Once upon a time, way back in the early 2000s, well before I became a glossy magazine editor, I was living in Chicago, dreaming about becoming a glossy magazine editor. I could never have predicted then that some 11 years later, I would not only be living in New York, but would eventually become editor-in-chief of xoVain. But life is weird, and I’m glad for that.
As a regular reader of the ladymags, I aspired to be a classy lady as defined by said ladymags. One of those ways, they assured me, in addition to acquiring a crisp white shirt, a go-anywhere suit, and a statement handbag, was to burn Diptyque candles at every opportunity. Classy ladies loved this French brand, known for its chic typeface and sophisticated scents.
At the time, I was a frequent window shopper in the beauty department at Barneys, which, to my memory, had the meanest sales associates I’ve ever encountered anywhere in my life before or since. I suspected Barneys imported these people from New York for authenticity, which I assumed accounted their dismissiveness--a notion I’ve since ruled out: Having lived in New York for a long time, I now know that the Chicago Barneys beauty staff of that era were simply a-holes.
In spite of this, one of my favorite counters to peruse there was Diptyque’s. So I saved up my pennies to buy Baies, a rose-currant scent. (I think they were around $50 back then, which was and is a TON of money for a candle.)
After work one day, I gingerly approached the sales associate behind the Diptyque counter. Here’s how it went:
Me: “Hi. I would love some help, please.”
Sales Associate: [Once-over of my Kate Spade Sam statement bag and poly-blend Limited go-anywhere suit.] “I’m with another customer.”
Me: [Looks around. Sees no other customers.] “OK. Is there someone else who can help?”
SA: “I’ll check.” Walks away. Doesn’t come back.
Me: [Blinks.] Walks over to another sales associate at a different makeup counter. “Excuse me--”
Other Sales Associate: “I’m with a customer.”
Me: “OK, when you’re done, I could use some help with--”
OSA: [Deep sigh.] “We’re just really busy right now.”
Eventually, I found someone there to sell me that damn Baies candle, and it was worth it: Baies filled my studio apartment with its velvety, sultry scent, mostly obscuring the commingling odors of beer and pizza that frequently wafted up from Armitage Avenue’s restaurants down below.
And I felt classier, indeed. It remains, to this day, in my top-five favorite candle fragrances and I always have one on hand. It also reminds me of how far I've come since then.
After The Baies Incident, I vowed never to set foot in that Barneys, or any Barneys, ever again. BUT: The ladymags got me once more. In 2003, news broke that Diptyque collaborated with John Galliano on a candle, called Essence of John Galliano, a blend of musk, leather, smoke, and vanilla. I had to have it.
Time had not mellowed the beauty folks at Barneys (and they’re not exactly killing it in RE: customer service today), though the transaction was decidedly less fraught than my previous one. But here's the real takeaway: The candle, ELEVEN YEARS LATER, still smells almost as perfectly sweaty-sexy today as it did when it was new.
Essence of John Galliano was created by perfumer Olivia Giacobetti, who has also made scents for Frederic Malle, L’Artisan Parfumeur, and her own niche line, Honore des Pres. Now I know a lot more about fragrance: how it’s made and how difficult it is to translate scents into candles, which makes me appreciate its longevity all the more. White Barn Candle Company, this isn’t. (Wait--I don’t think that’s even still around. But I remember they had a Bread candle that was pretty epic. Did I make that up?)
After Galliano’s many problems came to light in 2011, the candle quietly disappeared from shelves, but it's once again available on Diptyque’s site for $68. I think I paid slightly less for it in 2003, but there’s still about ¼ of it left to go. Beauty math tells me Essence of John Galliano has cost me approximately $5.45 a year. Worth it? Every last penny.
What’s your favorite fancy candle brand?