (spiced amber), Gabriel (gourmand chimney fire) and Gaspard (woody mandarin). Clients should expect to pay an average of 55 dollars for a small candle, 105 dollars for a special edition, and around 450 dollars for a larger format (300 hours of burning time). Aesthetes will be pleased to hear the brand is once again using gold leaf for its Holiday collection. “For this season, we drew our inspiration from the Art Deco ambiance of our New York boutique, and created a design based on this period,” says Julien Pruvost. “The ever-present gold is paired with blue celadon, amber or taupe tones.”

The prestigious candles have also piqued the interest of the fashion world. “The collection currently includes three products designed in collaboration with couturier Giambattista Valli,” says Julien Pruvost. The fashion designer created the Positano and Rose Poivrée candles in 2014, which are now available together as a luxury set. Notes of white blossom and Positano lemons are reminiscent of the Amalfi Coast, while the Rose Poivrée offers stronger contrasts between soft rose and spicy black pepper from Tuscany. These plant-based wax candles have been the signature of Cire Trudon since 1643, and slip perfectly into mouth-blown glass holders, each finished with a heraldry. The Positano offers a white heraldry on white glass, while the Rose Poivrée boasts a black crest against transparent glass. These elegant details are dear to the Italian designer, and take buyers on a journey to the lands of Dante. In the same way as Proust’s madeleine, the candles by Cire Trudon create an ambiance and take us back through history. The king is dead, long live Trudon!

Article published in the December 2016 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.